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MTI graduation: Rodriguez is a natural for nursing

Renae Rodriguez, of Huron, will be one of the first graduates in Mitchell Technical Institute's LPN program. MTI's graduation ceremonies are today at 5 p.m. at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Renae Rodriguez always knew she wanted to be a nurse and when she had the opportunity to attend school on a full scholarship, she leaped at the chance.

Rodriguez will graduate on Friday from Mitchell Technical Institute's first Licensed Practical Nursing, or LPN, class. Rodriguez joins the rest of her classmates at MTI's graduation — the 50th commencement in school history — which will take place at 5 p.m. today at the Corn Palace. A total of 449 students from 37 programs are expected to graduate today.

She's not quite done with her degree as she and her fellow classmates will enter their practicums — or internships — with various medical facilities in July and finish by August.

"I'm very much looking forward to that part. I like the hands-on portion the best because I'm putting the skills I've learned into use," she said.

Rodriguez, who is a nontraditional student from Huron, received the Build Dakota Scholarship last year, enabling her to attend MTI's LPN program. The scholarship is awarded to students who meet its requirements, but also agree to use their skills in South Dakota for at least three years after graduating.

That won't be a problem for Rodriguez. She will be working at a facility in Huron after this summer.

Dr. Carena Jarding, director of the LPN program, said Rodriguez is an exemplary student.

"Renae has shown that persistence pays off and it's never too late to go back to school to learn a new skill based on her past experiences in health care," Jarding said. "She has leadership duties in the program, is on the advisory board and does well in the classroom and in the clinical area."

Rodriguez started her medical career as a Certified Nursing Assistant when she was 16 and attended MTI earlier in the medical assistant program. She makes the drive from Huron to Mitchell every day for classes. On top of that, she also works as a dialysis technician for Avera in various area towns and as a nursing assistant for Horizon Health Care in Huron.

"It really shows her commitment," Jarding said.

Rodriguez puts in long days, but she's excited by her prospects. She said it was tough getting back into classroom work and studying but getting practical experience at clinical sites around the area has helped her learn best. And it's a fast-paced program. After their first eight weeks, LPN students go to different clinical sites and learn to insert IV lines and catheters, help with activities of daily living, administer medication, and give injections, among other skills.

By already having a medical background, Rodriguez said the practical part of her training came easy, but she found herself thinking differently.

"I think more like a nurse than before," she said. "I used to do vitals and then do an assessment, but I wasn't trying to put the vitals and assessment together. Now, I'm putting the pieces together to see what causes a problem."

Her innate ability as a medical professional and her life experiences have been invaluable in the classroom as well. Jarding said Rodriguez serves as a leader and helps all the students take their education seriously.

Julie Brookbank, MTI's associate to the president, said nontraditional students like Rodriguez provide a dynamic from which younger students can learn. Jarding said Rodriguez is a role model to all the students in the program

Rodriguez shyly agreed and added, "I don't think anybody should let their age hinder them if they want to go back to school."

She is excited to finish her practical training and settle back down in Huron for a different kind of busy life. In spite of Rodriguez's modesty, Jarding didn't hold back her praise.

"All her knowledge helped her through the program, and it will make her an exceptional nurse," Jarding said.

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