Centertown resident Heather Marsalis lives an often-hectic life as a wife, mother, and nursing student.
Now she has another responsibility to add to her plate. Marsalis has been named Outstanding Student of the Year at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at McMinnville.
Marsalis has advanced as a state finalist and will compete for Tennessee Outstanding Student of the Year on April 14 in Chattanooga. The winner of that contest will get a new car, a Chevy Spark.
In accepting the local recognition, Marsalis recalled how she was a strong student in high school and was accepted into a registered nursing program after graduation. However, she said the lack of financial support from her family forced her to quit after her first semester.
Some 10 years later, she still longed to be a nurse.
“Every day I thought about how I regretted not finishing nursing school,” said Marsalis. “But I had so many reasons to not go back. At 29, I felt too old. I didn’t have the time, the money. There was never a shortage of excuses. My husband urged me to go back to school so I started to consider the possibility.”
After weighing her options, some of which she did not find appealing, Marsalis enrolled at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at McMinnville.
“I was repeatedly frustrated with registered nursing programs and how long it would take before I could start working as a nurse,” said Marsalis. “With a growing family, it’s hard to justify going to school and not working for years. My search for nursing programs led me to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. The program addressed several of my needs – it was close to home, just one year long, and after that year I could work as a practical nurse while continuing to pursue a degree as a registered nurse.”
Practical nursing instructor Suzanne Parsley says Marsalis is on track to graduate April 18. She points out Marsalis was selected Sunshine Chairlady by her class thanks to her uplifting spirit and pleasant day-to-day outlook.
“Not only has Mrs. Marsalis portrayed superb leadership qualities in class and clinical, she is truly dedicated to the nursing program and becoming the best nurse within her abilities,” said Parsley. “She has displayed a true interest in treating the patients she cares for holistically, which is a true asset to the field of nursing.”
The next two weeks promise to be busy ones for Marsalis as she is scheduled to compete for Tennessee Outstanding Student of the Year on Monday, April 14, before graduating on Friday, April 18.
Marsalis has already won a regional Outstanding Student of the Year competition to become one of 10 finalists vying for the state recognition.
“To me, it’s such a big honor to be considered the most outstanding student at this school,” said Marsalis, a straight A student. “To know I’m in the running for outstanding student in the state is hard to believe.”
The state contest will consist of a 3- to 5-minute speech and a 25-minute interview with a panel of judges. The winner will be announced Tuesday, April 15.
Marsalis believes she has the skills for a successful career in nursing.
“The value of technical education and its impact on my life are immeasurable,” said Marsalis. “Like measuring earthquakes on the Richter scale, the immediate impact is obvious, but it ripples on and out, touching unforeseen areas. I am learning skills, not just theories. The accelerated pace has made me more disciplined and improved my time management. For me, the greatest value and impact of technical education comes in the form of skills that give me an immediate entry point into nursing.”
Heather and her husband, Jason, have a 1-year-old child, Carlisle.