A Prairie View A&M University nursing graduate has pursed education despite motherhood, low GPA, and other obstacles. Now, she is showing others that they can achieve their dreams too! Get the full story from the PVAMU release below.

Prairie View A&M University alumna Ilene Robbins ’21 knew it was her destiny to become a nurse. From a young age, she watched nurses care for her aunt and knew she wanted to enter the healing profession. The road to graduation ended up being a far tougher path than she imagined, including the challenge of trying to graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic. But she finished strong this past spring and completed the RN-BSN program offered through PVAMU’s College of Nursing.

“My whole nursing journey has been one for the books,” Robbins said. “I want the next person to know—no matter what obstacles get thrown at you, it can be done.”

Robbins began her studies at PVAMU in 2015. It wasn’t long before life took unexpected turns, and she took a leave from the university in 2017. Her dream of becoming a nurse never wavered, though. As a single mother, she knew she would return to school no matter how many difficulties she faced.

“My daughter was definitely my ‘why.’ I wanted her to know that if God puts a dream in your heart, there is nothing that can stop you,” Robbins said.

As a first-generation college graduate, Robbins credits the support of her family in helping her accomplish her dream. Because she left PVAMU in 2017 with a low GPA, it took a lot of time and studying to get back on track while balancing work and motherhood. In 2019, she was accepted into the Associate Degree Nursing program at Houston Community College and was able to get her academic career started again.

Shortly after, in January 2020, a massive manufacturing explosion occurred near her mother’s house, where she and her daughter lived. The explosion made national news, and her mother’s home was declared uninhabitable. For more than a year, she lived in a hotel, temporary housing, and with friends and family until they could return home. During that year of instability, she managed to stay on top of her courses, work, and taking care of her daughter.

“It helps your character—you learn to persevere,” she said of the situation. “You just do it. I saw it like I have no other choice; I have to take care of my daughter.”

She decided to see the setback as a positive. During her hotel stay, she focused on the fact someone else was making the beds and cleaning the bathroom while she and her daughter had access to breakfast each morning in the lobby. She used the experience to propel her forward toward her goal.

Robbins (left) and her daughter (right)

“I decided I’m going to be positive because being negative isn’t going to help. Having a pity party wasn’t going to help me graduate,” Robbins recalled.

During that time, she was determined to pass the NCLEX nursing exam and return to PVAMU to complete her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. She passed the NCLEX exam just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting and was accepted into the PVAMU RN-BSN program. That was when Robbins had to redouble her efforts.

She was able to attend the program online, but her daughter was also attending class online due to COVID-19. Robbins became both a teacher and mother while trying to do her own work as a student.

“Starting my nursing journey during the high impact of COVID made everything feel as though it was moving at a faster pace,” she said. “I’m thankful that the people I work with were patient and willing to answer all my questions.”

After her six-week preceptorship, Houston experienced the “great freeze” of February 2021. The city – along with much of the state – lost power and water for days and even weeks in some places.

“I was in the hospital for three days – we lost water,” she said. “We passed meds with bottles of water. There was also COVID, so we had to make sure each patient was safe, had their own bottle of water and was accommodated.”

Robbins said the challenge went beyond keeping patients safe in the hospital. They also had to ensure that transportation was safe and that patients had a safe environment to return to when they were discharged.

“Everything’s a learning experience,” she said. “Our hospital is short [of nurses]; everywhere is short. Every hospital is short; every hospital is bombarded, whether it’s from COVID or not.”

At graduation, Robbins stayed on in the Intermediate Care Unit at HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball. Today, she assists patients who are well enough to be released from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) but not yet well enough to return to the general hospital population.

“Originally, I attended PVAMU because I knew they had a great nursing school. I was truly happy that I was able to come back and complete my BSN here,” Robbins said.

Her goal is to work in the ICU before continuing her education journey and earning her master’s degree. Robbins advises students to never give up on their dreams, even if the path is difficult.

“It may look impossible on the outside, but nothing is impossible with God. There were dark days for sure, but God brought me to the other side,” she said. “Learn as much as possible. Be inquisitive and don’t miss any opportunity to learn something, even something small. It will all help you grow in your career.”

By Jocelyn Kerr