Chaffey College Nursing Students Honored During Pinning Ceremonies

December 17, 2021

Students recite the "Nightingale Pledge" during the associate degree in nursing pinning ceremony.

When Vanessa Madrigal Medina embarked on her journey to become a vocational nurse in early 2020, she had no idea that the stress of her classes would be compounded by a global pandemic.

The Riverside woman and her classmates toughed it out through remote learning and an eight-month hiatus in clinical training as hospitals faced an influx of COVID-19 patients.

“I think because of COVID hitting when it did, our group is closer,” Medina said. “I’ve always been one to push through, but there were times when it was difficult.”

Chaffey College honored 17 vocational nursing and 31 associate degree in nursing students during a pair of ceremonies at the Rancho Cucamonga campus on Dec. 16. Both groups are unique in that they normally would have completed their programs months earlier, and their ceremonies – for the first time in Chaffey history – were livestreamed due the pandemic.

They’re also distinct because California nursing students were allowed to assist licensed nurses on the frontline of the pandemic through the California Health Corps. Chaffey’s students administered hundreds of vaccinations in area hospitals as part of their training.

Shelley Eckvahl, who directs the vocational nursing program, said the determination of these students will benefit them in their careers.

“When they were told that they had to learn on computers and iPads and laptops in living rooms and dens and anywhere they could find that was quiet, they could have easily quit and moved onto something less difficult,” Eckvahl said. “Nevertheless, they persisted.”

Nursing students are required to undergo hundreds of hours of training in hospitals in addition to classroom instruction to complete their programs. But when COVID-19 first forced shutdowns across the country in spring 2020, Chaffey’s clinical instruction had to pause.

Joe Romero, who works as a surgical technician at the University of California Irvine, began the associate degree in nursing program to upskill his career. But learning amid the pandemic meant purchasing a laptop, upgrading his Internet plan and finding the strength to keep going. All the while, the Rancho Cucamonga man helped his two children push through as their classes also transitioned online.

“It was kind of stressful because we weren’t sure what would happen,” he said. “We didn’t know how long we would be out. It was hard to plan out my life not knowing when the program would start up again.”

When students were allowed to return to their clinical training, it was at the start of the worst wave of COVID-19 cases in Southern California. But Jennifer Renteria, a Chaffey alumna and professor in the associate degree in nursing program, said students were ready.

“This group was like no other,” Renteria said. “They refused to give up and they did not take no for an answer. They knew what had to be done, and they did so with grace and respect.”