On July 11, Excelsior College will host its annual Commencement ceremony at the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany, New York. With ‘Commencement Stories’, Excelsior Life explores the personal and educational journeys of a few of this year’s outstanding graduates.
Growing up in a military family, Nancee Berling was constantly on the move as a child, calling eight countries and nearly every state in the US home at one point or another. While some may have seen high school graduation and encroaching adulthood as a time to put down roots – somewhere, anywhere – Berling heard the call to serve. Following in the footsteps of her father, who enlisted in the Marine Corps after Pearl Harbor and later served five tours in Vietnam, she enlisted in the US Army.
Set to join a nursing program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a serious car accident upended her plans. Given the choice to leave the military, Berling declined. “They sent me to San Antonio, Texas, and trained me to become a surgical technician.”
In 1979, Berling discharged from the military as an E-5 Specialist to join the nursing field – beginning a family tradition (both her sister and niece are licensed nurses). Applying her military training, she completed her associate’s degree with examinations through USNY Regents External Degree Programs, (now Excelsior College).
By the time the 1990s rolled around, rumbles within the nursing profession encouraged practitioners to earn a bachelor’s degree. By the 2000s, the calls had grown so strong that Berling felt she could no longer procrastinate on heading back to school. “With an associate degree, my practice was limited to the bed side”, she says. “I had to keep my options open.” She began completing courses at local community colleges to meet general education requirements. Then, a third car accident left her with a mild brain injury, limited mobility, and unable to work.
Facing new challenges, she returned to work part time, and before long, enrolled in Excelsior’s nursing program to complete her bachelor’s degree (Summa Cum Laude) with online courses. “Through the years, adapting distance to online learning, Excelsior’s pioneering education has opened the world to me. I’m very grateful for their visionary leadership.”
Balancing work, school and family, a disability added an increased degree of difficulty. “While my life will reflect several catastrophic events, I much prefer to be defined by my accomplishments.” Her husband and family were there for support in times of need. Berling jokes that her husband is the most excited that she’s completed her degree, and insists she attend graduation.
Thinking about the next stage of her career and life, Berling is feeling the need to continue on with her educational journey. “I’m already looking at programs for my master’s degree,” said Berling. “Education is an individual experience, but you only get what you put into it. You need persistence.”