May is a milestone month for Kenley Berry. The soon-to-be Pointer graduate will accept her Van Buren High School diploma just days after walking in the University of Arkansas–Fort Smith’s (UAFS) commencement ceremony, where she received her certification as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

Berry was able to concurrently earn workforce ready credentials and her diploma thanks to VBSD’s participation in the university’s WATC (Western Arkansas Technical Center) program.

Since the spring semester of her junior year Berry completed her core classes at Van Buren High School, before traveling to UAFS for her nursing and higher education courses. The LPN track in which Berry elected to participate was a new pilot program for WATC and required students to be tested before being admitted for the rigorous curriculum.

“I was originally going for health sciences and first leaned toward the pharmacy tech program,” explained Berry. “I then learned about the option to take the PSB (Psychological Services Bureau–Practical Nursing exam) and decided to take it and see. I was one of only 16 to get in, from the more than 80 or so that tested.”

Berry began taking courses for the LPN certification and quickly found she had made a wise choice.

“I love nursing. It is very challenging, but definitely worth it,” she said.

Participation in the program meant many long days in class and in clinicals. For the past 18 months, Berry spent the majority of her weekday evenings attending college, completing labs, studying and doing rotations at area medical facilities. She also remained active on the VBHS campus as a member of the Christian fellowship organization, T4:12. Berry was also selected to Mu Alpha Theta, Beta Club and the National Honor Society. She also earned the prestigious 2019 Arkansas Scholar designation.

“There were days that were really hard, but I am really proud of myself for doing it,” she said. “I feel that I have really accomplished something and because of that I am ready to tackle the next thing for my education and career.”

The partnership between VBSD and WATC has enabled Berry to save not only time, but thousands of dollars in tuition and fees, as well.

“This has meant a tremendous savings for our family,” said Berry’s mother, Karrie. “Everything was completely paid for and all we were out were the cost of her scrubs.”

Karrie and her husband, Delbert, admire the commitment their daughter demonstrated in finishing the program.

“Of the 16 that were accepted, only six finished,” Karrie said. “She worked hard and we are so proud of her.”

Berry’s work ethic was also recognized by UAFS, as she was presented the Spring 2019 Outstanding Clinician Award from the College of Health Science WATC Practical Nursing Program at her official pinning ceremony on May 8.

With her certification in-hand, Berry will also be able to go directly into the workforce, making well-above average pay for most college students and with no undergraduate student loan debt.

“I hope to work part-time in the evenings, while working toward my BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing),” she said.

Berry’s experience has also helped open her eyes to the wide range of specialties in the medical profession.

“I want to go into psychiatric nursing,” she said. “I greatly enjoyed my clinical rotation at Valley in Fort Smith.”

Berry is well on her way to achieving her career goals, and thanks to her participation in the concurrent credit program with UAFS, she has a major financial and academic advantage over many of her peers.

This fall, she will attend Arkansas Tech University–Ozark Campus to begin the LPN to RN bridge program.