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Spotlight on Walden // May 12, 2020

A Mid-Life Quest for Knowledge

Turning 50 can spark all kinds of self-reflecting questions about happiness, identity, self-confidence and career. People experience an enhanced curiosity during this time of their life, which can lead to new opportunities, according to research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development. For Rachel Colletta, a 30-year nursing veteran, it was a turning point that put her on a path for success.

Rachel Colletta
Walden Chairman of the Board Paula Singer, Rachel Colletta, and Walden Board Member Toni L. Freeman (left to right)

When she was six years old, her mom told her she was going to be a nurse. When Colletta entered grade school, she was the child reading anatomy and physiology books on the playground. She ultimately ended up in nursing school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Though it seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for Colletta, she pursued the field because she loves taking care of people. For 28 years, she cared directly for patients in a variety of settings, including trauma, the intensive care unit (ICU), cardiac ICU and burn units. She also administered in-home intravenous immunotherapy infusions to patients for 15 years.

“These people welcomed me into their home, and I would sit with them for six to 10 hours watching TV and talking about life while they received treatment,” says Colletta. “But, I could feel my brain turning to mush.”

Colletta recalls there weren’t a lot of options growing up in the 1970s. As she turned 50, she looked back on her career realizing that something was missing.

“The bright side was that I knew I could do something about it,” says Colletta. “I decided I could make more of an impact improving the lives of others if I helped my company get its message out.”

After nearly three decades of patient care, Colletta became a clinical nurse educator, which allowed her to teach nurses and pharmacists about human plasma medicines, how to administer them and how to take care of patients who use them. She was happy with this professional move but still felt like something was missing. To this point, her experience as a registered nurse (RN) had always been sufficient to secure the jobs she wanted. Colletta determined earning a bachelor’s degree could help fill that void and enrolled in Walden’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program.

As her company’s only clinical nurse educator for the country, she was traveling 20 to 25 days a month and needed a flexible program. Considering her extensive experience, Colletta thought a competency-based education (CBE) program like Walden’s Tempo Learning® format would help her achieve her goal faster. Because the CBE program allows students to move at their own pace, Coletta managed to earn her BSN degree in five months.

“Five months is fast, but I want to be clear that this program was not easy,” maintains Colletta. “I compared it to my friends who were going through traditional programs at the same time, and the curriculum content is the same across BSN programs. I had graduated, and they still had more than a year to go.”

As a Tempo Learning student, Colletta was supported throughout her entire program by a personal academic coach. She had a standing appointment with her coach every two weeks at 8 a.m. on Monday.

“I looked forward to our chats because he gave me my weekly inspiration and motivation, and we used every minute to focus on my assessments and learning timeline,” says Colletta.

One would think given her experience Colletta would have known a lot of the information already, but she admits there were concepts she hadn’t thought of since 1988. The nursing and healthcare fields have also evolved over the years, incorporating new methods, technologies, processes and documentation.

“As soon as grades were in after I finished my last competency, I updated my LinkedIn profile to list my new BSN,” says Colletta. “Within two days, I was bombarded by recruiters for positions that I’d never considered. I knew then that this degree was my tipping point.”

One week after graduating, she became the Director of Education for a medical device company. Colletta now supervises two people and manages the educational needs for more than 180 medical professionals.

“I’ve never been a boss before,” says Colletta. “For me, this job is so perfect as if someone went into my head, plucked out all the info, put it on paper and mailed it to me with a nice red bow.”

Colletta’s hard work and academic achievement did not go unnoticed. In 2019, she earned the Academic Performance Award from Walden’s College of Health Sciences. The award recognizes distinguished scholarship, service and citizenship in an undergraduate student who embodies the ideals expressed in Walden’s core values and who is committed to serving humankind.

Rachel Colletta and Family
Rachel Colletta (second to the right) and her family

Excited about her future, Colletta enrolled in Walden’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) - Healthcare Management Tempo Learning program.

“When I started at Walden, it’s like this fog just lifted,” explains Colletta. “I didn’t realize how much I loved learning.”

Colletta's mother, a lifelong educator, father, 27-year-old son and 28-year-old daughter were excited to see her cross the stage at Walden’s commencement. While they were cheering her on, her children were inspired to further their education and are now both earning master’s degrees online.

“It’s never too late to learn and open up your world,” says Colletta.