CSUEB nursing student Nicole Laurent, center, served as a medic in Afghanistan. Her husband and classmate, Larry, right, is a reservist.
A week before Valentine’s Day 2008, Nicole Laurent, 28, walked down the aisle with new husband Larry. Today, she looks forward to another stroll with him.
“We want to walk down the graduation aisle together,” says Nicole, a former Air Force senior airman in her second year studying nursing at Cal State East Bay. Reservist Larry, who she met at Travis Air Force Base, is her classmate.
Following four years of active duty as a senior airman and aircraft mechanic, Larry said he was weighing career options when Nicole expressed interest in pursuing nursing and encouraged him to consider the field. He started researching the profession and discovered it appealed to him, too.
Finding a program in which to enroll together would prove tricky; since high demand has left many nursing programs across the state with long wait lists and more applicants than space for students. As veterans, however, Nicole and Larry got a leg up as applicants to Cal State East Bay’s nursing program.
“Cal State East Bay seemed pretty veteran-friendly,” said Larry, a native of La Comb, La., 45 miles outside of New Orleans. “They give veterans priority status. I really appreciated it.”
Today, the Laurents are successful second-year students in the program, based primarily on the Concord Campus, and are active members of the East Bay Nursing Association Board.
Many of Cal State East Bay’s approximately 210 student veterans major in nursing, business or criminal justice administration, said Deborah Hansana, coordinator for CSUEB’s Veterans Affairs Office. The VOA serves as the first point of contact for student veterans and their family members, helping guide them in tapping their educational benefits, connecting them with advisors and university resources and organizing events that encourage student veterans to get to know one another.
“The majority are receiving Post-9/11 G.I. Bills, so they were recently active (duty),” said Hansana, adding that most arrive when they are between ages 22 and 26. “They’re definitely a mix of the branches – Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force.”
The Laurents also do their part to reach out to incoming student veterans at Cal State East Bay by helping them make the transition to student life, advising them on how to work within the system and find the on-campus services they need.
“We explain to them what they need to submit to get the G.I. Bill,” Nicole explained.
The couple agrees that enrolling at Cal State East Bay was a good decision for them.
“The class work is definitely challenging,” said Larry. “The part I enjoy most is clinical, translating the knowledge we gained in the classroom to the clinical (situation). My favorite thing is educating patients.”
For example, while taking a patient’s blood pressure, he typically explains that the two numbers reported are the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure. The systolic number measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, while the diastolic number measures the pressure when the heart is relaxed.
Clinical training also counts as Nicole’s favorite part of her studies.
“I’m a hands on learner,” she said, adding that working in simulated medical scenarios in the laboratory presents realistic training for student nurses. It’s also given her an opportunity to brush up on skills she hasn’t used since her active duty days.
Less than a year after the Laurents wed, Nicole was deployed for four months to Afghanistan as an ER medic, assisting with thoracotomies, applying internal defibrillators and performing EKGs.
“There’s nothing that can prepare you,” said Nicole, who grew up raising cattle in a rural community of 200 in Hughson, 10 miles east of Modesto. “I learned so much.”
“We did lose a lot of our soldiers, which is the sad part,” she added. “It was an amazing experience. I would never take it back.”
She finds her battlefield expertise returning as she practices nursing in the CSUEB simulation lab on a “SimMan” that replicates the heart tones, pulse and medical needs of a live patient.
Studying with a fellow vet -- in this case, a spouse – also has contributed to the positive experience.
Just as their respective military service jobs helped them empathize and understand what each other was going through during their active duty days, pursuing nursing degrees simultaneously has allowed them to relate as fellow students.
The pair reports a strong sense of mutual support and no competitiveness.
“We’re able to help each other,” Larry said. “A lot of times, we’re sitting in the same lecture together. Sometimes there’s something I didn’t quite hear that she catches and vice versa. We try to encourage each other to do (our) best.”
Nicole agrees they make a solid team. She gives additional credit to faculty, citing one instructor who regularly sits after class patiently answering Nicole’s string of questions.
“It’s an awesome school,” Nicole says. “We feel so privileged and blessed to have this opportunity.”
Following graduation, Larry wants to give back even more to fellow service men and women. He’s considering becoming an Air Force nurse.
“When it comes to taking care of people, I really like to take care of them more than anybody.”
Learn about services and benefits available through the Cal State East Bay Veterans Affairs Office Web site.