Distance Learning Student Finds Inspiration in 11 Children

  • April 30th, 2020

A strong support system is essential for any college student while navigating the path to a degree.

A headshot of Sarah Rickenbacker
Sarah Rickenbacker

For Sarah Rickenbacker, a distance learning student from Johnson City, Tennessee, who will soon earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing through the Capstone College of Nursing’s RN to BSN online program, her supporting cast of 11 children, seven of whom are also in college, is as strong as you’ll find.

Rickenbacker was raised in a military family and spent her junior high and high school years in Alabama while her father was stationed at Fort Rucker. Her mother was a nurse and Sarah quickly became intrigued with the profession after seeing so many express their gratitude for her mom.

“It was always sweet to hear my friends talk about how much they appreciated my mom caring for their family members,” said Rickenbacker. “It made me proud to know she provided comfort during their times of suffering.”

Following high school, Rickenbacker put her goal of becoming a nurse on hold as she fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a mother.

“From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a mother one day,” said Rickenbacker. “I consider being a mother a true vocation and honor.”

Rickenbacker and her then-husband would go on to have nine children. When she became a single mother, she knew she had to find a way to provide for her children.

Despite numerous challenges that come with life, raising nine children and nursing school, Rickenbacker became a registered nurse and has worked in the field ever since, mostly recently as a travel nurse. But over time, she became interested in advancing in the profession and a particular specialization.

“I developed a fascination with neurology and fell in love with it,” said Rickenbacker. “The brain is so cool, powerful and mysterious. There is so much to learn and discover.”

Rickenbacker has her eyes set on becoming a nurse practitioner with a specialization in neurology. In order to move forward, she had to first obtain her BSN.

Fully aware she had to find an online program that best fit her schedule, Rickenbacker recalled her time in Alabama as a teenager and the admiration she developed for the Capstone.

“I looked at several universities but in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to go to UA,” said Rickenbacker. “I wanted to be able to say I’m a graduate of The University of Alabama.”

Rickenbacker says her experience in the Capstone College of Nursing’s online RN to BSN program was better than she ever could’ve imagined. As she continued to work to support her family and pay for tuition, she leaned on the support of faculty and staff to keep her going.

“Trying to juggle life, raising two teenagers and school was very tough at times,” said Rickenbacker. “But the instructors were so encouraging, understanding and flexible when I desperately needed it.”

The Rickenbacker family posing for a portrait.She also believes much of her success is due to the strong support of her current husband Scott, who added two more children to the family, and his parents.

“Their confidence in me has never wavered, keeping my spirits up when I doubted I could continue,” said Rickenbacker. “They truly have been my personal cheerleaders.”

Rickenbacker’s perseverance was evident as she worked toward her BSN. Michelle Cheshire, RN mobility coordinator with the Capstone College of Nursing, describes Rickenbacker as a passionate and resilient student.

“Sarah is authentic, genuine and isn’t scared to share her vulnerabilities. She is certainly a role model for those who believe they have too many outside responsibilities to continue their education.”

As Rickenbacker’s virtual journey at the Capstone comes to an end, she hopes her story is not only an inspiration to parents who might be nervous about pursuing a degree while raising a family, but also to her 11 children and six grandchildren.

“If a parent is apprehensive about going back to school, I would say that’s a good thing because it shows you’re aware of the challenges and forces you to prepare for them,” said Rickenbacker. “Like setting any other goal, you’ll have to make sacrifices but it’s well worth it.

“Most important, I believe it sets a great example for your children. It shows you’re never too old to set a new goal or have new aspirations. Although I’m completing this step in my education, I’m not finished yet.”

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.