RICHLAND, Wash. – If it wasn’t for the WSU Tri-Cities’ unique nursing program schedule offerings, Melissa Hammack, this year’s class valedictorian and 4.0 grade-point average student, said earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing probably would not have been impossible.

Hammack said she earned her associate’s degree in nursing from Columbia Basin College, but desired to receive her full bachelor’s degree so that she could help even more people in the medical field.

“I knew I wanted to be a nurse since I was tiny,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to help people.”

A regular school schedule wouldn’t work for her as she works full-time as a nurse at Trios Health. When she heard that WSU Tri-Cities offered a flexible schedule that blends online course work with physical class time, however, she was sold. She began her two-year venture for her bachelor’s degree at the WSU Tri-Cities campus two years ago.

During most nights throughout the school year, Hammack worked the night shift, reporting at 6:30 p.m. and working into the early hours of the morning. Her daytime schedule depended on the courses she had scheduled for the day.

“There were a lot of days where I would be coming off of a work stretch and would go straight into class,” she said. “Other days, I would be able to go home and sleep. It would sort of just depend. It was definitely busy.”

Hammack said what made her schedule easier was the fact her classes mixed physical classroom time with online seminars and lectures. She said in some of her classes, she would attend the physical classroom setting once a week or every other week, while the other parts of her coursework were completed online every day or every other day.

“That was so helpful,” she said. “I like that it gives us the ability to still work. That was something I was really worried about in going back to school, but it worked out really well.”

Hammack said in addition to her flexible schedule, she worked with Susan Campbell, the interim director for the Tri-Cities nursing program, to come up with a schedule that would allow her to take her classes one step at a time.

“She was a huge help,” Hammack said. “She was great with trying to balance out my life.”

With the additional supports, Hammack was able to manage a month-long work abroad opportunity in Iquitos, Peru, as part of the People of Peru Project. She traveled with the WSU International Health Care Program to provide health care to individuals in impoverished areas.

Hammack said it was the experience of a lifetime as it exposed her to more than anything she would ever see in a clinical setting in the United States. But more so than the unusual diseases or cases that she helped with, she said it was the everyday aid that she provided to young and expectant mothers that made the most impact on her during the experience abroad. Back home, Hammack said she worked in labor and delivery. In Peru, she was able to help in the same field.

“A lot of times, because I do work in labor and delivery, we would have moms with very young infants that came in with breast-feeding questions or something similar that was going on with them,” she said. “Sometimes, those infants would only be a week old. It was nice to be able to help moms and babies that were there and see how moms had questions about the same things we do here. No matter where we are in the world, we deal with the same things. That was really neat to see.”

In her regular schooling, Hammack said she also connected well with her tight-knit group of classmates, who each came from very different backgrounds, which is why she was so surprised to learn that she had been honored as valedictorian.

“That is what is so unique about WSU Tri-Cities,” she said. “So many people walk so many different roads to get their diploma. That is something I was able to appreciate in my life because I, too, wasn’t the typical student. I knew where I was at with my grade-point, but I didn’t necessarily think I would be chosen.”

Hammack graduated this month with her bachelor’s in nursing where she gave the valedictorian’s address. She said her plan now is to focus solely on her career alongside fellow Cougs that she has worked with for years.

“It feels good,” she said of earning her diploma. “I work with a lot of people who graduated from WSU. It is nice to finally be a part of the Cougar family.”