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Mother of five to get nursing degree

By : Eric Coker

More than 30 years after starting college, Michele Summers is not only receiving her bachelor’s degree in nursing, but also accolades for being one of the University’s top students.

“The desire for me to finish my bachelor’s degree had always been there,” said Summers, 51, of Castle Creek. “I always regretted that I didn’t finish it. This was the right time. The doors were wide open.”

Summers’ long journey to Commencement began in 1976 when she graduated from Utica Free Academy. She attended Niagara University for nursing for two years before moving to the West Coast, where she worked at a hospital for a year and met her husband. Summers lost interest in college and raised a family, home-schooling five children.

The family had moved back to New York and Summers was involved in the community when those doors to Binghamton opened. Summers’ two youngest children decided to enter public schools, and her husband, Ron, saw his schedule gain flexibility when he became a full-time pastor at New Life Ministries in Endicott. Summers returned to the classroom in 2007.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise to be here,” she said. “I thought it would be impersonal and there would be awkward moments being an older student. But it wasn’t like that. There’s a lot of variety and diversity here and I think people respect each other’s differences, including age.”

Summers was active in the Decker School of Nursing, serving as a student representative for the school’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and working as a research assistant on a tobacco control behavior study. The study, led by Assistant

Research Professor Gerri Britton, explored the experiences of pregnant smokers and their caregivers in rural areas.

Summers analyzed data from the focus groups and helped prepare poster presentations for the study.

“The profession of nursing is trying to advance,” she said. “We’re not going to advance without nursing research. I don’t think the public realizes how many nurses do research.”

The efforts of the past two years were rewarded this spring when Summers was one of seven University students and 238 SUNY students to receive the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

“If I get annoying with my family, they tell me to go polish my medallion,” Summers said with a laugh.

She also recently earned the Decker Foundation Award for Academic Excellence.
Summers’ success is no surprise to Alison Dura, a clinical lecturer in Decker who has had Summers for several classes.

“She has combined enthusiasm in the areas of academics, scholarship, campus and community service and leadership in a truly admirable package,” Dura said.

The community service Dura speaks of includes training and socializing puppies for Guiding Eyes of the Blind, leading the faith community health team at New Life Ministries and four years as a member of the Castle Creek Volunteer Fire Company. Summers, who was named the company’s 2003 Firefighter of the Year, left the squad when she came to the University, but is hoping to get involved again.

Summers will have a busy couple of weeks ahead of her. Her daughter-in-law, Kimberly Summers, is receiving a master’s in education from the University this weekend, and on May 23, her daughter Ellen will marry Brian Gallagher, who is coming home from duty in Iraq for the wedding.

Then Summers will take a job with Lourdes Hospital’s Lourdes At Home program as a home care nurse. Graduate study in nursing is something she is still considering.

“I want to give God some credit for this,” she said. “It’s not an accident that all of these doors were open. I’ve had a lot of people at my church and my family supporting me and praying for me. I feel like it’s been a community effort, although I definitely did my homework and studied a lot.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08