From Daycare to Healthcare, Surgical Technologist Graduate Followed Her Calling
For 20 years, Melissa Wehlage devoted her time and energy to raising her two children and taking care of many other children from the community in her at-home daycare. She and her husband started their family young. At the time, Wehlage put her dreams of a college education on hold so her husband, who was in the middle of his program, could finish his degree. “I always knew I wanted to go to school, I just didn’t know what I wanted to pursue,” she says. Life kept her busy. It wasn’t until the pause that followed the death of a loved one that a door opened for Wehlage to a new perspective and a new mission in life.
A Leap of Faith
“I spent time with my grandma on the night she died,” she says. “On the night she died, my grandma gave me the gift of faith and it pointed me in a direction I never expected.” While grieving, a month after her grandmother’s death, Wehlage came across an opportunity she knew was destined for her. She found the Surgical Technologist Associate’s degree program at Rasmussen College and within two weeks, had taken her entry exam and registered for classes. When growing up, Wehlage always thought she would go to medical school. So when she first heard about the field of surgical technology, she was excited by the possibilities of working in a healthcare environment and she knew it was the fulfilling role she was craving.
“Having faith changed the way I thought about life and the opportunities in front of me,” says Wehlage.
Rasmussen College was the right environment for Wehlage as she started her journey in higher education. “When I researched the credentials it would take to become a surgical technologist I knew the programmatic accreditation Rasmussen College holds for the Brooklyn Park campus was a big deal to me and a huge deciding factor,” she says. While a lot of big changes were happening for Wehlage during a short period of time, Rasmussen College was able to take her in and get her started quickly and easily. “The College was so accommodating I didn’t even have to look anywhere else. Every single person I interacted with was super and so, so good,” she says.
When Wehlage decided to pursue her education, her daughter was going into her sophomore year at Iowa State University. “In many ways my daughter and I have grown in parallel paths. Having her young, we in a way grew up together and we have always had a special bond,” she says. “Going to college at the same time as her was a beautiful experience.” Wehlage’s daughter helped her navigate the online college experience. While she found it tough at first, her whole family was very supportive and excited for her journey.
Paying It Forward
While making her way through the program, Wehlage ran into a flyer on campus looking for student tutors. As someone who had taught the kids in her care for many years, she knew she would be a good fit. “I was able to work around my schooling and I made a little money on the side, too. It was a perfect fit that fell into place for me,” she says. Being able to be a guide and mentor to others who may have been in a similar situation to her was inspiring.
“Some students were so lost and I was able to help them see the light.”
Not only did Wehlage guide her peers to success while she was student, but she also had the honor of addressing them at the Twin Cities graduation ceremony in June 2019 as this year’s student commencement speaker.
“What an ending for me,” she says. “I did my best and put everything I could into my education. Being the student speaker is the perfect way for me to end this part of my life.”
Wehlage truly believes every college student, especially adult students, should be very proud of starting. For Wehlage and many others, starting is the hardest part and so is pushing through the unfamiliar. “I am the type of person who doesn’t like to make mistakes and my response to failing in one of my classes was my proudest moment. I learned that I am going to fail and I can’t do anything about it,” she says. After she experienced a bad grade she buckled down and was relentless with her studies. “I stayed after, studied harder and practiced after hours.” Wehlage learned that sometimes you are going to screw up and fail but don’t let it define you, rather use it as a learning experience and grow from it. “In my current role as a surgical technologist I would lose my mind if I wasn’t able to make mistakes from time to time.”
Landing Her Dream Job
A month after graduating with her Associate’s degree, Wehlage accepted a job as a surgical technologist at Children’s Minnesota. “It has been a learning experience, I still make mistakes but I don’t give up. One of my favorite things about the field is that there is opportunity for continuous learning,” she says. “The people here are wonderful and I have had nothing but support in a comfortable yet stimulating environment. It is never dull, I experience new things every day.”
Are you ready to take the plunge and embark on your educational journey? Learn more about Rasmussen College’s degree programs here.