Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College
"All the instructors want you to succeed. When COVID hit, they did an exceptional job getting us ready to graduate amidst the pandemic."
I’m Jessica Hardison, and I graduated from Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College last May during COVID. I was actually a student at OCtech back in 2002. My oldest son, who is now 20 and also about to graduate — was a baby. I was in the nursing program then, but I couldn’t do it with him being a baby. It was too difficult. I planned to go back to school when he got older, but then I got pregnant with my second son.
Two years ago, I finally said, “You know what, I’m ready to go. They’re old enough now and I don’t have to be home all the time.” I emailed OCtech in March, sent my application in and got wait-listed. On July 9th, I got a phone call that I would be starting the next month. It all happened within a matter of four months.
How did you decide to study nursing at OCtech?
I’ve always wanted to do nursing. I had a really rare blood disorder when I was little, so I was in and out of hospitals all the time. Nurses, doctors, aids and therapists were always there for me, and I wanted to be there for other people.
I actually went to the University of South Carolina in Columbia for one semester, but it was not for me. It was just too big, and some of my classes had 200 people. I’m more of a hands-on, small-group learner. OCtech offers that experience, and it is local to where I live. With my oldest being a baby, it was hard commuting back and forth to Columbia every day. OCtech is much closer, and number one in the state for nursing.
What did you know about technical college before you attended?
I took some college courses at Tech while I was in my senior year, so I was already part of the Tech community. They had people come to my high school to talk about their programs, but I thought I wanted to do the four-year thing.
Everybody was pushing you to go to a four-year college back then. The funny thing is that a lot of hospitals would much rather have an OCtech nursing graduate because of the facility, the hands-on experience and all the clinicals that are offered through Tech. A lot of schools don’t have that.
Tell us about going to tech as a young mother, and what it was like to go back.
I married the father of my kids when I was 21. He and I were in a very bad car wreck in 2009 and he was killed. I had actually been talking about going back to school right before all of that happened because my youngest was 3 and the oldest was 8. I thought it was going to be the time. After the accident, I had to learn how to walk again, which took about six months. That put a dent in the plan. In 2018 I said, “You know what? I’ve got to do it. I’m not getting any younger at this point.” I was 36 when I started. It was time.
What kind of experience have you had at OCtech?
All the instructors want you to succeed. COVID hit when we were getting ready to graduate, and it threw a big monkey wrench in everything, but our instructors were always there for us — just a phone call or email away. They did everything they had to do to make sure we had our clinical hours to graduate and all the paperwork lined up for the testing. They did an exceptional job getting us ready to graduate amidst the pandemic.
What have you learned about yourself during this journey?
Don’t ever give up. It’s never too late. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Whether you’re 18 or 40, you can still go back to school. I work with a couple of friends who are older than me. They’re LPNs, and want to go back to get their RN. They’re probably a good 15 or 20 years older, but I tell them to do it. You’re never too old. You never stop learning regardless of whether you have an LPN or RN. Continuous education is part of the nursing career because that’s what you’ve got to do to keep up with the times.