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1st graduate of APSU's online M.S.N. bucked the odds to earn degrees

If the degree werent online, I couldnt do it, says Tamara Flaherty, the first Austin Peay State University student to earn the fully online Master of Science in Nursing. She received the M.S.N. on May 5 during APSUs Spring 2006 Commencement.

Flahertys journey to this day has not been smooth and easy. With all odds against her from Day 1, it seems as if she never should have attended college at all, much less earn two nursing degrees.
“If the degree weren't online, I couldn't do it,” says Tamara Flaherty, the first Austin Peay State University student to earn the fully online Master of Science in Nursing. She received the M.S.N. on May 5 during APSU's Spring 2006 Commencement.

Flaherty's journey to this day has not been smooth and easy. With all odds against her from Day 1, it seems as if she never should have attended college at all, much less earn two nursing degrees.

Although she always wanted a college degree, she was one of six children in a family that relied on government welfare to exist. Her marriage at 19 and the birth of three sons in six years pushed her dream of college into the background.

Just as their three sons were becoming more independent, she and her first husband decided to adopt a baby girl suffering from shaken-baby syndrome. As a result of the abuse, the child was left visually impaired, mentally disabled and confined to a wheelchair.

Caring for this child brought Flaherty in almost daily contact with the health care system. As a result, she not only gained an understanding of the need for competent, caring professionals, she also revisited her dream of going to collegewith a definite focus: to become a nurse.

She enrolled in APSU's baccalaureate nursing degree program, arranging her schedule around her four children. In a previous interview, she said, “I go to school while they're in school … (and) do my homework after they've gone to bed.

“Austin Peay's multiple education options were a godsend. I enrolled as a main campus student, but I also did Fort Campbell classes, night classes and online classes.”

In 2002, through sheer determination and hard work, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursingbecoming the first in her family to even attend much less graduate from college.
Yet she yearned to do more. Despite family obligations plus working full time as a registered nurse in the critical care unit at Skyline Medical Center, Nashville, she became a spokesperson on the issue of shaken-baby syndrome and is working to ensure increased public awareness of this problem.

Now remarried to James Flaherty, a soldier serving in Iraqwho arrived home just in time to see her graduateFlaherty is the stepmother to his three children on top of her four. Still, she persevered, becoming the first graduate of APSU's online Master of Science in Nursing program.

“Lack of education was the family legacy,” Flaherty says. “I want future generations of my family to view a college education as not only possible, but necessary.”

For more information about APSU's baccalaureate nursing program or online Master of Science in Nursing, telephone the School of Nursing at (931) 221-7710. — Dennie B. Burke