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Learn. Together. Kodiak

May 14, 2020Elizabeth Erickson


As the school year winds to a close, most Kodiak High School seniors are busily finishing up projects and assignments and preparing for graduation. Before long, it will be time for many of them to head off to college or start looking for a job. However, for some members of the Class of 2020, that process started a long time ago.

Elizabeth Erickson is a member of the Class of 2020. But she isn’t scrambling right now to turn in assignments or check in with her advisor. That’s because she has already graduated. Not only has she graduated, she is already working in her career field. Elizabeth worked hard to finish school early and is a proud graduate of KHS’s recently revived Certified Nursing Assistant program. She is now working as a “casual” nursing assistant at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, pulling 12 hour shifts two to three days a week. The work can be exhausting, but she loves the job and is excited about taking steps to realizing her goal of becoming a Registered Nurse. However, at this time last year, that was not the case.

Elizabeth is the child of career military parents. She has moved around the country, and the world, with her Air Force dad and Army mom. The family started out in Arizona where she was born, then moved to Portugal and Ohio before finally settling in Anchorage, Alaska. Her father soon retired from the Air Force, but her mother took a job with the Coast Guard and so, just before her junior year, the family packed up and moved once again. This time to Kodiak Island. It is not uncommon for children in military families to feel stressed or somewhat detached after multiple deployments. Changing schools, finding new friends and getting to know a new place can take a toll on anyone, but can be particularly challenging for kids. Elizabeth told me that she had a hard time getting comfortable in her new school and soon her grades began to suffer. “I was really slacking because I couldn’t find my place here.” By the time her senior year came around she knew she needed to make some changes.

While living in Anchorage, Erickson had planned to transfer to King Tech High School and study in their Emergency Medical Technology program. It was a huge disappointment for her when she found out the family would be moving before she even had a chance to start. Her frustration continued when she came to Kodiak and discovered there were no similar programs. However, the summer before her senior year, Erickson’s dad noticed that KHS was bringing back their CNA program. He suggested she give it a try. It was not exactly like the King Tech program, but it was work in the medical field. And, to be honest, she needed some direction. So, she signed up and quickly realized it was the best decision she had made in a long time. “Before this program I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. It gave me a lot of guidance. It was a great experience.” Joining the program gave her the focus she needed and soon her grades began to improve dramatically. By the time she graduated in January, she was getting all A’s.  

She gives a lot of credit to instructor, Sonia Egdorf for setting her on the right path. “Sonia was definitely a role model for me. She mentored me and it was really great. She changed my life. And now I know I want to be a nurse.” Egdorf, who also works as an RN at Providence, pushes her students to excel. Several of Erickson’s classmates could not take the pressure and dropped out of the program. By the time they graduated, there were only three students left. Erickson told me it was a lot of work but once she got into, it began to feel natural, like she had found her calling. “It’s a commitment. It was a lot of after school time and weekends. We’d get up early on Saturdays and go do our clinical hours at the Elder House or at the hospital. But it came easy to me and I knew it was what I wanted.”Three nursing student smiling

Now, she is getting some practical experience under her belt at a real hospital. At Providence she monitors vital signs and makes sure patients have what they need. Though she is supervised by the Charge Nurse, she has a lot of responsibility and frequently works independently. She likes the interaction with her patients and the good feeling she gets from helping them, especially the elderly. She told me, “I really like to work with the older patients. They’ve got really cool stories to tell. They have served the community and now it’s my turn to serve them.”

This sense of service is long engrained in the Erickson family. Her mother, Angie is currently the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the state of Alaska. Her dad, Jeremiah came out of retirement to take a job with School District. Right now, he is a big part of the District’s Free Breakfast and Lunch program. Elizabeth is happy to continue this family tradition. “I want to help people. Service has always been important to me. I saw my parents helping people over the years. I saw what they were doing was beneficial. It made me want to matter and serve people.

There has been some discussion in the family about her following in her parents’ footsteps and joining the military. She hasn’t ruled it out and has even been in contact with recruiters from both the Army and Navy. One reason she isn’t overly eager to enlist is the sheer number of people fighting for limited medical jobs in the service. For now, Erickson will continue working at the hospital and doing a little baking in her off time. She makes a mean cheesecake and even won first prize in the Coast Guard Day Bake-Off. In the fall, she will head off to the University of Arizona to study for her Bachelor Degree in Nursing. When she graduates she will be a Registered Nurse. I asked if she would come back to work in Kodiak when she was done. “I think I’d like to come back here eventually. I’d like to travel around a bit. Maybe I could be a traveling nurse. But I think Kodiak is a good place to come back to.”

Wherever she ends up, she will always look back fondly on the nursing program at Kodiak High School that turned things around for her. “The program changed my life. I’m so thankful for it. I think there should be a lot more programs like that for students. I am honored to have been a part of it.”

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