More than 350 students graduated from Auburn University at Montgomery on Saturday. While each has overcome many obstacles to achieve this milestone, Tetyana Alvarado’s journey has been particularly rocky.
In 2002, at age 35, she immigrated to the U.S. from Odessa, Ukraine, hometown of 1994 Olympic figure skating champion Oksana Baiul. When Alvarado arrived in Montgomery, she faced several setbacks. She struggled to learn English, wasn’t able to find a job despite her years of experience as a physician’s assistant and nutritionist back in Ukraine, and the college credit she had earned was non-transferable.
“When I moved here they said ‘No, not good, you have to start over’,” Alvarado said. “I was devastated.”
Her 15-year-old son, Sergiy Alyokhin, helped her learn English, initially serving as her translator. “She couldn’t say anything besides hello and goodbye when we first got here,” he said. “At the grocery store, if the cashier asked if she wanted paper or plastic, she said ‘yes’.”
Alvarado’s spoken English improved and she enrolled at Auburn Montgomery to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The first time she had to write a paper, however, she hit a stumbling block. Unable to convey what she wanted to say in English, she resorted to writing the assignment in Russian.
“I took it to the Learning Center,” she said, referring to the campus’s tutoring service. “They said ‘We don’t speak Russian’ and I said, ‘I don’t write in English’.”
She began spending several days a week in the Learning Center, becoming so close to the staff that she placed a group photo of the team on her desk during exams to calm her nerves. Accustomed to earning As in her classes back in Ukraine, she was worried when she starting making Bs in most of her courses at AUM. Her professors assured her that she was doing fine.
At the School of Nursing’s Senior Tea on Dec. 11, Alvarado was awarded the Dean’s Award for outstanding achievement from Dean Gregg Newschwander. After graduating Saturday she will start her nursing career at Baptist Hospital South’s cardiology department. She has already decided to come back to AUM in a year to get her nurse practitioner degree.
“I am proud to see her where she is today, because she had to work so hard,” said Alyokhin, who earned a marketing degree from AUM in 2009.
Lee Patino, class president, said, “She has worked 10 times harder, had greater challenges, and is now flying higher than anybody else. She is a great asset to anyone she comes in contact with.”
Alvarado credits Susan Barganier and the rest of the staff at the Learning Center
for her success, as well as School of Nursing faculty – particularly Ramona Lazenby, Arlene Morris, Marilyn Rhodes, Allison Terry, Lorinda Stutheit, Donna Beuk, Carol Stewart and Jud McCartha. “They were more than a family to me,” she said. “Without their encouragement this wouldn’t have happened.”
AUM held two commencement ceremonies on Dec. 15. At 10 a.m., graduates from the schools of Liberal Arts, Education and Nursing received degrees, while those from the schools of Business and Sciences graduated at 2 p.m. English Professor Robert Evans served as the commencement speaker. To watch the ceremonies, visit: http://graduation.aum.edu/
Learn more about the AUM School of Nursing at nursing.aum.edu
Photo: Tetyana Alvarado accepts the Dean’s Award from Dean Gregg Newschwander at the AUM School of Nursing’s Senior Tea on Dec. 11. Photo by Frank C. Williams Reporting by Buffy Lockette