Note: This story appears in the Summer 2019 issue of Affinity magazine. Visit our Affinity Magazine page to view all past issues.

Michelle Clark cover photo

The image for the cover of the Summer issue of Affinity was made by Photo Editor Kaci Smart ’09 at the Columbia Country Club.

Between moving away from home and integrating into a new community, adjusting to a tougher class load and passing exams left and right, successfully navigating through college is challenging enough as it is. Add on the time demands of practicing and playing a varsity sport, then throw in majoring in a relatively new program on your school’s campus, and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm. Michelle Clark wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Springfield, Illinois, native recently completed a successful career on the Cougar women’s golf team, and has one year of coursework remaining before earning her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

Clark is a member of the second BSN cohort. Along with fellow athletes Katelyn Nottleman (softball) and Kaitlyn Tambke (soccer), it is the first class to have student-athletes among its ranks. “We definitely lean on each other for help with notes that we may have missed, or any questions we might have about the material,” Clark says.

While the nursing program is challenging enough, this past semester was especially vexing for Clark. Clinical rounds begin every Tuesday during the spring of the third year for nursing students, which happned to coincide with a pair of golf tournaments. Yet constant communication between student and professor, along with the willingness to make alternate arrangements, made for a relatively smooth balance.

Clark credits faculty like Dr. Joyce Gentry and Dr. Faye Fairchild for supporting her and her fellow student-athletes in balancing the unique time demands of a sport and a program such as nursing.

“My professors are extremely understanding, and I couldn’t imagine not having professors who understand the demanding schedules we go through,” says Clark, who added that Gentry frequently asks the trio for updates about the golf, soccer and softball teams’ progress.

For a sport that requires intense mental focus, Clark says she wasn’t ever stressed or anxious about missing class thanks to the strong relationship with her professors.

On the course, Clark credits Michelle Butler, who finished her second year as John Utley’s graduate assistant, with improving each golfer. “[Butler’s] such an amazing golfer; she knows the golf swing and how to teach. We’ve been blessed to have her on the team,” Clark says.

“I’m just thankful that I was able to play for Columbia College, and I’ll get to be a great nurse because of it.” — Michelle Clark ’20

Clark’s final year of nursing school will not only include countless tests to prepare for her upcoming board exams, but also take her and her classmates through additional clinical rounds. She had thought her career path would take her into an emergency room or ICU setting, but with women’s health and labor & delivery rounds still to come later this year, Clark isn’t so sure. She’s starting to look into a travel-nurse option, which allows graduates to work for agencies that place nurses in various locations around the country for a set amount of time before moving elsewhere.

All Clark knows for certain is that she couldn’t be happier with how the last four years have transpired.

“Nursing wasn’t even on my radar, but the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing program wouldn’t have happened without golf,” she says. “I’m just thankful that I was able to play for Columbia College, and I’ll get to be a great nurse because of it.”

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