by Peter Schmidtke / photograph by Peter DiAntoni

Whatever career she chooses, bright-eyed Brigitte Hardrick is on track.

On a sunny Sunday morning over coffee on Downer Avenue, 23-year-old Hardrick laid out her plans for the future. Even though it’s sweltering outside on this day, and it’s her day off from work, she wears long pants and a pin-striped shirt. Adjusting her short hair, Hardrick speaks confidently about the prerequisite courses she will need to enter the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) in the fall. The load includes physics, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry. The BSN program is an accelerated, 16-month plan for students who already have a bachelor’s degree. Although Hardrick can switch to the two-year plan if she feels too bogged-down, she thinks she would rather earn the degree sooner. “I’m getting older now — I’d rather just get the degree and move on,” she says. Hardrick is among the many “nontraditional” students who will attend UWM. After she graduated from Rufus King High School, Hardrick spent two years at Fisk University in Nashville. She then returned to Milwaukee, where she lived with her mother and completed her bachelor’s in psychology in 2001 at UWM. “I was a little homesick,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. After graduating from UWM, Hardrick completed a year of graduate study at Marquette University for clinical psychology. “I originally wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but I think nursing will be more diverse,” Hardrick says. “You can work with radiology, anesthesia, with pediatric nursing. You can go from the operating room to the emergency room. Once you get those basic skills, you have a lot of control.” Although she could apply her background in psychology towards a career in psychiatric nursing, Hardrick says she will not regret her year at Marquette even if she ultimately chooses a completely different specialty. “I’m sure my knowledge of the mind and how it works would be applicable,” she says, “but that stuff is just plain old interesting to me whatever field I go into.” She became interested in nursing because of her cousin Sandra, a nurse in Tennessee who specializes in diabetes education. Her great-aunt Ohnie May has been in nursing for many years, and her godmother, Violet, is a nurse in Milwaukee. “These are women I admire,” Hardrick emphasizes. “My godmother went to nursing school after she was already married.” Her relatives who are nurses, she points out, have been resources for their community about health. “I kind of see nursing not just as a job, but something you take with you in your daily life,” Hardrick says. To help pay for her nursing education, Hardrick will continue working part-time at a clothing store at Mayfair Mall. “If I work one day a week, that will be my study break, and I’ll be earning money as well.” While many students do retail work, most do not talk about how they enjoy it. “There are all sorts of diverse people who come in the mall — you learn their stories, how they are different, how they are similar.” Hardrick has already scheduled when she will be studying and taking breaks. Her plans are neatly laid out. She figures she will volunteer at a hospital and will also “shadow” or follow a nurse through a ‘day on the job.’ All of this sounds like a busy schedule, but she also plans to continue taking ballet at Danceworks at 1661 N Water St. “I always make free time for myself, because you can get a little too into what you are doing and not care of yourself,” she points out. The strict nature of ballet is something she says she prefers over more freeform styles of dance like jazz or modern. “I kind of like that — no gray areas.” And she likes the variety of people she meets there. “You have people in there who are musicians, students, teachers, or in real estate. I tell myself I’m going to dance into my 80s.” Whatever path Hardrick pursues, she says it won’t be for the money. “In order to do your job well, you have to love it. You certainly don’t want to be putting patients at risk.” Her mother, Willie Mae, instilled that idea in her at a young age. “She’s always telling me to just be happy with whatever you choose. Don’t go for the money. She gives me that unconditional love.” Hardrick is not the only one in her family to return to school as a “nontraditional” student. Her mother went back to school for her associate’s degree and her aunt will be taking courses for her real estate license. “Whether people are taking computer classes at the library or going back to get a degree, there’s always this sense of bettering yourself and not being stagnant.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 9 – September 2003