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NTC commencement: Aloha! NTC grad prepares for Hawaiian work opportunity

Kelley Vagle, who graduates tonight from Northwest Technical College, has worked at Neilson Place for the past year. She will resign that position this month as she prepares for a new job in Hawaii. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — It took Kelley Vagle a few tries before she found the perfect fit.

The Alexandria native graduated high school in 2008, simultaneously attending Alexandria Technical & Community College as a post-secondary student and then for another a year after high school.

She transferred to Bemidji State University, but left the university after a year, instead enrolling at Northwest Technical College.

"I kind of have an extensive history," she said, dryly.

But NTC proved to be the ideal college for Vagle as she pursued a career in nursing.

"I absolutely love it," she said of NTC, praising its professors and programs. "I like the stepping pattern. I don’t think I could go from being a CNA (certified nursing assistant) straight into a bachelor’s degree RN (registered nurse) program. It’s kind of a hefty thing.

"I love having the experience as an LPN (licensed practical nurse). It really helped with school, too."

Vagle is now set to graduate from NTC with her associate degree in nursing. She is among about 200 students invited to take part in commencement tonight at the Sanford Center.

"I am so walking (in commencement)," she said, laughing. "I am going to prove I got this degree."

Vagle has about a year’s worth of courses left to complete her RN bachelor’s degree, which she plans to do, but for now, she plans a break from school to focus on work — and sunshine.

Next month, Vagle will begin a job in Hawaii.

Through Manoa Senior Care, she will help provide the needed care for eight adults living in a care home.

She heard about the company through a friend, whose sister worked with Manoa Senior Care for two years.

"I always wanted to travel, but it just didn’t make sense while I was going to school," Vagle said. "She just kind of got me in with the right people."

Manoa Senior Care, established in 1994 near Honolulu on the island of Oahu, has seven homes and is adding four more, said Dorothy Weigelt, nurse recruiter.

In the homes, nurses work in teams of two to provide the care for older adults. Each nurse is provided a furnished studio apartment, a vehicle, and free meals while on duty. They work three days on, three days off, so they have ample time to explore Hawaii.

"It’s just a great opportunity for a young graduate," Weigelt said. "They gain a lot of wonderful skills."

Nurses all come from Minnesota, she noted. The president of Manoa Senior Care, Paul Dold, was born and raised in Minnesota.

"Minnesota has a great education (system) and the pass rate for nurses is really high," Weigelt said.

Weigelt said she met Vagle after the referral came her way from Vagle’s friend’s sister.

"She seems like a really great fit for us," Weigelt said.

Vagle has associated experience. Having achieved her LPN in July 2011, she began working first at Havenwood Care Center and now at Neilson Place.

"I’m sad to leave it," she said of her work in acute rehabilitation at Neilson Place, so she sees a range of patients. "I love it there. You see such interesting things."

Vagle initially was exposed to nursing about four years ago. Unable to find work, she started with a group home in January 2009, taking care of four developmentally disabled women.

"It scared me so bad, because I had no experience with it, but I was there for four years and I fell head over heels with it," she said.

That work, Vagle said, will translate well in Hawaii.

"They’re not special need but I’ll have eight residents," she said. "I’ll cook, I’ll clean, I’ll take them to appointments."

Her last day at Neilson Place is May 31. She then leaves June 4 for a week’s worth of job-shadowing and training. She will fly out again in mid-July to begin her 18-month work commitment, which can be extended at her request.

"I’m a little scared," she admitted. "Eighteen months away, and I’m such a homebody, with my family and I have a boyfriend. But they’re all telling me I have to go. I have nothing but support."

Her boyfriend, Joe Hennen, has another year at NTC in the electrician program. Vagle said the timing works out in that he will be focusing on school while she is overseas.

"I can’t wait to do everything," she said. "I’m such an outdoors person. I want to surf and I want to hike and I want to bike up volcanoes. I want to do everything."

NTC graduation

When: 7 tonight, doors open at 6 p.m.

Where: Sanford Center

Notes: No tickets required, parking is free