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Paving a path: NTC nursing graduate Illeana Brown aims to inspire Indigenous youth

Northwest Technical College graduate and Leech Lake Nation member Illeana Brown had to be a mother figure early in life.

Illeana Brown.jpg
Nursing student Illeana Brown will graduate as part of Northwest Technical College’s class of 2022 on Friday, May 6, at the Sanford Center.
Courtesy / Diamond Point Photography
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BEMIDJI — Northwest Technical College graduate and Leech Lake Nation member Illeana Brown had to be a mother figure early in life.

On track to graduate from NTC’s Licensed Practical Nursing program on May 6, Brown’s experience of helping to raise her younger siblings alongside her grandmother informed her passion to continue helping others.

“I just knew I had to do something to pave the path for my siblings and other Native children,” Brown said. “I really wanted to be someone that somebody could look up to.”

Finding her family

A 2020 graduate of Cass Lake-Bena High School, Brown liked the idea of being close to home and maintaining close-knit relationships in the intimate setting NTC provided.

“Visiting NTC in high school, I felt like it was a smaller environment that was more like a family,” Brown said. “My high school was really small and I liked the connections you could make with teachers and having someone to talk to if you needed to. With a bigger school, not as much.”

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Brown appreciated the layout of the LPN program though she initially planned to pursue Registered Nursing. Being fresh out of high school, Brown didn’t have a chance to gain experience in the healthcare field, which sealed her decision to enter the LPN program.

“Getting accepted into the nursing program was my biggest achievement aside from getting through the COVID pandemic,” Brown added.

With her freshman-year classes being exclusively online, the start of her time at NTC didn’t come easy. Most notably, she had a hard time maintaining genuine connections with teachers and other students through a computer screen.

“COVID was a really big challenge because I’m more of an in-person learner. I was honestly really lost when doing online school,” Brown said before admitting to being a procrastinator, a habit made worse by the pandemic. “I won’t do something unless I see it right in front of my face and feel like I have to do it.”

Throughout that year, Brown turned to the nursing faculty and her grandmother for support, as her grandmother had played a major role in her higher education pursuits all throughout Brown's life.

“Growing up, my grandma would always tell us that getting an education is a key to your success. She’d literally tell me that every day,” Brown added with a laugh.

When not dealing with the significant stress of nursing school, Brown finds solace in painting, an activity her grandmother also does and another example of her influence on Brown.

Recouping her losses

Brown is both excited and nervous to experience NTC’s graduation ceremony after missing out on her high school graduation in 2020.

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“I didn’t get the whole graduation experience because of COVID, which was made even sadder when I didn’t get to do my speech at graduation as the class salutatorian,” Brown said.

With her upcoming chance to walk across the stage and claim her diploma, Brown is weighing her employment options after the celebration is said and done.

Having done her clinical experiences at Sanford Health and being passionate about the mission of Cass Lake Hospital’s Indian Health Services, Brown is considering both as a way to fulfill a significant need in the healthcare sector.

“Because of shortages, a lot of places are creating positions for nurses,” Brown said. “Three of my classmates interviewed for OB-GYN jobs and they all earned positions. You just have to look and you’ll probably find an opportunity as a nurse.”

Beyond filling workforce gaps, Brown shared her experiences working at the Boys and Girls Club which she would visit in her nursing scrubs after her final class of the day. In doing this, Brown hopes to be a role model specifically for Native American children.

“When I visit, it’s just amazing to hear the kids say, ‘I want to be a doctor or nurse when I grow up,’” Brown added. “It’s like I’m a role model for Native American children because they may not see a lot of Native people in those medical positions.”

Whichever path she pursues, Brown wants to continue doing good things for people and inspire other Indigenous people to do the same.

“It’s really important for Native Americans to see other Native Americans doing good because we don’t see that too often,” Brown said. “That’s my biggest motivation.”

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NTC will hold its graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 6, at the Sanford Center and will also be available via livestream on NTC's social media pages.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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