Prairie Wolves Can Do It All
Reagan Janzen ’22 starts her Wednesday mornings bright and early. At 6:00 a.m., she rolls out of bed, inhales a bowl of cereal and jets off to work. She works once a week as a home health aide for a quadriplegic client whose detailed morning routine takes nearly two hours to complete. After a few slip ups during initial shifts, Reagan created a study sheet for herself.
“I’m pretty used to this,” she expressed, sipping a protein shake, “I have to plan my day ahead. I have to write down each step in my notes, so I don’t forget.”
And there is a lot to forget.
After wrapping up her shift as a home-health aide, Regan drives to campus for a one-hour shift manning the pool at the Weary Center, studying between swimmers. She charts out the rest of the day in her head from the guard tower: clock out, run to Olin, take obstetrics exam, hustle to the Weary where the bus is loading, pre-travel Covid screening, get on the bus. Run, win.
If there’s one term to describe Reagan, it would be goal oriented.
The rising senior from Giltner, Neb., is easy to spot on campus – a mane of curly hair often plopped into a bun atop her head and an inescapable smile that shines through even the thickest of masks. Long runs, clinical hours and the bliss of checking off ritualistically updated daily goals mark her normal days.
“Something is so satisfying at the end of the day when I can check them all off. It’s fulfilling.”
Like many students from small towns, Reagan is a product of the “do it all” ethos. She spent her formative years taking advantage of every opportunity to participate in a wide variety of extracurriculars and thrived academically.
At the advent of her college search, Reagan knew her ideal experience would involve two activities not often combined and not for the weak of heart: Nursing and Track and Field. Other schools cautioned her. One track coach even scoffed at her proposition, “Oh, nursing? It’s just not going to work here; you’ll be too busy.”
Nebraska Wesleyan was different.
Rather than cautioning her, nursing faculty and coaching staff celebrated her decision, demonstrating NWU’s commitment to the type of personalized attention that would prove instrumental in Reagan’s success on campus.
Reagan’s sights weren’t always set on a white coat. Initially, she wanted to be an educator – secondary English or Math. “I’m sure it came from my mom being a teacher.” Her mother, Debbie, teaches fifth and sixth grade at Giltner Elementary School. Countless afternoons spent reading in her mom’s classroom led 8-year-old Reagan to imagine her life unfolding neatly into those familiar corridors. However, an unexpected exposure to a very different environment planted the seeds of a nursing career in young Reagan’s mind.
When Reagan was eight, her mother was diagnosed with cancer: a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. The Janzen family spent three years in and out of the hospital where Reagan would first observe the rewarding nature of nursing. She watched the nurses closely as they cared for her ailing mother through several close calls.
“God had different plans and kept her here with us.” Debbie eventually made a full recovery and returned to the classroom — just in time to teach Reagan in fifth and sixth grade. “Lucky her,” she laughed, a mischievous glint in her eye.
“My mom always talks about the nurses when she reflects on having cancer and what the nurses did for her.” Reagan has held tightly to the memories of slightly sticky linoleum floors, incessant, unidentifiable beeping and the gentle voices of those who had chosen to spend their careers holding the cold hands of patients like her mom.
Reagan contemplated going to medical school and becoming a doctor. She spent time observing the inner workings of a local hospital through a job shadow program. But nursing seemed more direct, a way to be there for people when they need it most. “I really wanted a rewarding job.”
When Reagan began touring colleges, she knew she was looking for an intellectually rigorous community to support her nursing aspirations.
NWU’s nursing program places peers into cohorts — small groups of student-nurses working towards the same graduation date. It’s not uncommon to find these groups of like-minded individuals studying diligently in Cochrane-Woods Library, carpooling to clinical experiences and practicing skill checkoffs on one another.
Reagan saw the emphasis NWU placed on community. The nursing faculty, track coaches and current athletes were welcoming and familial in a manner reminiscent of her small-town upbringing. It was just what she was looking for — in and out of the classroom.
“At the start of high school, I hated track.” She paused, “well, hate is a strong word.” Still, Reagan stuck with the sport. Later, her older sister, Randi, began running at another local university, and spoke of a collegiate athletic atmosphere grounded in a tight-knit community of teammates. “She planted the seed of running in college that made it sound fun.”
When the time came for Reagan to make her college decision, NWU stood out in encouraging her to pursue the unique experience she wanted.
“The faculty made it obvious, along with my coaches, that academics and extracurriculars could overlap and work okay.” Not only could Reagan secure a first-rate nursing education and run for one of the most decorated Division III track teams, she could also explore her other passions via the liberal arts curriculum. Where else is a nursing student encouraged to take British Literature, Golf and Acting?
“I’m very at peace with the things I am involved in, and the support I’ve got within those.” Reagan is also an active member of Willard Sorority, where she served on the executive team during the pandemic. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA, and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, a national academic honorary.
Her wholehearted commitment to doing it all was not without growing pains. She has been tested on the track and in the classroom.
Reagan decided to give cross country—a sport she’d never tried—a go during her first year. It’s just running, she thought, how bad could it be?
“It probably wasn’t the most fun I’ve had,” she grimaced, “but I was glad I tried it. It taught me a lot, humbled me.” While she never considered quitting, she certainly had her doubts about the sport. “I wasn’t as successful, I wasn’t running as quick,” she lamented. As her sophomore year approached, Reagan, never one to shy away from a challenge, put her foot on the gas.
“I put a lot more effort into it in the summer and started eating healthier — I’ve never really done that.” She credits this change and her subsequent dedication to well-being as a pivotal moment in her track career. She tackled the indoor season, earning a gold medal at the American Rivers Conference Championship. The team was gearing up for Nationals, making one last push to eke in qualifying times before the season ended. No one expected what would come next.
On March 12, 2020, NWU students received an email declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic and announcing a consequent move to distance-learning. Reagan held out hope for an outdoor season that never came.
“It was a big bummer. It took outdoor,” a hard pill to swallow for student-athletes around the country. “But my love for running kept me going.” She went out on gravel roads and into the gym to train with her younger sister, Sydney, who now runs alongside her at NWU. When asked why she loves running, Reagan paused in a moment of contemplative silence.
“It really is a hard question,” she affirmed, “because I can’t deny that before every race, I ask myself why I’m doing this. When you’re anticipating this pain that running brings, you cannot help but wonder why we do this … There has to be something.”
For Reagan, it’s the satisfaction of competing, of reaching long-set goals. “It’s literally a thrill. I get huge adrenaline rushes, and when you start a race there’s just this surge of like,” her eyebrows raise and her mouth widens as she tries to convey the feeling, “it’s amazing.”
Reagan’s name now sits atop both the indoor and outdoor record boards for the Women’s 800-meter run at Nebraska Wesleyan. She also earned All-American honors alongside the 4x400 team at the 2021 Outdoor National DIII Championships for their eighth-place finish.
“I’ve seen myself grow stronger in a lot of ways, and not just physically, mentally too,” she says of her time on the NWU track team. “I’ve learned a lot about myself through the sport. My experience would have been substantially different if I had not done track at Wesleyan.”
Reagan now faces an even bigger test of her skill and determination. This summer, she will develop her nursing abilities at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Out of nearly 800 applicants, she was selected as one of 52 nursing externs for a prestigious 10-week summer intensive. She will shadow nurses in the Neuro ICU/PCU, focusing on assessment skills.
“I think this internship will be huge in helping me discover my potential,” she beams, “because I know I have it.”
Students like Reagan flock to NWU. Those who want to do it all are welcomed here, nurtured and encouraged to dive deep into an interdepartmental experience. But success takes dedication. Reagan’s diligent goal setting led to her long-awaited growth and pushed her to accept leadership positions, something she hopes to continue to do.
“Filling these leadership positions, being told I’m doing well in them, gives me confidence for my future, and that’s been very gratifying. The community that Wesleyan provides me—my team, my coaches, the nursing faculty, my friends, my Willard sisters—all of these people have made me feel like I’m doing something right, like I’m a human that could sincerely help people someday, and lead people, be a voice that people don’t mind listening to, and trust me to be their friend. I know I don’t have much time here, in the world, and I want to make a difference.”
While not every NWU student is involved in quite as many areas of campus life as Reagan, all students have access to the community support and encouragement Reagan experiences. Scholarships that provide financial assistance, faculty mentors who provide academic advice, staff who help students chart a career path and alumni who inspire all offer the support each student needs to have their own unique, personalized NWU experience. An experience that will prepare P-Wolves of today and tomorrow to embark on a meaningful career and life after they cross through the other side of the Archway.