Hitting the Reset Button Header Image

Hitting the Reset Button

We’ve all heard stories about children following their parents to the same college. But here’s a twist on that tale, thanks to a pair of women enrolled in Brenau’s health sciences programs.

Sit for a first meeting with Yvonne and Whitney Chappell and it is almost like you’ve interrupted a coffee klatch with a pair of BFFs. They finish each other’s sentences. They share war stories about their jobs. They chatter about their course work at Brenau University.

But dig deeper. You will discover, first, that they’re mother and daughter. They reveal a mutual respect that pushes them both toward excellence and that amazes all those who have wandered into their sphere enough to have witnessed it. Then you will learn that they share eerily similar stories of an early distaste for schooling. And you will conclude that they share the same sort of epiphany that overturned their early misconceptions of what higher education is all about.

The similarities between mother and daughter continue. Both are attending classes at Brenau as nontraditional students. Both have jobs at the local medical center. And they live together in a house on Boulevard, across from the Brenau historic campus.

Whitney, who is 30, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 2014, but was back in classes in the fall working toward a second degree in biology, beefing up her academic record for a possible foray into a physician assistant professional program or even medical school. When she’s not in school, she works in labor and delivery at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Yvonne, after already working 30 years in health care, is back in the classroom, too, as a junior in Brenau’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. She’s a surgical tech at that same Gainesville, Georgia hospital.

“Yvonne and Whitney are examples of strong, smart women who are able to seize opportunities that will help them reach their goals,” says Beth Collins, an admissions specialist at Brenau who has had the rare opportunity of helping two generations in the same family navigate the sometimes daunting college admissions process. “They show others what is truly possible with hard work and dedication.”

Yvonne and Whitney Chappell at Northeast Georgia Medical Center
Yvonne and Whitney Chappell at Northeast Georgia Medical Center

Commitment to Change

Gale Starich, the dean of the College of Health Sciences at Brenau who has worked with mother and daughter, says the two fit nicely into one of Brenau’s sweet spots in higher education: providing opportunities for adults returning to higher education after earlier incomplete experiences who are now “committed to changing their lives and fulfilling their dreams.”

In their over-coffee chatter, the Chappells speak enthusiastically of what their futures with a Brenau education might be like, but they are also very candid about the fact that the somewhat circuitous road behind them had some rough bumps – and that they would not be where they are now without a group of faculty and staff at Brenau who pushed them beyond their limits.

“I didn’t want to be in college,” Yvonne recalls in a story reminiscent of thousands of other tales from young women about their lives right out of high school. “I wanted to be with the love of my life at the University of Georgia.”

She did enroll in the University of North Georgia – or North Georgia College as it was known then – because it was expected of her. She stayed less than a week.

Yvonne Chappell works alongside her daughter Whitney in the health sciences lab .
Yvonne Chappell works alongside her daughter Whitney in the health sciences lab.

The love of her life was Adrian Chappell Jr., and she did follow him to Athens. While he worked on a degree in microbiology, Yvonne foundered around trying to figure out what she was going to do in life other than be in love. She casually flipped through an Athens Technical College catalog and saw courses in surgical technology. It immediately appealed to her.

“My grandmother was a nurse,” Yvonne says. “Of course in those days – we’re talking the ’30s and ’40s –  nurses often did not have a lot of formal training. You went to work for a doctor, he taught you what you needed to do to work in his or her office.”

There were standalone nursing schools, programs in colleges and universities, and two-year technical school programs for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. None of those were realistic options for Yvonne. However, the surgical technology program at Athens Tech was, and in 1977, she graduated. Now, as a surgical technician, she assists surgeons in the operating room, handing them instruments and performing other duties. Two years ago, Yvonne got her first assistant certificate, which gives her even more responsibility in the OR.

In those early days, she finally did marry Adrian while she was working in her new health care career, and they had Whitney. There’s no fairytale ending here, though. In 1986, when Whitney was still a baby, 29-year-old Adrian Chappell died.

Like Mother, Like …

“There’s a lot of her father in Whitney,” Yvonne says proudly.

Like her mother, Whitney Chappell really wasn’t interested in school. And like a lot of young people, she struggled to find her way after high school. She got a real estate license and moved to the Charleston, South Carolina area where her grandparents – her father’s parents – and other family lived.

Mother and daughter students Yvonne and Whitney Chappell work on a lab assignment.

However, after years of feeling lost, she eventually found her way back to the classroom. She enrolled in two-year Gainesville State College and earned an associate’s degree in 2012.

Her plan was to transfer to Brenau University and attend nursing school. She got as far as the open house.

“I just knew it wasn’t for me,” Whitney says. “No offense to nurses.”

“There are a lot of wonderful nurses out there. But I wanted more. I was settling. It just wouldn’t have fulfilled me.”

She went back to Gainesville State, which by then had morphed from its two-year status into the Gainesville campus of the four-year University of North Georgia. As a state school with full Hope Scholarship availability, it was significantly less expensive than private, non-for-profit Brenau. However, Whitney says going back to the state school was a mistake, too. She stayed at UNG two weeks before transferring back to Brenau, where she’s been ever since.

Getting her Groove

You have to say this about the Chappell women: When they make up their minds that something is not working for them, they make up their minds.

Whitney completed requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in health sciences, but stayed on after commencement to take prerequisite courses to bolster a possible application to a physician assistant program, like the one Brenau runs jointly with the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Or, she says, if the option’s open to her, she could apply to medical school.

“Everyone at Brenau is just wonderful,” she says “This is where I’m supposed to be. It would not matter if I had to pay four times as much.”

At Brenau, Whitney found her groove. Grades and studying became top priorities. She credits some of her professors for getting her headed in the right direction. Although faculty members said they thought with both some strong motivation and gentle nurturing she could realize great potential, her initial academic results were not impressive. However, once they ignited the spark, they said it quickly turned to a flame. She embraced what one professor said was a “hunger for learning.”

As Whitney gained confidence in the classroom, she also began to enjoy the life of a college student. She participated in more campus activities, joined the Phi Mu sorority and earned a spot in the Greek Honor Society.

Still, Whitney says that after being on her own in Charleston for so long, moving back to Georgia had been a tough decision. “I didn’t want to be a 30-year-old woman … living with her mother.”

However, the arrangement seems to work. Both women laughingly admit that they occasionally butt heads, mostly over stereotypical parent-child relationship issues. Still, they have found a way to work through difficulties.

“It’s called mutual respect,” Yvonne says.

Yvonne and Whitney Chappell with their Great Danes outside of the Simmons Visual Arts Center on Brenau's historic Gainesville campus.
Yvonne and Whitney Chappell with their Great Danes outside of the Simmons Visual Arts Center on Brenau’s historic Gainesville campus.

Blossoming at Brenau

Yvonne knows what it is like for a young woman to be on her own.

As a single mother, Yvonne provided a good childhood for her only child. She liked her job as a surgical tech and never considered going back to school.

Until she watched her daughter blossom at Brenau.

“She went from being someone who didn’t love school to someone who couldn’t stop talking about her teachers and the people in financial aid and registration,” Yvonne says. “I was touched with how encouraging everyone had been to Whitney.

“I’m blessed,” she says. “I have a happy, free-spirited girl – a woman, actually. I’m proud of her accomplishments and her desire to do more with her life. She is an inspiration for me. Absolutely.”

Watching her daughter become more confident and set goals for herself that she once thought impossible gave Yvonne newfound confidence, too.

So last spring Yvonne enrolled in her first semester at Brenau. With her daughter likely headed away for school, Yvonne says she plans to pursue her nursing degree with vigor. It will take her about three years, since she’ll continue to work at the hospital. But she wants that degree, even if she’s not sure exactly what she’ll do with it.

Starich has been Whitney’s academic adviser since she came to Brenau, but got to know Yvonne, too, by helping her sort through some technical enrollment issues.

“I was struck when I talked with her about a long-held dream to become a nurse,” the dean says. “She’s a good student. It looks like she’s right on track.”

Admissions specialist Collins agrees. “Yvonne is fabulous. She works full-time and goes to school, which is an amazing feat. She will be a wonderful nurse in the future.”

In spite of Whitney’s bumpy academic start, several people have encouraged her to go ahead and shoot for medical school, and she has not ruled that out. She knows that people sometimes do not get chances to hit the restart button on life’s pursuits, and she says she is grateful for people at Brenau who helped her get into  a position of having multiple possibilities for life and career.

“There’s no way of knowing what the future will bring,” she says. “But it’s all out there, isn’t it?”

The Chappell duo head down a corridor in the Women and Children's Pavillion at Northeast Georgia Medical Center
The Chappell duo head down a corridor in the Women and Children’s Pavilion at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Mitch Clarke is a freelance writer in Gainesville, Georgia.

One Response to “Hitting the Reset Button”
  1. Timothy Burnham says:

    Nice to know there is someone who still knows how to write.

    TR Burnham
    Koolsla Kreations, LLC
    Tampa, Florida

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