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Rita Fosterling of Hudson and her daughters Abby Chapeau of Hudson (left) and Haylee Sommer of Stillwater, Minn., have established an unprecedented family legacy as students in the Chippewa Valley Technical College nursing program in River Falls. Fosterling graduated from the program in 2005 and Chapeau is a 2007 grad. Sommer is in her first semester in the program and plans to graduate in December 2013. Submitted photo

CVTC student carries on family tradition

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education River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

As she walks the halls of Chippewa Valley Technical College's River Falls campus, 500 S. Wasson Lane, Haylee Sommer knows she is walking in the steps of her mother and sister.

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In her first semester at CVTC, Sommer is carrying on a family tradition that began with her mother, Rita Fosterling, who graduated from the nursing program in 2005, was carried on by her sister, Abby Chapeau, a 2007 grad, and now has been passed on to her.

"There's definitely been some family connections here," says Renee Christensen, a River Falls nursing instructor who can recall one other mother-daughter pairing, three sister acts, and a few sets of cousins who have come through the nursing program in the 10 years CVTC has offered it at its River Falls campus.

For most of their primary and secondary school years, Haylee, 22, Abby, 27, and their siblings were homeschooled by their mother at the family home in Hudson.

Rita, 59, says that when Haylee, the youngest of her five children, was ready to leave home, "I started wondering, what am I going to do when everybody leaves."

Rita had earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology from UW-Stevens Point in 1975 before marrying and raising her family. But when it came time to begin a new chapter in her life, she was drawn to health care, primarily due to an interest in nutrition, fitness and biology she had long shared with Haylee and Abby.

After completing the certified nursing assistant program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond in 2003, Rita says, "I kept thinking, 'I shouldn't stop my education now, otherwise everything will be wasted.' So I kept on going."

She enrolled in the CVTC nursing program in River Falls and graduated two years later. Since then she has worked for Adoray Homecare and Hospice in Baldwin.

Rita's final semester in the CVTC nursing program in River Falls was Abby's first.

Abby had already completed a year at the Philadelphia Biblical University and a year of pre-nursing studies at Winona State University before coming to CVTC.

"I was just shocked at how much less expensive it was to get an education here," she says. "I think there is this misconception that a state university has much higher standards than a technical college, and maybe in some areas there are. But I think the nursing education I received at CVTC was as good as I could have gotten anywhere else -- maybe better."

Abby, now married and raising two children of her own, is a part-time R.N. for Edelweiss Home Healthcare, based in Maple Grove, Minn.

Like her mother and sister, Haylee began her college education elsewhere before settling on CVTC as the place to earn her nursing degree. She attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for a year and took some classes at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Haylee initially considered pursuing a degree in physical therapy or occupational therapy before deciding to carry on the family's nursing tradition. Perhaps not surprisingly, that decision came with some gentle familial prodding.

"We kept advising her to go into nursing," Abby admits. "We told her it's the most versatile health care degree to have."

Eventually, Haylee came to that decision on her own. But, she adds, "Mom's and Abby's experience at CVTC probably influenced where I was going to go to nursing school more than if I was going to nursing school."

As she nears the halfway mark of her first semester, Haylee says she's quite satisfied with her decision.

"I think the faculty here are really helpful and they're really fair," she says, adding that her family legacy hasn't led to her being treated differently than any other student in the CVTC nursing program.

But she admits that her close relationship with her mother and sister is helpful when it comes to her studies. Rita and Abby have shared stories from their professional experience that have helped Haylee better understand the lessons from her nursing classes.

She smiles and adds, "And I got a free stethoscope."

Haylee, who was married last June, mentions yet another familial benefit that anyone who has studied health care would appreciate. "My mom does my flash cards with me," she says. "When my husband does them, he doesn't even know how to say the words."

Haylee recently began the first clinical training experience of her nursing program at The Lutheran Home, a skilled nursing facility in River Falls. There she provides long-term care for seniors.

She anticipates graduating from CVTC in December 2013 and, at this point, hopes to work as an obstetrics nurse.

Her mother and sister have assured Haylee that her CVTC studies should prepare her well for any sort of nursing career.

Rita says she regularly encounters on-the-job situations that remind her of specific classes at CVTC. "I'm continually amazed at that," she says. "I feel very well prepared in that way. CVTC prepared me as well as any nursing program could."

Unlike in her previous college experiences, Abby found that most of her fellow students at CVTC had families to raise or jobs to hold down while pursuing their education.

"Everyone in nursing school was driven," Abby says. "At a technical college we're not here to party." To which her mother nods in agreements and says, "The students (at CVTC) are so much more focused."

As she takes on the challenge of her first semester at CVTC, Haylee is aware of the family legacy.

Rita and Abby both maintained near perfect 4.0 grade point averages at CVTC, and Abby was chosen to be the student speaker at her graduation ceremony. "It's not because we're super smart people, but we both studied really hard," Abby says. "It's not an easy program here."

Haylee smiles and takes a deep breath. "I guess there's a little pressure because they did it and they got good grades," she says. "I have a name to live up to."

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