“You can plan your life, but don’t expect it to turn out that way. You have to learn to accept what life offers you,” says Ashley Foabeh, Mercy College of Health Science’s 2015 recipient of the Outstanding Liberal Arts & Sciences Student Award. She is planning to graduate with a BSN degree — her third college degree — in 2017.
As a child growing up in Cameroon, in central Africa, Ashley never considered a career in nursing. She graduated from college with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, and began a career in print and broadcast journalism.
But unbeknownst to her, the first seeds of her interest in nursing had been planted years ago by her parents. When Ashley was 12, her parents took in the first of many kids orphaned and/or homeless children, that they would eventually adopt. “Four or five altogether—I’m not exactly sure how many!” she says with a laugh.
“The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it has been a part of me since childhood.”
After marrying Sidney Tazeh and getting admitted to graduate school in the U.S., Ashley moved to San Diego in 2007 and earned her MBA from San Diego University for Integrated Studies, while Sidney studied physics at San Diego State.
“San Diego was a big, big culture shock,” says Ashley, the only member of her family to have moved to the U.S. “The U.S. was the first Western country I had ever visited, and it felt like a completely new environment.”
Two years later, when her husband accepted a medical physicist position with Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Ashley was more than a little skeptical about the move. “I had heard the Iowa winters were horrible. I told my husband, I’m not going—you go alone!” They arrived during a very chilly April and found their car waiting for them at the Des Moines Airport with a cracked windshield, or “windscreen” as Ashley calls it.
“We were stopped by the side of the road looking at our windscreen, not sure what to do about it, and a guy stopped and offered to help fix it for us!” she says in amazement. The helpful stranger secured the windshield with supplies he had on hand, and told the couple where they could go to get it checked out more thoroughly.
“I thought, wow, we should have moved to Iowa years ago!” she says with a laugh. “I really love it here. Everyone is just so nice.”
The 2011 birth of her son, Ansel, at just 26 weeks provided the second, and biggest, nudge toward a career in nursing.
“He was in the NICU at Mercy for 90 days,” she says. “It was very traumatic, but the nurses at Mercy became our family. They are the biggest reason I want to go into nursing. I want to help other NICU moms and tell them it will be okay. They treated us with such concern and compassion and explained everything. Maybe someday my son will be asking what did his parents do to help others the way we were helped.”
Now five years old and a new kindergartener, son Ansel absolutely loves school and may be headed toward a medical career himself. “He shocked us by learning to read when he was two years old, and now he likes to read my anatomy textbooks,” says his amazed mom. “He wakes me up every day at 5:30 saying, ‘We need to get ready for school, or I will be late!’ I’m thinking, Maybe you could sleep a little later?”
He was joined last year by a little sister, Naima-Belle, who was born two weeks after her due date and just turned one.
“We were out of the hospital in just two days with her, so I have experienced two very different births,” Ashley says. “I am the luckiest woman on Earth, blessed beyond measure.”
After earning her BSN, Ashley hopes to work at Mercy Medical Center in the NICU and perhaps eventually in health care administration (“that’s my goal, but I really like to take things one day at a time,” she says). She has nothing but praise for the people of Mercy College.
“I cannot even tell you how much I appreciate the people at Mercy College. They are so helpful and really want to help you achieve your goals. I ask questions all the time, and I have always gotten a helpful answer."
Her professors are equally impressed with Ashley’s character and commitment. Says Miranda Gauthier, an assistant professor on the Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty, “Despite the challenges Ashley has faced in her life, she still maintains a beautiful spirit. She is a dedicated student and the kindness she displays daily to everyone she meets is inspiring. She will be a great asset to her future patients."
Dr. Amy MacKrell, who taught Ashley in an online composition class, was particularly impressed that she made the effort to stop by Dr. MacKrell’s office to meet her in person, then touched base several times during the term. “It’s not often that an online student reaches out, but Ashley is special that way!” she says. “She is not only an exceptional student; she has a gift with people.”
As summer turns to fall, and we begin to wonder what sort of winter we’re in for, it’s critical to know that Ashley has even adjusted to our Iowa weather … sort of. “I don’t think anyone gets used to these winters, even people from Iowa,” she says good-naturedly. “It’s more like, it’s coming and I just have to deal with it.”