Dan Baker spent five years as an environmental engineer before he was laid off in September 2009.
When the Athens man couldn't find any openings in the same field, he spent more than a year looking for other work.
"I went to job fairs and bounced resumes," he said. "Frustrated from the lack of interviews, I decided to try something different. And I was looking for stability."
That led him to Calhoun Community College and its nursing program.
"In nursing," he said, "there's always a need."
Baker, 45, will graduate in May. Two of his classmates also switched their careers.
Chris Hulse was a kindergarten teacher in Indiana for 20 years before the family moved to Hartselle in 1989. She remained home to raise her family, then enrolled in the nursing program at Calhoun.
"I wanted to do something different," she said. "I chose nursing because I was interested in it, and it's where the job market is now."
Lorna Wilt, of Hartselle, 44, was a real estate broker in Michigan for 20 years.
"I moved to the South because of the economy and the real estate market," she said. "Rather than start all over with real estate in Hartselle, I decided to turn to nursing instead. It's hard today to be self-employed."
Baker's problems mounted the longer he went without work. He and his wife went through foreclosure and later divorced.
"I knew Calhoun had a good nursing program," Baker said. "I started to school there in 1986, majoring in biology. And I had a lot of friends who went into nursing."
Baker said he figured with a bachelor's degree in biology, he "would have a leg up on everything."
He doesn't have a job lined up yet, but he said he is optimistic.
"I've been told that as a male, I have a slightly better chance of finding a job because there are so many females flooding the field," he said.
But Hulse, 55, is optimistic, too, partly, she said, "because of Calhoun's reputation. All of the hospital personnel I encounter are impressed with the school."
Hulse's interest in nursing began after her mother went through breast cancer.
"I was going to a lot of appointments with her, and my interest grew," she said. "And I had a daughter in the nursing program at Calhoun."
Hulse is spending her last semester precepting in newborn nursing at Huntsville Hospital.
"I work 120 hours in that unit," she said. "It really gives you a good idea of what area of nursing you want to go into."
Wilt said for her the most difficult part in getting her degree is fitting in all the college work and raising a family at the same time.
"Because of the amount of studying it takes and doing just the basic things at home, like laundry and cooking, that's all you have time for," she said. "Sometimes I precept from 7 at night to 7 in the morning in the emergency room at Crestwood Hospital in Huntsville."
Wilt has two sons at Hartselle High School, a sophomore and senior.
"Fortunately, one of them is driving or it would be extremely hard for me to keep the amount of hours for the nursing degree," she said. "I've been missing out on a lot of their sports activities, and that's hard to deal with. Financially, the last two years have not been easy. But I hope things will smooth out during my nursing career."
Ronnie Thomas can be reached at 256-340-2438 or email@example.com.
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