For Mom of 5 & Nursing Student Wilborn, Sandburg ‘Brought Out the Leader That was in Me’

GALESBURG — As a mother of five and a nursing student, Brittany Wilborn already had a lot on her plate as she came back for her final year at Carl Sandburg College.

It would have been easy and understandable to devote her attention to an already-rigorous academic program. Instead, she decided to take on more than ever.

“The Sandburg community — the faculty, the staff — they brought out the leader that was in me,” Wilborn said. “They woke it up this year. I went to school before, but I never was as driven as I was this year.”

It started last spring when she was approached about becoming a Sandburg Ambassador — a leadership group for students who serve as representatives in the campus community, assist with orientations and visit days and help students with their connection to the College. It appealed to Wilborn because she wanted to find a way to support students like her who were going through college for the first time and may not know where to turn if they need help. She joined, and then …

“Everything just took off from there,” said Wilborn, who will turn 30 in March. “It's incredible because I felt like I was just newly awakened.”

She joined the Black Student Association. She agreed to serve as the student trustee for Sandburg’s Board of Trustees. She even became the chairperson for the Illinois Community College Board’s Student Advisory Committee, where she learned more about being an effective leader and advocating for other students.

“I've gotten to meet a lot of people, a lot of powerful people that once intimidated me,” Wilborn said, “but I realized they're just like me.”

Wilborn first came to Sandburg in 2010 after graduating from high school, but she left after a few months. She had given birth to twin sons and admits now she didn’t have the desire she needed to be a successful student. She moved out of Galesburg for a few years, then came back and enrolled at Sandburg again in 2013, wanting to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. That thought had stuck with Wilborn since a visit to the doctor as a child and being treated by a nurse wearing yellow scrubs.

“I thought she was so pretty, and she was professional,” Wilborn said. “The way she approached me and treated me, it made me feel better about myself and the situation. That's when I knew that I wanted to be a nurse.”

She took a certified nursing assistant (CNA) course at Sandburg and knew right away she was a natural for the field.

“Once you get your foot in,” Wilborn said, “you feel like OK, this is the place that I belong, or I can do more.”

Wilborn wanted to do more.

She continued at Sandburg and completed the licensed practical nursing (LPN) program in 2018, but she waited two years before taking her exam to become officially licensed. Obtaining an LPN license requires completing a criminal background check, and Wilborn — while not having a criminal record — felt embarrassed and overwhelmed about having to write down and explain past encounters with law enforcement. Finally, at the urging of instructor Stacy Bainter, she completed her NCLEX exam and became officially licensed.

“I realized that doesn't define who you are and what you're capable of,” Wilborn said. “I went on and said if (Bainter) believed in me and Sandburg believed in me to give me this degree, I owe it to them to at least apply for my nursing license and put it to use.”

Still not satisfied, Wilborn stayed at Sandburg, determined to become a registered nurse (RN). Her childhood dream will become a reality when she graduates this May from the College associate degree nursing program.

“I almost know I'm going to cry because I don't think Sandburg knows how much they've done for me this year,” Wilborn said. “I feel like this year is what really brought out the leadership, the advocacy. It’s just put nursing in a whole different light for me. It actually took my journey at Sandburg and made it more personal for me.”

And her journey still isn’t finished.

Thanks to a partnership between Sandburg and Chamberlain University, Wilborn has already enrolled there and will begin classes toward her bachelor’s Feb. 28. After that, she plans to earn her master’s in Chamberlain’s family nurse practitioner program. Once she’s completed her education, Wilborn intends to focus on acute care.

"It's necessary for me to keep going because I know that I can,” Wilborn said. “It's necessary because I feel like I shouldn't limit myself. For some people, the ceiling, that's their limit. And for others, the ceiling is your bottom.”

Brittany Wilborn
Brittany Wilborn