Making a difference at home

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Marina Smith succeeds by staying in Yuma to live, study, and work.

Marina Smith earned her degree from Northern Arizona University’s nursing program in December 2012, graduating with multiple honors and awards. In recognition of her academic excellence and strong work ethic, Yuma Regional Medical Center hired her before she even finished her final classes.

Rather than relocating to Flagstaff to earn her degree, Smith studied at the NAU-Yuma campus, which gave her the opportunity to pursue her dreams in the medical field while staying close to home. The only time Smith traveled to the university’s main campus in Flagstaff was for Spring Commencement ceremonies.

“I really liked the Northern Arizona University program,” Smith says. “It was smaller, and I received the one-on-one attention I needed. I loved all of my instructors. I really lucked out.”

Local experience

Although Smith’s classes were held at the  NAU-Yuma campus, the program provides clinical experience at the Yuma Regional Medical Center, where students like Smith can practice their skills.

Part of what made her experience with NAU-Yuma fantastic, Smith says, was that the accelerated program granted students a bachelor’s degree in two-and-a-half years, requiring a rigorous mixture of classroom work and real-world experience. In doing so, it adequately prepared her for the realities of an ever-changing career in nursing.

“It was tough,” Smith admits. “The program kicked my butt every day, but it was definitely do-able."

The program is highly selective – only twenty students are chosen each academic year to enroll. Many of the classes at NAU-Yuma are held at night to accommodate working students.

Even by Northern Arizona University’s standards, Smith’s classes were small. This afforded her opportunities for personalized, one-on-one learning, both from her instructors and her peers. 

“My peers and I were all very different, but we worked together as a team,” Smith says. “We didn't turn the program into a huge competition. Without each other’s support, I don't think we would have made it through.”

Proving ground

In recognition of her academic achievements and externship at the medical center, Smith was awarded the Gold Axe Award and the Distinguished Senior Award – both given to outstanding seniors at Northern Arizona University.

“I was very excited to hear that I had been honored,” Smith says.

In addition to her classmates, Smith credits Jason Bradley, nursing professor and current director of the NAU-Yuma nursing program, with helping her get through the program.

“Jason Bradley was a role model for me throughout the program,” Smith says. “He was my instructor for three of the five semesters I was at NAU-Yuma. He has been a huge inspiration for me.”

Smith was hired by the medical center six months before she graduated from Northern Arizona University. Working in Yuma, for Smith, meant the ability to make a real difference close to home, and she credits NAU-Yuma with this opportunity.

“The program and externship through NAU-Yuma helped me get my foot in the door. I’m happy with my first job,” Smith says.