Success story: Longest-serving faculty member retires, first BSN student graduates

April 24, 2024


Even though there’s 60 years between them, this commencement season NMC faculty member Steve Drake and alumna Aliyah Nowlin are both celebrating firsts.

Math and science instructor Drake, 81, will embark on retirement as NMC’s longest-serving instructor. He’s wrapping up a career after more than 15,000 students, 53 years and almost as many math-themed neckties. Nowlin, 21, (right) is the first graduate of NMC’s BSN partnership with Davenport University. She earned her associate degree in nursing from NMC in 2023 and her bachelor’s from Davenport this spring.

While Drake looks back and Nowlin looks forward, they both are all smiles when they talk about NMC.

NMC instructor Steve Drake at Commencement.jpg

“I really enjoyed teaching. I still do,” said Drake (left), who first stepped foot in an NMC classroom in 1971. He won NMC’s Faculty Excellence Award twice and taught at least six students who became faculty colleagues. He’s the recipient of multiple National Science Foundation grants and helped build NMC’s strong reputation for transfer preparation with four-year universities. But his own accomplishments are of secondary importance.

“My greatest pride and joy has been having my former students tell me about their successes,” said Drake.

While he never taught Nowlin, she fits the bill of a successful student. She started at NMC in 2020 as a dual-enrolled Manton High School student. With her associate and bachelor’s degrees finished, this fall she’ll move right on to her master’s degree in nursing, while also working on the stroke/telemetry unit at Munson Medical Center. She estimates that the partnership, which includes concurrent NMC-Davenport classes, saved her more than $3,000.

“I wouldn’t be starting my master’s this fall without that partnership program,” said Nowlin, who also took advantage of tuition reimbursement offered to employees by Munson. “I’m 21 years old and have a lifetime of nursing ahead of me.”

Through the partnership, NMC students get Davenport credit for passing the NCLEX state licensing exam, which comes at the end of the associate degree program.

“With the way the program is set up, they gave me a chunk of credits for just having my license,” Nowlin said. “That’s a third of your BSN, right there. That was really empowering for me.”

Among the 641 students in NMC’s Class of 2024, about half will put their degree or certificate to work. The other half will transfer to a four-year school.

Whether they are planning for future education or not, Drake, one of four faculty retirees this year, encourages graduates to still maintain a learner mindset, as he has.

“Be willing to change with the times,” said Drake, who’s navigated a monumental shift in technology during his career

“When I first came to NMC, I was using slide rules and tables books,” Drake said. Now, his trusty TI-84 Plus CE calculator can do in a minute what used to take hours. But it’s a mistake to think a computer or calculators can replace the human brain.

“You’re handling difficult, challenging problems,” he said. “You have to be able to set it up for the calculator to do the grunt work.”

COVID-19 was a change both Drake and Nowlin navigated. Drake had only taught face-to-face, but found livestreaming wasn’t all that different. For Nowlin, who was dual-enrolled at NMC and Manton High School during her senior year, all classes were already online. She thinks the way she adapted to online learning helped with the nursing program.

“I kind of got my foot in the door at NMC and thought that was really helpful,” she said.

The ability to adapt to changes and learn new skills is one she now embraces.

“I can do anything with a nursing license,” she said.

NMC expects five more graduates of the BSN program in August.

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