A Reward Greater than the Risk
Students preparing to further their studies at a university are faced with a number of challenges, even before arriving on campus for their first semester. Aside from the obvious logistical concerns of financial aid packages and the growing pains of adjusting to a new roommate, many high school seniors and college first-years face an adversary far more pervasive: self-doubt. Learning to balance a new social situation, while simultaneously exploring their areas of academic interest and entertaining new career aspirations, is a daunting task. For Respiratory Therapy major Shawna Hauck, it was no different.
Now a senior on the brink of her future, Hauck sat down to share her battle with self doubt and the challenge of finding her way through her academic journey. Before she even crossed under Marywood’s Memorial Arch as a first-year student, Hauck had already faced a number of challenges as a senior at Hamburg Area High School. She committed to the University of Pittsburgh with the intent of studying nursing, and then met with her first major dilemma.
“I was originally excited that I committed there during my junior year of high school for soccer and nursing,” Hauck said. “However, after a few months, I realized that I did not want to be over three hours away from home.”
She wanted the traditional college experience of living on campus and playing on the university soccer team, but she also wanted to be close to her hometown of Hamburg, Pa., which is located west of Allentown in Berks County.
She began fielding other alternatives, and that was when Marywood found her.
“I had no idea Marywood existed until I received a happy birthday message from Andrew Smith, the former soccer coach,” Hauck said. “I looked up the school and told him my situation and feelings about the school I committed to.” A closer school with an active athletic scene seemed worth a look. Hauck was able to take a tour of Marywood and meet her prospective teammates over spring break.
“I really enjoyed the campus and the team,” she said. From there, she made the decision to change her commitment to Marywood.
Still, she was worried. Closer to home, but tasked with navigating a new environment, Hauck was not entirely sure of her decision until after the start of her first year.
“I made so many friends, and felt like I fit in perfectly. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else,” she said. “I knew I made the right decision.”
After the initial stress of choosing where she would go to college, Hauck was challenged by rigorous requirements on the field and in the classroom. Always a devoted student, Hauck tried her hardest in all her classes and maintained a good GPA. On track for a successful college career, Hauck would be staring down another challenge commonly faced by first-year students: changing her major.
Hauck had always felt called to the medical field. Throughout her youth, she had undergone multiple knee surgeries and had been hospitalized for other medical issues. During this time, the nurses tending to her never failed to inspire her. Now, at the crossroads of her future aspirations and her past experiences, she wanted to give back to the profession, but something wasn’t right.
“While I enjoyed nursing, I just felt like something was missing. I wasn't completely in love with it,” she said. Determined to remain in the healthcare industry, Hauck took advantage of the resources available to her. She spoke to a number of department heads until she met Wendy Guzenski, the program director of Respiratory Therapy. Ms. Guzenski has a unique background in nursing, as well as respiratory therapy, that helped Hauck relate to her experience in the field.
“I wanted to stay in the medical field, but I felt that I wanted to do something more specialized. She helped show me that respiratory therapy is exactly that,” Hauck said. “Not being able to breathe is one of the most frightening things a person can experience. I like that, as a respiratory therapist, I am the one to make a difference.”
While Hauck was still on track for the degree, she faced a number of battles against her own self-doubt.
“In college, I always struggled with confidence in my classes. I would be scared to answer questions for fear of being wrong,” she said. Thanks to the encouragement she received in her classes, that started to change. “It turns out, I was usually correct when I was afraid to answer. I’m not afraid to be wrong now, because I changed my mindset and began to treat it as a learning opportunity.”
With her major nearly complete and her future rapidly approaching, Hauck’s goal is to work in a children's hospital as a neonatal or pediatric respiratory therapist. She said, “Working with children can be so scary, but it can also be very rewarding. Children are so resilient, and that is something that amazes me.”
She currently works part-time at Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa., as a Respiratory Therapy Assistant (RTA). She describes her biggest achievement as her induction into the Lambda Beta Society; the National Honor Society for the Profession of Respiratory Care. She highly recommends respiratory therapy to any students seeking specialization in the medical field, counting the versatility of the degree among its most attractive features.
“You could be caring for all different types of patients, including adult, pediatric, and geriatric. From breathing disorders, to acute traumas, you could be dealing with it all,” Hauck said. “Respiratory therapists can work in a variety of settings inside and outside of a hospital.”
As Hauck looks forward to a bright future in a field that is truly her passion, she gives current and prospective students in the program this advice:
“Marywood’s program for respiratory therapy is one of the few programs [in this specialization] that offers a bachelor’s degree upon completion. This is a great plus, because when it comes time to look for jobs, you will be a step ahead of those with an associate degree,” she said. “ While the major may seem hard, the reward is far greater.”