Dakota Wesleyan University graduate Taya Davis finds new nursing career path with graduation – Mitchell Republic

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MITCHELL — For many working in the medical field, the full-fledged arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the accompanying risks and stress signaled a time for them to retire or move on to other interests.

But not for Taya Davis.

The Mitchell resident and Corsica native found herself with excess downtime due to disruption caused by the coronavirus. With surgeries halted as medical experts took stock of the impact of the outbreak, the surgical technician at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital decided it was time to get even more involved.

“For me, I was working when the pandemic hit, and they weren’t doing surgeries. So they furloughed us, as most hospitals did in the state,” Davis said during a recent interview. “I just kind of sat at home and that kind of drove me. I could be doing so much more, so I started back up in nursing school in the spring of 2020.”

The 37-year-old wife and mother of three was headed back to the classroom years after her last stint as a student, which was when she was just out of high school and attending Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls. Her goal was to move up as a registered nurse, where she could more completely engage with patients and guide them through their medical issues.

Davis said the convenience of having a nursing program right in Mitchell appealed to her. Having a household full of kids made that almost an absolute necessity. But once she arrived as a student on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus, she found that convenience of location was only one advantage of enrolling there.

As a former tech school graduate, she enjoyed the aspect of working through a bachelors program and its general classes. That included getting back into the swing of good study habits as well as the connection she was able to make with a variety of instructors.

“(The school being local) was a big thing, but I liked how small the university was. Everyone knows everyone. (Since Dakota Wesleyan is a bachelor’s program), I had to take business finance, American literature and those general education courses that I never had to take at a technical school,” Davis said. “But those really got me ready to start studying again and preparing for the nursing program.”

She soon found herself in a classroom surrounded by recent high school graduates who also had their mind set on earning their RN degree at Dakota Wesleyan.

“The first class I took here was statistics, and I sat next to a girl who was 18. And I was 32,” Davis said. “And I’m glad I got to know her because she ended up being in my nursing class as well. There are 18 in my graduating nursing class this year, and we’re all kind of like family. And I’m the mom.”

Dakota Wesleyan University recently has made efforts to expand its nursing program, including

branching out programs to Rapid City

and Sioux Falls in order to help address the need for nurses. That includes moving nontraditional students like Davis students through the program. Penny Tilton, nursing program director at Dakota Wesleyan, was also recently named to the South Dakota Board of Nursing.

It was a lot of work, and in some cases it made for some long nights. As she dived headlong into the material, she found herself working as hard as she ever did. When she and her husband, Gaven, would send the kids off to school during the day, Davis herself would attend class, study or whatever else was on the agenda for her that day.

When the kids came home, Davis reverted back to mother mode to make sure they had everything they needed from her – from homework help to being tucked in at night. If she had a test coming up soon, an evening trip to the library to clear her head and review her studies could be in order.

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Dakota Wesleyan graduate Taya Davis is pictured on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Mitchell.

Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

The balancing act, along with the nursing program’s high standards, could be daunting at times, especially for someone who didn’t necessarily consider herself a strong student when she was younger. But the nurturing nature of the school’s faculty, the embrace from its younger students and the academic challenge forced her to meet the task head on.

Her real-world experience also helped guide her through her work. All those factors helped her succeed, she said.

“My anxiety was kicking in,” Davis laughs. “School never came easy to me. If I would have applied myself more like I did here, I would have done much better, but sometimes it also takes maturity.”

Her work also earned her more than a degree. She was recently named the recipient of the Exceptional Student Nurse Award from the South Dakota Student Nurses Association, an honor for which she was grateful, although she admits it was a bit of a surprise. She was selected from among all nursing students in the state.

Now, three-and-a-half years after enrolling, Davis is set to graduate with her class on Sunday, May 5. She will also take part in her nursing pinning ceremony on Saturday, which is when she also plans to get together with family and friends for a little celebration. Not long after, she will fully take up her new position with fellow emergency room staffers at Avera Queen of Peace.

It will also be a chance to realign herself with a regular work and family schedule. With three children ages 11, 9 and 5, there is plenty of work to keep her busy even outside her shifts at the Mitchell hospital.

“Believe in yourself. Time management is huge. And if you’re not ready to do it, don’t,” Davis said. “But if you are ready, then you’ll do it. You put your mind to it, you can do anything. And if you want the small atmosphere and teachers that want you to succeed and fulfill that dream, then definitely attend DWU.”

The 2024 Dakota Wesleyan class includes 12 graduates receiving masters of arts in education, six recieiving masters of athletic training and 39 receiving masters of business administration. Bachelor of science graduates number 114 and bachelor of art number 45, as well as five associate of sciences degrees. There are 221 graduates in total.

The Dakota Wesleyan nursing pinning ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 4 at 4 p.m. in the DWU Sherman Center. Commencement is Sunday, May 5 at 1:30 p.m. at the Corn Palace in downtown Mitchell.

Erik Kaufman

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at [email protected].


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