When Nelly (Cornelia) Sana (BHSc ’21) and her family came to Canada from Romania in 2007, she knew only a few words in English.

“I was barely able to ask for a glass of water in the airplane,” she says. “I was a registered nurse in Romania, but back home I could not live from this month to next month. So, I decided with my husband to immigrate to Canada for a better future for our children.”

Sana began learning English at Flexability Learning Systems and then attended Lethbridge College for upgrading and completed the Practical Nurse program. She then began her career as a licensed practical nurse at a nursing home in Lethbridge.

“As a nurse and as a human, I can say we need to deal with illnesses,” she says. “I was looking to do a new career in health science to deal with illnesses. It’s not always enough to treat patients downstream. We have to go upstream to see what happened to start those illnesses.”

Sana was working full-time as an LPN and part-time as a nursing skills evaluator through Lethbridge College when she enrolled in the University of Lethbridge’s Bachelor of Health Sciences program. On top of that, Sana had a busy family life as a mother to her three sons. After a year of full-time work and studies plus her part-time job, Sana knew she had too much on her plate.

“I said to myself ‘Don’t give up; you have to do it,’” she says. “So, I prayed to God to give me the strength, the power to do it. In order to accomplish my schooling at the university, I had to give up my job at Lethbridge College.”

As a mature student, Sana was very serious about her studies. In addition to her course work, she had to learn to use a computer. The pressure became even more intense when classes moved online because of COVID-19.

“It was very, very difficult for me,” says Sana. “I didn’t know how to do a PDF or use Microsoft. I would wake up my boys from bed to come and help me. I got higher marks in the online studies than being in class. I don’t know why, maybe because I didn’t spend time going back and forth.”

As she looks back on her time at the U of L, Sana says she had amazing experiences with her instructors and fellow students.

“Sometimes I had to just keep quiet and watch from behind and listen because my accent was so strong,” she says. “I was so ashamed of my accent because I was new and maybe didn’t have the vocabulary built up. Thank you to all my teachers, especially the ones like me who came from other countries. Listening to them teaching gave me wings to fly. Some of them had accents and I really appreciated them, they were so good.”

Sana is especially grateful to her Spanish instructor, Diana Letts, and Erin Kardolus, who taught the Introduction to Addiction course.

“I wish all my classmates, professors, family and everyone who contributed to my success many great achievements, happiness and lots of health,” she says. “It was an honour having the opportunity to go to University with you every day. I was so excited and my professors were the most supportive ones I could ever come across.”

Now that she’s completed her degree, Sana is seeking a position in public health. Her goal is to help people live happier and healthier and be a great example for the next generation.

“My boys are 16, 20 and 23 and I still feel I need to be an example for them,” she says. “I said ‘Mama has studied, so I want you to do like I did.’ They say ‘Mom, you set the bar too high for us already.’”

Her tenacity in learning English, learning to use a computer and complete a degree in the midst of a pandemic while working full-time helped Sana succeed and she’d encourage beginning students to have the same persistence.

“Never give up, even though it is so difficult,” Sana says. “Even when you are parent or when life keeps you down, soar like an eagle. Stay up there and soar. Look down, protect the ones who are around you and help them soar also. And have passion and persevere, do it for your courses and for your future career or profession.”