Remarkable Resilience: Millikin’s Diana Hernandez faced challenges and became a strong leader

The Millikin Nursing major was selected as a 2023 Scovill Award winner.

Diana Hernandez

DECATUR, Ill. – At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Millikin University student Diana Hernandez was contemplating withdrawing. Most of Diana’s classes were online, and as a Nursing major, she could only get into the lab once a week. Isolated in her dorm room, it wasn’t the college experience she expected, and she was unsure she wanted to continue. 

“Moving to Decatur as a first-year student is challenging, and that time was definitely hard. Not being able to socialize as much was tough,” she said. “But I met (Millikin’s Director of Campus Life Residential Communities) Nicole DeLiberis, and she helped a lot. She would eventually be my boss when I became a Resident Assistant (RA), and she helped me get involved in many different things on campus. (Everyone in Campus Life) is really good about pointing you in the right direction. If you need something, they can find it for you.”

Diana ultimately decided to stay, and four years later, she is about to celebrate her graduation on May 19 during Millikin’s Commencement celebrations. She has made the most of her time since the campus opened back up, becoming the President of the Latin American Student Organization, continuing as an Honors and Long-Vanderburg Scholar, and serving as a Resident Assistant. At the 2023 Honors Convocation, Diana was selected as a winner of the Scovill Award, the most coveted student award at Millikin based on high academic achievement, demonstrated leadership, service, and scholarship. Stepping into those leadership roles has been a great experience for her. 

Diana Hernandez
Diana Hernandez (middle) celebrates the Latin American Student Organization being named the 2024 Outstanding Registered Student Organization of the Year Award.

“I feel like it's nice to be that role model. I also feel like it gives a lot of people hope and see that it is possible to do a lot of things on campus while also being a Nursing student,” Diana said. “I feel like it's been really rewarding, and the same is true about my experience in Nursing.”

In high school, Diana knew she would pursue nursing and applied to several Nursing programs at larger colleges. She decided on Millikin because of the smaller and more personal experience she would receive here. 

“A friend recommended Millikin to me and I hadn’t heard of it before. I said, OK, let's go see it. I applied and visited on Scholarship Interview Day. I got into the University of Iowa’s Nursing program, but it was a gigantic campus. I came from a really small high school, so this was relatively the same size,” Diana said. “I’m from the Chicago area but didn’t really apply to any of the schools in Chicago because they didn't have any direct admit programs. That's what Millikin offered and that was really different. They allowed us to start our clinicals our sophomore year, rather than at most schools that start them your junior year or have you reapply to be in the Nursing program junior year.”

Diana Hernandez

While taking her Pediatrics course, Diana’s class did a clinical rotation in the Pediatrics Unit at HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, and the Performance Learning experience forever shaped what Diana wanted to focus on in her career after graduation. 

“We got to do a rotation on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and that’s when I said, this is what I want to do. But it was only one eight-hour day, and I didn't feel like that was enough. There was an internship opportunity at St. John's, and I applied and got it. Over the summer, I did two weeks in the NICU and then two weeks on a general floor,” Diana said. “I had two patients who were twins, and they were really tiny. It's just something about being able to help those little babies get back to a healthy way or overcome these incredible difficulties. For being that small, I was astonished and loved every minute of helping them.”

This semester, Diana has enjoyed the new Nursing facilities in the renovated Health Science Center. The facility, which includes four state-of-the-art simulation rooms in the Campbell Family Nursing Simulation Center, will be on display during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, May 8, at 4:30 p.m. to honor its opening.

Nursing Students
Millikin Nursing students learn in the Campbell Family Nursing Simulation Center. 

“I think moving to the new building has been really great. I feel like Nursing needed that because, in Leighty-Tabor Science Center, we were spread out all over,” Diana said. “Being over in the Health Sciences Center, I get to see some of the underclassmen more, and it's nice because we seniors can all give them advice. It has opened things up a lot more so that we can all interact more.”

After graduation, Diana plans to return to Chicago to work as a nurse and eventually attend graduate school to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Before that, she will enjoy walking across the Kirkland Fine Arts Center’s stage at her first true graduation ceremony after her high school graduation was canceled due to COVID, and overall, she has appreciated her School of Nursing experience. 

“In Nursing, the small class sizes drive the success of (our program). The professors get to know us very well and are more than willing to work with us,” she said. “Even in times when we are struggling, they show so much respect and so much care for us. I think that's not something that many people get at other colleges, and I think that has helped a lot.”