Class of 2020: Graduate Niniana Oehler charts a new path in health care field

Life happens.

portrait of Niniana Oehler

Niniana Oehler of Greensburg, Indiana, received her Bachelor of Science in Applied Health Science degree from IU East this May.

Situations change and choices change, sometimes very quickly, as we all are certainly aware in today’s world.

Niniana Oehler has found in the last two years that IU East is an empathetic and encouraging place when it comes to making important – and necessary – changes in career directions.

The immigrant from Germany – and soon-to-be U.S. citizen – felt forced to make a big change after finding out she and her husband were expecting a baby just as she was getting ready to start the clinical part of training toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

That would necessitate driving up a lot more to the Richmond campus and even more flexibility in her busy life. That wasn’t going to happen with a new baby and a full-time job in Greensburg, Indiana, an hour’s drive away.

At first, Oehler worried that she might even have to put the brakes on her academic career.

“I felt like something didn’t fit. It was pretty difficult, I wasn’t even sure about college options,” Oehler said.

Oehler had some heartfelt talks with adviser Nichole Mann, who is director of Nursing Student Services in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

black and white family photo of Niniana Oehler, Stephen Oehler and Valerie Oehler

Niniana Oehler and her husband, Stephen Oehler, with their daughter, Valerie.

Mann suggested visiting with academic adviser Carla Ballenger. Soon a new career path was born for Oehler – in health care administration. “I was already working (toward) a minor in entrepreneurship,” she explains. “I instantly fell in love with the degree.”

She discovered a passion for leadership in the health care field “and learning about the policies and regulations I find fascinating.”

The new degree track meant she could do her work online and even speed up the process.

And speed up she did.

Oehler took 24-credit workloads each of the last two semesters in order to graduate this spring.

“I could not wait to start my career,” explained the 22-year-old.

Oehler initially was hesitant about the workload. Oehler recalls thinking: “I am going to do this and I am going to be good at it,” she says. “I kept a 4.0 all that time. I am proud of that.”

Ballenger says the situation is unique. “Niniana is an excellent student, who has shown herself as a self-directed and driven person throughout her higher education career,” Ballenger wrote in an email.

“Her business advisor and I initially rejected this request since we had never had a student successfully complete 24 credit hours a semester. Niniana rationally presented her plan of how she intended to take her remaining courses at semester overloads, and we determined if anyone could do it, it would be Niniana. We granted permission, and she not only successfully passed the overload of courses, but also excelled with all As or A+s.”

She accomplished the feat while working a full-time job and caring for her daughter, Valerie, who recently celebrated her first birthday. “She keeps us busy,” Oehler says.

You would be right if you think Oehler is hard-working. She works an overnight shift as a CNA at a nursing home in Greensburg. “I’d get up about noon, drink coffee and start my schoolwork,” she says.

She also has started the work toward becoming a United States citizen, something that she and her husband, Stephen Oehler, also have found can be time-consuming and costly.

She likes communicating with other immigrants and is happy to have opportunities that come with being in the U.S. and attending IU East.

The couple is currently both at home. Stephen Oehler is a manager for a company but is currently laid off due to the ongoing pandemic.

Oehler has completed her final IU East project and is awaiting notification that she is a new graduate. She would like to go through a graduation ceremony — whenever it’s held. One reason is because Germans see the iconic celebrations with cap and gown and “all the fancy things” on TV and in movies, but she explains: “Graduations aren’t really celebrated that good there.”

She already has been offered a career path in management training by American Senior Communities.

Oehler’s journey to the U.S. began in the 2013-14 school year, when she was an exchange student at Brookville High School in Indiana. She met her husband, who was homeschooled, in a reading club at a community library.

After returning home, she worked as a volunteer at a refugee camp that was set up in the school gym of her school. “I had no health care experience whatsoever,” she recalls. “The care they provided was so empathetic. That really got me into nursing.”

She enjoys working with senior citizens at her job, even under the inherent threats that come with possible exposure to COVID-19. “I’ve seen it as my calling to help out, to step up,” Oehler said.

Oehler moved to the United States in 2016 and started working toward her degree at IU East in 2017.

She did extensive research before deciding on IU East. “I was looking for best options,” she says. “The campus was close and still affordable. IU East just stood out.”

She came to campus and found a supportive response to her immigration situation.

“They instantly made a great impression,” she says.

That impression – and the engagement with staff – never wavered, even while taking classes online. “Every teacher in the health care administration program has been such an inspiration and supported me in succeeding,” Oehler says. “Carla Ballenger was a tremendous inspiration as she supported me during my extensive course load and always believed in me.”

Oehler aims to become an executive director at a nursing home and to always keep aiming higher in her life. She plans to immediately start graduate studies through the University Southern Indiana. “I (am) used to a lot of time on school. I look to keep going right away.”

Ballenger foresees great successes.

“Niniana already possesses the qualities that any employer would love to see instilled in their employees, but she also has the passion for health care administration, which will make her an asset to any facility.”