June 22, 2021

Heidi Sirois-Rohrbacher never really had anyone tell her she could accomplish her goals when she was growing up, so she never set them too high.

Her father did not graduate high school, and while her mother did earn her high school diploma, her education ended when she had children at a young age. Heidi followed her mother’s lead, becoming pregnant the day she graduated from high school. “We did not come from money, and I was always told, ‘You come from nothing, you will be nothing,’” she said.

It’s been a long and at times difficult road, but Sirois-Rohrbacher, 44, is on a path to becoming the first in her family with college degree, overcoming her own self-doubts and the doubts of others. She was accepted into Great Bay’s nursing program in March and intends to graduate with an associate degree in 2023. “It’s such a dream come true,” she said. “I cannot wait to start classes again in the fall.”

Sirois-Rohrbacher has been a student at Great Bay since 2016, and considers it a second home. “The professors connect with you as a person, not another student filling a seat,” she said. “I feel like I matter as a student. I have a voice and am heard. I love being at Great Bay. It is my school.”

But college had been an experience of fits-and-starts for many years. She tried college as a single mom out of high school, and it didn’t work. She got married, had three more kids, and divorced in 2010 – a suddenly single mother of four. “I thought my life was on track to being nothing I could be proud of,” she said. “I didn’t think I was worthy of anything.”

A series of serious medical crises – brain surgery and then a car accident, both in 2012 – left her unable to walk or work. Facing a long rehabilitation, she felt hopeless at times. “I wanted to give up on life, give up on being a mom,” she said.

She pulled herself through and went back to work to support her family, working first as a patient service representative and then as a medical assistant, all related to a love of helping others that is at the core of her desire to become a nurse.

When she discovered Great Bay Community College, she found people who believed in her, she said. “Professor (Brett) LeClair told me that I could do anything if I set my mind to it, that if I truly wanted to be a nurse, I had to work hard at it and give it more than 100 percent,” she said.

As hard as she tried, she could not overcome her brain injury. She was able to pass chemistry and other courses required for the nursing program, but anatomy and physiology proved taxing on her brain. Instead, she focused on electives, other math classes and English. But she began losing confidence.

No longer believing she had what it took to become a nurse, Sirois-Rohrbacher also didn’t want to lose the credits she had already earned. She conferred with Karen Frisbie, Coordinator of Disability Support Services, about her options. Her credits lined up well for a certificate in Homeland Security, which she earned in 2019. “There was no grand celebration, there were tears, though,” she said. “I did something in my life.”

She proved the doubters wrong, and that gave her the confidence to get back on track and try again. Without pausing to celebrate her certificate, she buckled down and passed all the prerequisite classes necessary to get into the nursing program.

Enrolling at Great Bay, she said, was a life-changing decision. She enrolled because it was convenient and cost-effective. She got a great financial aid package, and appreciated the small class sizes. But what she really got was self-confidence, control of her life, and the ability to understand the satisfaction of achieving goals.

“The professors at Great Bay really help you obtain your goals and make them a reality. Professor LeClair gave me the advice I needed to hear and pushed me obtain my dream,” she said. “I wanted to give up … but Professor LeClair was right there guiding me every step of the way and now I am so excited to say I am in the nursing program and look forward to what it brings to me.”