This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine.

April 4, 2022

Bettie Ann Shawler (AS ’12, MSN ’21) and her daughter Tiffany (Shawler) Witte (BS ’12, MSN ’21) kept their connection undercover at first. They didn’t want to attract extra attention to themselves in class.

“It took maybe a month for it not to feel weird going to school with my mom,” Tiffany said. “I didn’t want her calling me any cute pet names or anything, and I didn’t want to call her ‘Mom.’ But it was probably less than a month before I was calling her ‘Mom’ and we were explaining how we knew each other.”

Fast forward to the end of their run as classmates—when mother and daughter both received their Master of Science in Nursing degrees at the USF Commencement on May 1, 2021. That was a day for celebrating individual achievement, bolstered by the additional emotional bond mothers and daughters share. They toasted each other with champagne.

“Graduation was really a unique experience,” Bettie Ann said. “I’m happy for myself, but I’m bursting with pride for my daughter.”

Their nursing journey began when Bettie Ann became an LPN during Tiffany’s high school years. For the next few years, Tiffany had no plans to follow her mother’s path because she saw her mother’s work in the psychiatric ward and cardiac ward and didn’t feel drawn to that. “I decided to be a nurse after realizing I wanted to help people in my community improve their health and stay out of hospitals when my great-grandfather became ill my first year in college,” Tiffany said. “Soon after he died, I transferred to USF to start in the nursing program.”

The two were on campus together earlier in their academic careers. While Tiffany earned her bachelor’s degree, Bettie Ann earned an associate degree. Bettie Ann later earned a bachelor’s from WGU online. Both women juggled their education efforts with family life. Bettie Ann and husband, Tim, had three children, now all grown. Tiffany and her husband, Colton, also have three children. Tiffany had her hands full with all three children under 5 during her master’s degree study. Her youngest arrived during that time.

“When I went to school for my RN, Mom went back for her ASN, and we graduated a semester apart,” Tiffany said. “When I decided to go back to school for my master’s, I said, ‘Why don’t you talk to Wendy (Dr. Wendy Clark, Graduate Nursing Program Director)?’ and the next thing I know, we’re in the program together.”

Both women and their families live in Decatur, Indiana, so they teamed up for their commute, their classes, their study time and their clinicals. They even took the nursing board exam at the same time. The journey might sound like fun to outsiders, but it was a grind that required sacrifices along the way. The demands of the program and the time committed sometimes intruded on birthdays, holidays and other family times. The process took three years.

“It’s not an easy program and they don’t make it easy,” Bettie Ann said. “But they make sure you succeed at the same time. I’ve not had a single professor here who isn’t 110% supportive.”

When it was time for their pinning ceremony, mother and daughter pinned each other.

Tiffany singled out the time spent studying with her mother as invaluable.

“My background is with women and children while she has a cardiac and psychiatric background,” Tiffany said. “I was able to use her as a study resource—she was my mandatory study partner. She always helped me out, and I was able to branch out and help other students. We’d compare our notes with theirs, and she reached out to people I wouldn’t have, just because of our age and interest differences.”

Bettie Ann credited Tiffany with helping to keep her motivated when the weight of studying became heavy, especially with the pull of fun distractions with being a grandmother.

“Going to school with Tiffany was really a blessing,” Bettie Ann said. “She’s married, and she has her own children with their own lives. I was able to spend more time with her the last three years than before because she was so busy. We had our clinicals on campus to learn all the skills, and we got to do that together.”

Bettie Ann works as needed at a local nursing home. Tiffany works at Parkview Regional Hospital, primarily with mothers and babies. Tiffany says she will probably pursue a doctorate. Her mother hasn’t made the commitment to join in that journey.

“It was very nice going to school with my daughter,” Bettie Ann said. “I’m amazed by her every day.”