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"A World Where They Feel Valued"

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"A World Where They Feel Valued"

Linda Michal gives direction to NIC

It was almost inevitable that Linda Michal would become a nurse. Her mother had suggested it as a career, given how caring Linda had been as a child and as a teenager, and coming of age in the late 60s, as she did, it was easier for a female to go to nursing school than it was to become a doctor. What might also have been inevitable, given her love for and interest in young adults, is the position she holds today—Dean of Students at North Idaho College.

Not that she isn’t still nursing. In what might be a first for any community college, and certainly a first for this one, is that Linda still retains her position, held for the last 20 years, as the Director of Student Health Services and Therapeutic Counseling as well.

“Linda has led an absolutely terrific organization in Student Health Services and Counseling, and obviously we have a great deal of respect for her and her talents,” said Priscilla Bell, President of NIC. “She brings to NIC great talent, experience, insight and knowledge. Everyone here thinks she’s wonderful.”

It all started back in Cleveland, where Linda was born and raised. She got her nursing diploma at St. Luke’s, and spent a year in college at Kent State, returning there to finish the autumn after student protesters were fired upon by National Guard troops.

“When I went back that fall, after having also lived through the riots in Cleveland, seeing tanks and people with guns right here at home, things started changing. It was a very different atmosphere.” That atmosphere, she said, taught her to “question everything. I learned not to accept everything I was told and it led me on a quest to determine what it was that was truly important.”

She married and moved to the mountains, finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Denver and earning her Nurse Practitioner degree. “Denver was too big,” however, and it was a time when a lot of rural health clinics were being established around the country that were recruiting Nurse Practitioners. The Idaho Migrant Council called her name and she moved to Payette in southern Idaho, then three years later moved to Boise, where she worked for Planned Parenthood and Central District Health Department. In 1989 she moved to Coeur d’Alene.

“When I first moved here I worked for the Spokane County Health District.” As a nurse epidemiologist, she had spent years dealing with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, issues she’s still committed to working on through her involvement with the North Idaho AIDS Coalition and at NIC.

Then a nurse at North Idaho College left and Linda joined the staff there as a Nurse Practitioner. Ever since, her job duties have grown. She became head of Student Health Services, and then added the directorship of counseling services to her duties five years ago. And now, of course, Dean of Students has joined that list.

Her first marriage ended but ten years ago she met Ernie Hawks (yes, our Ernie Hawks) and they bought a fixer-upper in the woods near Athol where they still live, fitting in the never-ending house remodeling with their varied interests in the Unitarian Church, Linda’s service on the board of the Human Rights Education Institute, hiking the myriad trails in the area and beyond, listening to good music and sampling the various wines offered by our local wineries. They are currently anxiously anticipating being grandparents for the first time as Linda’s daughter Ana and her husband Noah are expecting a daughter in December.

She spent 14 years as a volunteer with the Dirne Clinic, a Coeur d’Alene-based medical resource staffed by volunteers to provide medical services to non-insured or under-insured residents, until the time that Dirne began receiving federal funding and working there would have become a regular, full-time position. Health care, and access to it, still remains her greatest interest. “Dirne... has a several month waiting list. The demand is so great.”

She sees this even in her students at NIC. “My biggest concern is access to health care—not just for our traditional students (18- to 24-year-olds who attend after high school), but all our students.” NIC has a large percentage of non-traditional students, especially, like now, during times of economic uncertainty, when people return to school in the hopes of improving their job prospects. This year NIC has seen their student enrollment jump by 12 percent over last fall, which itself was 16 to 18 percent higher than the previous year.

The average age of a student at NIC, in fact, is 26 and they don’t all attend classes at the Coeur d’Alene Campus. NIC maintains a strong outreach program, offering classes in outlying communities as well as online.

For parents of those traditional students, Linda has some advice: “You need to be having conversations with your kids about how to be responsible before they get to college. More and more we’re learning that even at this age, the brain is still developing—they’re not adults yet.”

Responsibility is what will get students through the issues of drinking and sex that so concern communities about college kids, although Linda points out that many studies show that people’s perception of student sexual activity and level of drinking are generally greater than the reality. “If you go out, who’s the designated driver? Are you planning ahead? We’d like to think there are no underage drinkers, but if kids are going to make that choice, are they also choosing to take a taxi? Who are you going to call in an emergency?” These are all questions to which successful students have answers long before they step on a college campus.

And if they don’t, Linda and her staff are available through Student Health and Counseling Services to talk about these issues and others. Having a hard time getting to class on time? Getting your homework done? Understanding math or science? These are all common issues that the college is prepared to help with, from simple advice to tutoring programs.

And what about money? “Students need to understand the financial aid and student loan process,” Linda explained. “If they don’t have enough money for college, there are often resources, including scholarships, available. I advise them not to be afraid to borrow money, but at the same time not to borrow more than what they actually need for college expenses.” Because students need to budget their available money to last the full school year, “They might enjoy that 32” HD flat screen TV, but they might see greater benefit from adequate nutrition and gas to get back and forth to classes,” she pointed out.

As a community college, of course, NIC is the area’s most affordable choice for higher education. Full time tuition costs for a non-resident are $3,600, but various discounts for students “in district,” (counties that pay property tax toward NIC and selected areas in nearby states with reciprocity agreements) can drop that cost to just $1,329 for 12 to 16 credits. A ‘typical’ class schedule adds about $500 for books and lab fees.

NIC is a two-year college offering an Associate’s Degree in Arts or Science, or an Associates in Applied Science (AAS). Credits earned there are fully transferable to a four-year college for those who wish to go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree or beyond. As a comprehensive community college, there are also a variety of professional technical programs that offer certificates as well as degrees.  The Workforce Training and Community Education Center offers programs to help advance your professional career or enrich your personal life.

And suitably for a school with Linda as its Dean, it has a strong nursing program.

What it’s like to attend the school is really up to the student. “There can be a different experience at a four-year school,” Linda said. “(At NIC) we have a bigger percentage of students living off campus and that can mean students experience less of a sense of community. But that depends on what they choose to become involved in.” And NIC offers a lot to become involved in, from student government to a myriad of clubs, outdoor experience programs, sports, theater, etc.

“NIC,” offers President Bell, “is really the number one choice for higher education for all folks in our region.”

Although the fall registration is over, there are a few late start classes still available, and the registration process for the spring semester is now underway; “It’s time to get your applications in and get ready,” said Bell.

Linda says, if she found a genie in a lamp and got just one wish, it would be that “every child would have the opportunity to grow up in a world where they felt valued, so they believe in themselves and can recognize and support the value of others throughout their life.” There are no genies in North Idaho, but wearing a couple of hats at NIC is a woman who, given the chance, will give just that to the students at her school.

To learn more about North Idaho College, visit their website, or call 877-404-4536.

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Landon Otis

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education, People, health, college, North Idaho College, Linda Michal, Ernie Hawks

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