Windi Altemeyer, who is this year’s Alumna of the Year, currently runs the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program at Fernley High School. She has been teaching in the program for eight years, which has impacted over sixty students. “I’m passionate about this program—these are CNAs who model compassionate behavior—it is always about patient care for my students. That is the highest level of achievement for me, to give back to the profession I love.”
Altemeyer always knew she wanted to work in the health care industry and she dabbled in pursuing pharmacology, veterinarian studies or pediatrics until marriage, family and a house made college a “back-burner” pursuit. “I was 35 or 36 when I went back to TMCC,” she said. A family tragedy—the loss of a nephew in a tragic car accident—prompted Altemeyer to re-evaluate her priorities. “I realized that life is very short. I had excuses for not going back to school that all revolved around finances. At the time, I had three kids: an 11, 8 and 2-year old, and I realized that finances weren’t a good enough excuse for my own children to avoid going to school. So, I questioned why it was an acceptable answer for myself. I was very inspired to make a change, and do what I wanted to do.”
Being recently divorced and a single mom with three children made the return to higher education a challenge. “I worked five jobs to meet my financial needs until the very last semester when I received the Regent’s Scholarship, which enabled me to focus on school for the final semester.” Altemeyer cites the supports on campus as lifelines, especially the Re-Entry Center, which she calls “the Golden Ticket to Life.”
Although Altemeyer was intent on earning a degree in Nursing, she received an Associate degree in General Studies in 2006, and that same year she was also selected for the National Education for Women Leadership program, a conference that was held in Las Vegas. “That was a spectacular and amazing event. We learned about politics and leadership and how women can overcome obstacles to become leaders in their communities and in their fields,” she said.
As Altemeyer continued her education—this time in pursuit of a Nursing degree—she had the support of TMCC staff who wrote a letter of recommendation letter that resulted in Altemeyer receiving the TMCC Board of Regents Scholar Award. The award enabled Altemeyer to focus on her classes her final semester and reduced the financial burdens for her and her family. After completing her degree at TMCC, she continued her education at UNR where she received her Bachelor’s degree (BSN) in 2010.
In 2014, a patient at Renown nominated her for the Northern Nevada Nurse of Achievement award. In the ICU, on a ventilator and unable to speak, Altemeyer said this particular patient “pulled on my heartstrings. I just had this outpouring of connection with her, and she became my project. I advocated for her, and I took care of her. I put curlers in her hair and painted her toenails—I wanted to give her a higher quality of life.”
Although Altemeyer belongs to several professional organizations, those that enable her to give back “…are all very true to my heart,” she said. She has volunteered for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life for 13 years and was a 4-H Leader in Lyon County for almost 20 years. “I’ve lived in Fernley for 32 years, and it’s my home. I’ve always been passionate about students and the people there,” she said.
For the past three years, she and her family have “adopted” other TMCC students who are single parents with children by coordinating with the TMCC Re-Entry Center to find families in need of support over the holidays. “When things turned around for me, I wanted to support others during the holidays who didn’t have the support of family and friends like I had. I specifically called and asked for families with three children, and then my kids would each find presents for these other children and families.” Since Altemeyer had relied on the Re-Entry Center when she was a student, giving back in this way was particularly meaningful for her.
So, too, is the CNA program at Fernley High school. “I just saw my first two students graduate from Nursing school this year,” she said. “One attended Emory University in Georgia, and the other went to TMCC. I love keeping track of them and to watch them achieve their goals.”
Although Altemeyer’s journey was rarely smooth, she said that defining and sticking to your goals is vastly important. “I call them the ‘pot holes of life’—sure, when you go through them they bump your car and it groans a little bit, but you drove through it—you made it. And, tomorrow you can go around it as you make moves toward your destination in life.”
Doing what you are passionate about is also advice Altemeyer gives to future and recent graduates. “What I’ve learned along the way in the 11 years that I’ve been working as a nurse is that you have to have a passion for it in order to enjoy life—and to make meaningful differences that last.”