The Huffs find their groove at UMSL

Marianne and Lance Huff

After a collective 40 years of nursing experience, Marianne and Lance Huff returned to school to earn their BSN degrees in the UMSL College of Nursing. Marianne will be graduating this spring. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When you meet Marianne and Lance Huff, your mind will inevitably fill with the most cliché phrases – but that’s not a bad thing.

They are two peas in a pod: They share a profession and a subspecialty within that and chose to go back to school together at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. They fight – playfully – like a long-married couple, which they are, having been together for 20 years.

To illustrate, they met:

“At a dance club as kids,” Lance said. “We were 21. Actually, I think I was 24, and you were 21. A little bar called…”

“Church,” Marianne said, then burst into laughter.

“America’s Pub in Westport,” Lance finished, smiling.

Both are enrolled in the College of Nursing RN to BSN program, though Marianne is ahead of Lance and is on track to graduate in May. They returned to school in part because the BSN has become the gold standard for nurses and required at some hospitals. Their story is one of two people pulling each other along professionally and growing together personally.

When they met, Lance worked in the Navy as an aviation electrician, but IT wasn’t as in demand as nursing so he decided to jump ship and join Marianne’s field. Both earned their associate degrees at St. Louis Community College–Meramec; Marianne in 2001 and Lance in 2007. They’d planned to go into travel nursing but instead had their first child, Natalee, and stayed local.

Marianne worked orthopedics, where she started as a nurse tech, and Lance in a cardiovascular intensive care step-down unit. Though some nurses enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with working with ICU patients, Lance could never get used to it. Before long, Marianne pulled him into orthopedics and both have worked that floor since, Marianne at Mercy Hospital St. Louis and Lance at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Similarly, Marianne was the first to go for her BSN, bringing Lance along with her soon after. When he didn’t care for Central Methodist University, where he’d started, she asked him to join her at UMSL.

Going back to school after having been in the workplace – that was different and a challenge.

“Scary at first,” Marianne said.

“Definitely scary,” Lance said. “When I started off at school, we didn’t have kids. I wasn’t even working then, too. Now I’m 45, back in school again. Now I’ve got a family and work, so it was very intimidating going back in. I’m just doing one class at a time, which is perfect for me.”

Ask them the biggest challenge of going back to school and their answer is unilateral and immediate: technology.

UMSL’s resources went a long way toward overcoming that hurdle. Marianne took her laptop to the library for help. Both were impressed with the many services and resources, from math labs to the UMSL Gateway for Online and Adult Learners that is now part of the Online Mentor Program, available to them as students.

Plus, incredibly supportive instructors such as Liz Mantych, then-director of the RN to BSN program, made the difference.

“Any questions that you have, not even so much with your project, you can ask the teacher and they’ll find out different information for you,” Lance said. “They’ve always been available, especially Liz. Because I work nights, sometimes I would text her at like 10 or 11 o’clock, and be like, ‘I hope this didn’t wake you,’ and she’d be like, ‘I’m awake!’”

They agree that their biggest takeaway from the program was learning how to research effectively, discovering the different resources available to them such as medication websites and learning evidence-based practice research terminology.

In their collective 40-some years of nursing, Marianne and Lance acquired the type of “hospital smarts” that come from on-the-job learning. But having book smarts and a BSN degree will provide something else.

“I think I gained more confidence graduating with a bachelor’s,” Marianne explained. “I never thought I could retain all that information. I am more relaxed this semester compared to the first one. I cried. The last one is easier. But, you know, I’m more confident. I think I’m going to be more involved with our conference/committee. I will have more time with the steering committee.”

Aside from being more involved with her hospital’s administration, Marianne sees herself potentially continuing her education with a MSN or a DNP after her two children are older and out of the house. Lance likes that a BSN opens to the door to a management career.

The Huffs are looking forward to having a bit more free time after graduation to spend with their family. But that won’t only be filled only with camping, boating, fishing and motorcycle riding. Ultimately, the two hope to make an impact on the world.

Inspired by their son, Dylan, who was born with a cleft lip, the two would like to take part in medical mission trips. Marianne was born in the Philippines, where the charity Smile Train has a sizable presence.

“It’s a volunteer program where you fly overseas and donate your time as nurses over there for the cleft lip surgeries for the kids,” Lance said. “I like the whole thing of just helping people.”


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