Alumni Profile - Penny Duncan
"The instructor explained that we were taking the first small step onto a path of larger steps, and what Sauk was providing us was not the dream in our life, but the possibility of that dream," said Duncan. "I always took those to words along with me on my own path, and I've really taken to heart that mantra that little steps make big steps."
Duncan, of Sterling, is currently a professor of nursing at OSF Saint Anthony College of Nursing. Most recently, she served as executive director of the Whiteside County Community Health Clinic, a federally-qualified facility that provides access to medical, behavioral and dental care to individuals with difficulty accessing health care because they are public aid recipients or do not have health insurance.
"You hear my family or my staff tell how I've said over and over how little steps make big steps. I truly believe that leaders don't get to where they are or were by taking huge leaps and bounds," she says.
Duncan earned an Associate in Arts with a focus on English Literature in 1982, her first of two degrees at Sauk. Duncan returned to earn Associate Degree in Nursing in 1991 and become a registered nurse. She then worked as a registered nurse at CGH Medical Center in Sterling.
"I attended Sauk because of it's proximity to my residence and because it offered a variety of classes," explained Duncan. "I was a young mother with a lot of responsibilities. I also had parents who encouraged me to seek education if that was what I wanted, and that's what I did." Although Duncan says she had five other siblings who never graduated from high school, she credits her support system to her parents and a husband who valued education.
After earning her nursing degree and working as a nurse, Duncan didn't rest on her laurels. While working and raising a family, she earned a bachelor's degree from Clark College in Dubuque, Iowa. Not stopping there, she went on to earn a Master's in Nursing from North Park University in Chicago in 2003.
"Having my associate's degree from Sauk -- the transition from my associate-level classes to my bachelor's and master's level work was an easy transition. I was always a 3.75 or 4.0 student and I really believe that smooth transition was because of the ground work I received from Sauk Valley. I had that nice foundation for everything else to build on."
While she was at North Park University, Duncan undertook a graduate project that would have an impact on many people.
"I think there was a larger, well-written plan for how I got where I am today. I went to a Catholic college for my bachelor's degree," said Duncan, who explained that she minored in theology while at Clark College, a Catholic school. "Then, I went to North Park University, a Christian University that really based its nursing mission on Christian philosophy." A research project was required at North Park, but Duncan felt she wanted to do something other than research. Since this had never been done before, she had to make a formal request to North Park's Administrative Board to do a community-based project instead of a research project.
Accepted as an alternative for the graduation requirement, Duncan's community-based project came at a time that would benefit her community the most. In May 2001, Northwestern Steel and Wire closed along with many manufacturing companies that served them. Her request was to bring a federally-qualified health clinic to Whiteside County. For the next two-and-one-half years, Duncan worked with other key individuals on a $650,000 federal grant to start a community health clinic. Public Health Administrator, Beth Fiorini, took Duncan on as a preceptor. She and Fiorini worked together five years on the grant, which was first denied, but accepted upon resubmission. They received the grant in February and opened the clinic's doors May 1st achieving an incredible goal with the foundation laid by her experience at Sauk years before.
"The number one thing that Sauk did for me was provide an educational foundation that made me believe that I could go on to the next level," explained Duncan. "It wasn't out of my reach to go on to a bachelor's or a master's degree. I now know that if I chose to earn my doctorate, I could do that too, because the fear of obtaining those goals is gone thanks to my educational foundation at Sauk."
Duncan fondly remembers the sense of closeness at Sauk and the approachability of the instructors that cultivated a sense of caring between everyone.
"If I walked into Mrs. (Mary) Weller's office, everything else would be set aside and she would focus on the student who was at her door and that student's needs."
Along with that, she recalls how the instructors lived and worked in the community and how students were more than just names in a roll book.
"The instructors at Sauk really wanted to see those students graduate, achieve their dreams, and earn their degrees,” she said. "The instructors always went that extra mile and walked that mile with their students."
"If I were to do it over again, I absolutely would go to Sauk. Being a young student, I graduated with my first degree when I was 20, then my second degree when I was 27. I had many responsibilities to my family and to myself. Sauk met my needs as a young individual."
Duncan said that people are truly fortunate to have a community college of Sauk's magnitude with the quality of instructors that they have in the community.
"I think we often take that for granted," said Duncan who adds that she has encouraged other people to go to Sauk, especially to the nursing program. Two of Duncan's three children have gone to Sauk for their associate degrees.
"I would encourage anyone to look at Sauk to meet their needs whether it is an associate's degree, a bachelor's, master's degree, or a doctorate. Sauk provides that solid foundation to make the transition to those upper degrees. I would also encourage individuals who simply want to stimulate their brains or socialize with other people to look at Sauk. It's a warm, welcoming atmosphere and you could not ask for instructors who are more dedicated to seeing students make that walk toward achieving their goals."