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Dixie Maronn tends to a patient during a prenatal exam in India this January

Dixie Maronn’s path to a degree at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh included a few diversions along the way: Iraq, a storm-ravaged Louisiana, even India.

But each stop in the 29-year-old Omro native’s educational path has helped form a person coming into clearer focus, she said. Her educational journey, in a way, epitomizes a decade full of unforeseeable twists and turns.

Maronn said she has learned as much about herself as she has nursing. She is a veteran of the second Iraq War who bookends her UW Oshkosh academic career with disaster-relief service in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a community health clinical immersion in India.

Her peers are appreciative of her incredible resume and character. Maronn said that support has helped her grow.

“I’m starting to finally see myself the way other people see me,” Maronn said, just a few 12-hour hospital shifts away from completing her degree.

Duty called immediately

Maronn began the new millennium preparing for service in the Army National Guard with the 1157th Transportation Company out of Oshkosh. She enlisted at 19.

Her commitment took on new weight on Sept. 11, 2001. She remembers watching the terrorist attacks that day on TV at her Omro home. Their impact did not immediately sink in.

“It didn’t even occur to me that something like that would affect me,” Maronn said.

After military operations erupted in Afghanistan, the nation turned its attention to Iraq. Maronn and her unit spent a year at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, N.C., from October 2002 to September 2003, replacing active duty soldiers who had been deployed to Iraq. 

Almost interrupted…

Maronn enrolled at UW Oshkosh in 2005 and set her sights on a nursing degree. She was signed up for courses and had all the pieces in place to begin her college career.

And that’s when the National Guard called with a different assignment.

The 1157th Transportation Company was scrambled to help in the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005. The response put Maronn’s UW Oshkosh start in jeopardy. She dutifully stepped up to serve.

“You just kind of go with it,” she said.

Shortly after the 1157th’s arrival in the hurricane-affected region, its relief assignment concluded. The enormous wave of volunteers from around the United States unexpectedly shortened the National Guard unit’s mission. So, Maronn acted quickly, calling faculty with the nursing department at UW Oshkosh to see if she could make it back to Wisconsin before the academic year got rolling and begin the original slate of courses she was ready to forfeit.

“I called Dawn (Arnold) and was like, ‘Can I get back in school?’” Maronn said.

Arnold, assistant director of the UW Oshkosh Undergraduate Advising Resource Center, helped get Maronn back on track, in time for the semester. She said Maronn subsequently grew into a confident leader within the program.

“Dixie is a student I can call to mind – in spite of all the students I see,” Arnold said. “She had one of the most can-do attitudes. She was sure it was all going to work out, that things were going to work for her.”

Less than a  year after Maronn started her UW Oshkosh studies, the call to serve in Iraq came.

The 1157th Transportation Company was deployed and served in Iraq from June 2006 to September 2007. Maronn drove trucks for the Oshkosh-based unit, a vital company tasked with keeping U.S. forces supplied during the conflict.

The experience further toughened a resolve that would inspire a never-before-considered career in nursing, she said.

“I was always scared,” Maronn said, admitting to a past squeamishness about medicine. “I didn’t think it was something I could do, but after the military, I thought, I don’t know…”

Path to Commencement, another adventure abroad

Maronn took full advantage of her nursing education at UW Oshkosh between fall 2007 and this spring’s Commencement.

Beyond her studies, she accepted a position on the board for the Oshkosh Student Nurses’ Association. During her final two and a half years in the program, she helped lead the fundraising for the college’s annual student awards and recognition ceremony. She even spared time for a revealing interview for UW Oshkosh student journalists’ “War: Through Their Eyes” project, a 2009 multimedia spotlight on 13 students who had, or were preparing to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In January, in the home stretch of her pursuit of a degree, she traveled to India to take part in an innovative Community Health Clinical immersion with fellow students.

Each is an experience and responsibility Maronn said she never could have imagined her 19-year-old self undertaking. Combined, however challenging the job market and competition may be, they are helping propel her into a nursing career after graduation.

“It’s like, ‘Just give me a chance,'” Maronn said. “‘I won’t let you down.'”

Arnold said Maronn’s determination is a common attribute in the veterans she has seen pursue their degrees at UW Oshkosh.

“Military students have that confidence,” Arnold said. “They’ve already seen a lot of life and not all of it good. So, they are ready for anything.”

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