Only in Indiana: Cook offers path to diploma, career upon completion

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) - Nycole Cowens can hardly believe her good fortune. Clad in her white sterilization gown, you could never tell that just a few years ago she was pregnant with child, without a high school degree and without direction in her life.

"It was pretty scary but here I am, 21-years-old,” Cowens said. “I have to move out of my mom's house. I was pregnant with my second child so I have to do what a grownup is expected to do."

So she left Chicago for Indiana, where a help wanted ad caught her eye.

"I thought it was really wrong at first. I opened it up and read more about it and it said they would help you get your GED and get you back to school four days a week. I was like ‘that sounds good’."

It was an ad for the Pathway Program at Cook Medical. It was not a handout but a hand up for the 5,000 Hoosiers without high school diplomas in Monroe County alone.

"So we came up with a program where they can come work part time at Cook in the morning then in the afternoon they go get their high school degree in a seven-week period and then they get to come back to a full-time job at Cook,” said Cook president Peter Yonkman.

Nycole saw more than an ad. She saw an opportunity, so she took it.

"There was plenty of times I wanted to give up but my teacher was like ‘Nycole you got this, don't beat yourself up, you got it. It's going to be ok. I believe you can pass it.’ I've never had a teacher say things like that to me in high school. Those simple words kept me going."

She attended Monroe County Adult Education classes at Ivy Tech, just up the street from Cook.

"She has left quite a few messages on my phone saying how much I gave her confidence, that she would not have made it if not for me,” said Adult Ed teacher Barbara Browning. She really touched my heart."

"I heard Bill say one time, the greatest thing you can do for somebody is give them a job," said Yonkman.

"No other company would have thought to do something like this, Nykole said. “Especially to help people who don't have... I think it is just amazing they did something like this to help the people."

"You balance your family, life and bills and you go back to school and you can see the change everyday in that persons life. What more can you ask for,” said Yonkman.

Now she is set to graduate with her degree.

"It changes their lives for their families, their children,” said Yonkman. “They can see the impact immediately."

Her children certainly did when they noticed she wasn't wearing her fast food uniform.

"When I told them I was going to work and they realized I did not have on my uniform, ‘Mommy I thought you were going to work?’ I said ‘I am going to work but I don't work their anymore’."

No. Now she works here. Nykole is the 17th person to successfully complete the Pathway Program.

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