Alumni Spotlight: Vernon and GeVonne O'Neil

Friday, March 5, 2021
Written by: Laura D. Schumacher

Photo: Vernon and GeVonne O'Neil enjoy traveling and exploring local offerings.

Vernon and GeVonne O’Neil have a unique love story and journey. They are both Seminole State College of Florida alumni, with Vernon receiving his Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Technology and GeVonne getting her Associate in Science in Nursing to become a registered nurse (RN). Now Vernon O'Neil is working with the federal government and GeVonne O'Neil works in healthcare, but their path to this point isn’t what you may expect talking with them today.

What factors played into you deciding to attend Seminole State College?

After I did some research, not only was Seminole State affordable, Seminole State’s RN program’s National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rates were comparable or better than some of the major four-year universities in Florida. 

GeVonne O'Neil.

GeVonne: I decided to attend Seminole State College, because I wanted to become a RN. After I did some research, not only was Seminole State affordable, Seminole State’s RN program’s National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rates were comparable or better than some of the major four-year universities in Florida. At the time, I worked in state government as a case manager for older and disabled adults, and a great deal of the nurses that I came into contact with either attended Seminole State or heard that Seminole State’s RN program was an excellent program. For me, there was no other school that could top being affordable while being amongst the best of the best.

Vernon: It was actually a department chair at UCF that recommended I go to Seminole State due to the rigid requirements to stay in the program at UCF. Even though I had shown that I could do the course work, when it came to my transfer grades, it hindered me and I would get kicked out of the program if I got one "C" letter grade in any course. They had a number of courses that students were known to fail, so I was directed to Seminole State to not have the stress of possibly losing everything because of one grade.

What were your steps after leaving Seminole State? What are you doing now?

GeVonne: After completing Seminole State’s RN program in October 2015, I immediately registered to take the NCLEX per the recommendation of my professors.  To my surprise, I passed on the first try (if you’re not aware, this exam can be quite intense).  When I received my RN license, I was offered the opportunity to stay at the managed care organization (MCO) I was working with as a health plan clinical trainer.  This role allowed me to onboard RNs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who were transitioning from direct patient care into either case management, utilization management or other administrative nursing roles.  While I did leave my MCO to practice direct patient care, I found it was not a good fit for me and I returned to my current MCO.  Presently, I work as a senior learning consultant and I support learning and development efforts for long-term services and supports in healthcare.  For this role, being an RN is a requirement. I’m also an active graduate member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Vernon: After leaving Seminole State, I started off small in the IT field with a job at an IT call center that helped support community colleges and four-year universities across the country. It was a great learning experience. I found another opportunity at a major IT company that offered software to the majority of lower government agencies. It gave me the opportunity to have the Silicon Valley-type experience. However, I found myself missing the days when I could be in an office or out in the field. My friend told me about an opening for a federal government position and I jumped on the chance to apply. I thankfully got it and have been happy ever since. Finding a career that has the indoor and outdoor balance I like.

How did your education or time spent at Seminole State help prepare you for where you are now?

GeVonne: I have a Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology and Master of Science in Health Science that I received before attending Seminole State. I was in my early 30s when I was accepted into the nursing program and completing this degree was the most challenging out of all of my other degrees. The experience taught me to not let my age hold me back from achieving my goals.  I also learned a lot about resiliency and empathy, as well as how to better communicate with my peers and the people that I serve.

Who or what class was your greatest influence at Seminole State College?

GeVonne: I believe that all of my classroom and clinical instructors were top-notch; however, I have two clinical instructors that had a great influence on me: Professor Marilyn Wells and Professor Ebony Rollins. During my last course before practicum, I was actually failing the class. At one of our clinical visits to the hospital, Professor Wells approached me during lunch and had a heart-to-heart with me about my performance. Although I was in tears with her in the hospital cafeteria, her pep talk snapped me out of my funk. I know that the professors are extremely busy; but, in that moment, she stopped her day to come talk to me. She didn’t know anything about me beyond nursing school. I was quite moved by her gesture. By the way, I ended up earning the "A" on the final exam I needed to pass the course in order to move onto my practicum.

Professor Ebony Rollins also had a major influence on me. Honestly, I was a little intimidated by her at first. She, like myself, is black and was so accomplished as a nurse. I believe that it is inspiring for people of color to see representation in education and their careers, as well as other areas of life. At the very end of clinicals, she had a chat with me about the experience of black nurses in healthcare. She was quite transparent, and I really appreciated her words of advice and encouragement. Years later, I’m still applying the advice that she gave me.

My greatest influence at Seminole State hands down is Dr. Janell Robinson in IT. Dr. Robinson was such an inspiration to me and always challenged us in a good way to do more.

Vernon O'Neil.

Vernon: My greatest influence at Seminole State hands down is Dr. Janell Robinson in IT. Dr. Robinson was such an inspiration to me and always challenged us in a good way to do more. If I needed a reference letter, Dr. Robinson was providing me with one before I could hang up the phone. I truly do appreciate her and value her opinion. Dr. Robinson has played a major role in getting me to take my education seriously. Thank you, Dr. Robinson.

What advice do you have for current or prospective Seminole State students?

GeVonne: We both advise students to not be afraid to reach out to their professors or academic advisors. Simple communication goes a long way and can be quite enlightening. We also recommend that if students are struggling with a course or subject, to exhaust all available and applicable resource options. If time permits, students should engage in extracurricular activities. Lastly, regarding future career paths, students should research the industry that they would like to enter, as well as take on new tasks.

Since it’s still February, how did you meet? Tell us your love story!

GeVonne and Vernon O'Neil at Dr. Phillips High School.

GeVonne: We met in eleventh grade at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. We took an honors-level African-American history course together. However, we did not date while in high school; we were just friends. After high school, Vernon enlisted in the United States Navy and I attended the University of South Florida in Tampa. While pursuing different endeavors, we lost contact. Nonetheless, in the spring of 2006, we regained contact via social media. At the time, I was attending graduate school and living in Maryland while Vernon was residing in Florida. One thing led to another, and we eventually married at the end of 2006. Every love story has its ups and downs, and ours is no exception. We ended up divorcing in 2010 and would again lose contact with each other. As fate would have it, we reestablished contact via email in 2013. Just like before, one thing led to another and we remarried in the summer of 2016. If you’re wondering if we are still married, the answer is, “absolutely we are!"

We’re so thankful that you’ve taken the steps to establish a scholarship at Seminole State. What inspired you to want to establish a scholarship?

GeVonne: We both know what it’s like to not have a stellar GPA. We also understand that life happens and can have an impact on your school performance. We wanted to offer a scholarship to help those students who have GPAs that are not so excellent. We believe that by doing this, we will offer them some light at the end of the tunnel.

What do you like to do for fun?

GeVonne: We like to travel and visit museums, historical sites and botanical gardens.

What are you doing to help get you through this pandemic? Anything you’d like to share specifically about how you’re feeling during this time?

GeVonne: Right now, we have taken up learning a foreign language. Vernon is learning German and I’m learning French. In our spare time, Vernon does a lot of crafting and I enjoy reading. We both feel pretty good about what this year will bring. It’s another opportunity for self-discovery and growth.

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