First-Generation College Celebration: Jessica Hollandais on Community Health

November 8, 2023

November 8 is designated as the First-Generation College Celebration. Many community college students both across the nation and here in the Northern Virginia region are the first in their family to attend college. Today, we are excited to celebrate our first-generation students!

Hear from NOVA nursing student Marie-Elizabeth Jessica Hollandais (“Jess”) on her calling to become a healthcare professional — and the legacy she wants to leave for her children.   

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m from Mauritius, the first daughter of four children … all sisters. I immigrated to the U.S. eight years ago, and I’m a proud first-generation college student. I have five children; they range in age from 20 months to 13 years.

I started at NOVA five years ago, but I’ve taken several pauses to raise my children.

I’ve worked in healthcare since I came to the U.S., specifically as a technician at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Being in healthcare, I want to be able to tell my kids that, although we are not rich, we are blessed.

I’m already hoping my kids work at the hospital, in churches or at food pantries. I want to ensure my passion for health and helping is instilled in them.

Also, I’m an anime nerd — I’ve loved watching anime shows since I was a kid.

What brought you to NOVA?
My husband, a Mauritius-born American, used to live in the Northern Virginia area and went to NOVA for his nursing degree. He eventually came back to Mauritius for work; that’s when we met. After that, we decided as a family to move to the U.S., back to the area where my husband grew up.

What did you study at NOVA?
For me, NOVA was not only affordable but also reputable. At first, I wanted to study psychology, but I really found my passion in nursing. I love the medical side as well as the holistic aspect.

I remember from my early years as a tech at Inova … I’d see and engage with many NOVA students. They told me their program prerequisites were challenging, but that demonstrated the high standard of education at NOVA. 

Tell us about your experience at NOVA (i.e., professors you liked and friends you met).
I have really enjoyed my semesters with professors Clark, Galvan, McKeever, Post, Turner and Walters. They are exceptional! My interactions with professors have always been positive, and there were many discussions that the professors wanted us to participate in.

One of my favorite professors was Professor Walters, because of her ability to lighten the mood with her jokes. Every time we had a lecture, I’d laugh until there were tears in my eyes!

Above all, NOVA professors really want their students to succeed. Their emphasis is not just on making As (although I do have good grades) but on how good of a nurse you can be. They also emphasize the passion necessary to enter the profession and provide care for people. One of my professors told me, “You really have to have dedication and patience for care.” I value patient-centered care. Everyone has bad days, good days and ugly days. That’s why I think I was made to be a nurse — because I know there are challenges. I really want to help people through their hard days.

The professors here at NOVA paint a real picture of nursing, and I want to encourage others to take this path as well. I want to take care of other people like I take care of my family. Even if they’re angry, I’ll still take care of them.

Healthcare, like police work, can be dangerous sometimes. If you’re in the emergency room, you can be exposed to traumatized patients or even to dangerous infections. But you also witness many victories, miracles and happy tears. And I’m there when there’s loss, as well.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA?
I see myself graduating from NOVA, passing my board exams and getting my bachelor’s degree as fast as I can. I see myself working as a nurse practitioner — that’s my goal. I’m also hoping to get my doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) because I want to become a professor too — here at NOVA!

I just started doing community health for my second semester, and I love the idea of being a nurse practitioner for public health. I remember when my husband and I first got to the Northern Virginia area; we received a lot of help from people in this field. I would love to give back.

What’s one thing you would tell the community to do for their health?
One thing I would tell community members is to walk. We live in a country where technology is taking up our time, taking our relationships away, and we focus on things that don’t matter like watching Netflix all day and eating burgers. I like those days, but on some days we need to be active.

Just go outside and walk. It’s a simple thing, and I feel like it helps with mental health. It will push you toward what you want to do. Stress can be high for many, and little things like listening to music and walking can help so much.

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