MATC Graduate Valencia Reyes Fulfills Dream of Becoming Registered Nurse Thanks to MATC Affordability, Flexibility


August 01, 2017

Valencia Reyes

Valencia Reyes spoke at the kickoff event celebrating the partnership of UnitedHealthcare and MATC in January 2017.The United Health Foundation announced a grant of $2.3 million to expand MATC's nursing program capacity.

As a 16-year-old, Valencia Reyes remembers driving near what is now named Ascension St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee. With a flash of insight, she decided that she wanted to work at that hospital one day. Nine years ago, she accepted a job as certified nursing assistant (CNA) at St. Joseph’s Hospital, but she yearned for more. She wanted to become a registered nurse. That’s when she turned to Milwaukee Area Technical College.

After a short stint at a four-year college, Reyes eventually enrolled in MATC’s registered nursing associate degree program. Reyes said she chose to pursue her degree at MATC because of the college’s affordability and convenient class schedules. A working single parent of three children, Reyes explained her decision. “I was able to work while I attended MATC part time, which fit my needs.”

Sixteen years after being struck by the desire to work at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Reyes was offered a full-time registered nursing position in the hospital’s cardiac medical/surgical unit. The job offer came a month before her May 2017 graduation from MATC’s nursing program.


Great Demand for Nurses

“Nurses are in very high demand,” Reyes said. “There are many job openings now. I’ve heard this from other nursing students, too. When managers find out you are graduating from MATC, they really want to talk with you about working for them.”

In her case, it also helped that she was known by the staff at Ascension St. Joseph’s Hospital. “They wanted to see me succeed,” she said. “The staff watched me grow from a CNA to a nurse.”

According to the Wisconsin Public Policy Forum, the need for nurses is high not just in the Milwaukee area, but throughout the state. The shortage of nurses affects services in all types of health care and is projected to increase as experienced nurses retire.


Reyes (r) posed with Dr. Nancy Vrabec, dean of MATC's School of Health Sciences,
at the nurse pinning ceremony in May 2017.

$2.3 Million Grant from United Health Foundation to Expand Nursing

To help address the critical need for well-trained nurses, the United Health Foundation recently awarded MATC a $2.3 million grant to expand the college’s nursing program capacity over the next three years.

“The projected shortage of registered nurses has been identified as one of the greatest workforce challenges facing the health care industry that will impact services at all levels of care,” said Dr. Vicki J. Martin, MATC president. “Partnering with the United Health Foundation to prepare the next generation of registered nurses will have a profound impact on students, the health care industry and the communities we both proudly serve.”

The grant, announced in January, enables MATC to:

  • Double enrollment beginning in fall 2017
  • Increase capacity to graduate an additional 100 students by year three
  • Hire 16 new nursing program instructors
  • Support recruitment of low-income students

MATC is matching the United Health Foundation grant to expand the number of tutors, teaching assistants and other support services to students. Martin noted that the college “has served as one of Wisconsin’s foremost providers of high-quality education and training for registered nurses for 70 years.”

Nurses are in very high demand. There are many job openings now. I’ve heard this from other nursing students, too. When managers find out you are graduating from MATC, they really want to talk with you about working for them.

Valencia Reyes MATC registered nursing graduate

Ensuring Quality Health Care in our Community

Targeted investments to develop the next generation of health care workers are vital to having a health care system that is “the most modern, innovative and effective in the world,” Dustin Hinton, president and CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin, stated. “The partnership between MATC and United Health Foundation is the type of private-public approach we need to address the shortage of nurses in Wisconsin.”

In addition to the funding provided by United Health Foundation, clinical training opportunities provided by MATC’s partners are necessary for expanding the nursing program. Aurora Health Care, Ascension Health, Children’s Hospital, Froedtert Hospital & Medical College of Wisconsin and dozens of long-term care facilities will enable the college to add 36 additional clinical training sites.

“On campus our students gain a strong academic foundation that will benefit them throughout their careers, and our health care partners offer the opportunity for students to enhance their learning with clinical experiences that enrich their education,” explained Dr. Nancy Vrabec, dean of MATC’s School of Health Sciences.


Reyes met former second lady Dr. Jill Biden (l) at a reception before MATC's Spring 2017 Commencement, as Okeema Ikanih looks on. Biden, a strong supporter of college Promise programs, was MATC's Commencement speaker. 

Career of Service to Others

Reyes also foresees the benefits for future students as a result of expanding MATC’s nursing program.

“This expansion will help more students like me pursue their dreams of becoming a nurse,” explained Reyes. “I always wanted to be in a career of service to others. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m making a difference in people’s lives. MATC taught us a lot about how to communicate with patients and their families. Nurses can take the time to really explain things, maybe draw a diagram to show what’s happening to a patient. A large part of the role of a nurse is to be a teacher.”

Reyes cited her MATC instructors as being instrumental to her success. “My instructors were super supportive. I have a mentor, Dr. Melanie Gray, who reached out to me even before I started classes. She has helped me so much throughout my time at MATC.”

Gray, a nursing instructor at the college, recalled that: “Even though Valencia juggled family, school and work, she always remained positive and focused. She is an asset to the nursing profession because patients deserve the level of focus and dedication this stellar nursing graduate brings to the bedside.”

Reyes wants to encourage others to follow their dreams as she did. “I want others to know that this is doable,” she said. “It’s so worth it to attend MATC and prepare for a great nursing career with so many opportunities.”

For more information on MATC’s registered nursing associate degree program, visit: