Caitlin Ottman and Maureen Kuhn.jpg

Caitlin Ottman, 34, from Bloomer, stands with her mother, Maureen Kuhn, after Ottman received her diploma during the Chippewa Valley Technical College commencement Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.

When Caitlin Ottman’s mother received the news she had cancer, Ottman saw her dreams of going back to school slowly fading away. She didn’t think she could support her mother and continue her nursing education at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

But her mother, Maureen Kuhn, had a different take. “She said, ‘I don’t want you to put your goals and dreams on hold because of me,’” Ottman recalled.  “She said, ‘You need to do this. I have no doubt you are going to do it. I will be here for you.’ We supported each other through this.”

Kuhn’s aggressive form of cancer was just one of many turns on Ottman’s career detour.

Ottman already had a degree in criminal justice from CVTC in 2007. She had landed a job as a corrections officer in eastern Wisconsin after graduation, but during training, she knew it wasn’t the career for her. She moved back to Eau Claire and waited to get into the nursing program at CVTC in 2012. 

“I love working with people in some capacity,” Ottman said. “I knew this was going to be a better fit and more fulfilling for me.”

Before her second semester began, she learned she was pregnant with her first child. She suspended her education, took the Licensed Practical Nurse board exam and began working at Mayo Clinic Health System. 

But the urge to go back to school was always there. 

In 2020, she threw caution to the wind and applied to nursing school once more. 

“I got the letter saying ‘Congrats, you’ve been accepted for 2021,’” she said. “I talked to my mom and my husband and everyone said, ‘Go for it!’” 

Ottman, 34, who lives in Bloomer, said going back to college in her thirties was intimidating.

“It was pretty terrifying because I hadn’t been in school for so long,” she said. “Just to go back to school is hard enough. When you have kids and work, and home life and family stuff, it makes it a lot harder and challenging. But the prize at the end has kept me going this whole time.”

Katie Stolp Keisler, instructor for mostly fourth-semester nursing courses at CVTC, said she had conversations with Ottman about the challenges she faced.

“Caitlin (Ottman) is a driven student who isn’t content just to get good grades,” Stolp Keisler said. “She excels but still wants to know how she can improve. She will make a great nurse.”

Ottman has many people pulling for her to succeed. 

Her mother’s support, despite the challenge of a cancer diagnosis, has been a driving force for Ottman to push through.

“She’s my cheerleader and I’m hers,” Ottman said. “I wanat her to see me graduate. That makes me feel good and it makes her feel good.”

That’s exactly what happened Tuesday, Dec. 21.

A proud Kuhn sat in the audience as her daughter followed her dream and received her second diploma from CVTC.

“It makes me emotional—so proud. I want to cry happy tears,” Ottman said. “My mom gets to see me graduate. It’s just beyond words.”