Growing up, RN to BSN student Monica Cosby took the concept of latchkey kid to a whole new level. Born in Houston, Cosby grew up in Brownsville and lived with her parents until high school, when both parents returned to Houston for work. Only 14 years old, Cosby stayed behind.
“I know it seems crazy that my parents would just leave me there, but they couldn’t make a living in Brownsville, and they didn’t want to uproot me,” she explained. A member of their church would spend nights with her until she was a senior, but otherwise, she was on her own. The result?
“It made me very resourceful and independent,” she said. “I had to figure out how to keep up with school and the house, and completely take care of myself.” That ability to figure things out for herself ultimately made it possible for Cosby to follow her dream: nursing.
On Her Own
After graduating from high school, Cosby continued to live alone while earning her B.S. at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. “It was hard because my mother was an immigrant from Mexico, and her attitude was, ‘You have running water and a computer—what more do you need to succeed?’”
Cosby was well aware she had an easier life than many in Brownsville. “I had friends who watched immigrants cross their backyards as they came across the Rio Grande,” she said. “They would leave their hoses out so the people could have access to clean water.” Still, navigating the bureaucracy of school on her own was difficult, and that led to less-than-stellar grades.
“My mom knew C meant ‘pass’—she thought passing was good, so I wasn’t very motivated as a high school student.” She had planned to major in Nursing in college but was devastated to find her grades weren’t good enough for the competitive program. “I just had no idea how my GPA would affect my career choice.”
Setting her nursing dream aside, she earned her degree in rehabilitation services and counseling in 2017, and worked for a while in special education. “Working with special needs kids was very rewarding, so I thought I would go into special ed as a career,” she said. She headed back to Houston, and while researching job opportunities, she discovered there were different kinds of nursing programs available.
“I was so excited at the idea that I could do nursing after all,” she said. “I found an accelerated LVN program and immediately signed up.” The program was 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday, so Cosby would go to school all day, head to a Starbuck’s after class, study for five hours, then go home and do it all over again the next day. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I watched as my classmates dropped out because it was so challenging, but it gave me confidence—I learned I could persevere.”
She was living with her mother, which added to her motivation. “I wanted a second chance at school, and I wanted to make my mom proud,” she said. “I took it very seriously, because I knew nursing was what my mom wanted for me as much as I wanted it for me. She was always very supportive of me continuing my education.” (Photo: Cosby with her mother at her LVN graduation)
She graduated with her LVN in 2019 and signed up with a home health care company. “My first client was the easiest patient they had—a woman who had been paralyzed from the neck down since she was a small child,” she recalled. “I was doing what nurses consider the basic stuff—helping her in and out of bed, giving her baths, giving medications through a g-tube, very simple.”
While she could see the value in that work, Cosby knew it was not challenging enough. “Within two weeks, I knew I was capable of more. My LVN program showed me I could do hard things,” she said. “And this experience confirmed that. I wanted to do more with my nursing career.”
Building Her Career One Degree at a Time
She continued as a home health nurse but began working toward her RN associate degree in 2021. “As soon as I got close to finishing the RN, I started looking for RN to BSN programs,” she said. “That’s when I learned about UHD.” As the daughter of an immigrant, Cosby appreciated UHD’s commitment to first-generation college students and to students from diverse backgrounds. “I personally identified with the school’s values,” she said. “And I was very excited at the low tuition rate.”
The Nursing program’s student advisor, Jacqueline Santiago, also made a big difference for Cosby. “From day one, she made herself available and was so helpful,” she said. “Probably because I always had to do everything myself, it made a difference that Jacqueline took such an interest in helping me get set up. She was so caring, I knew I was in the right place.”
Work That Matters
After graduating in May 2024, Cosby plans to work with critically ill patients. “It will be hard working with that cohort, but I really want to do work that matters and is challenging and engaging.” Her mother’s example inspires her. “In the U.S., immigrants are so often painted as a negative force, as violent or criminal. My mom is the opposite of that. She came to the U.S. to do good and worked so hard her whole life. Her guiding principle is, How can we be better people and of service to others? That’s how I was raised and that’s how I approach life.” (Photo: Cosby, center, at her RN graduation)
Cosby keeps that mindset at the forefront in her career. “One area I work in part-time is the pediatric home care arena. There are easier kinds of nursing, but I want to support families in need,” she said. “There is a veil in our society across these families and what they’re going through, and it needs to be pulled back.” She describes families trying to work and at the same time care for a child who requires intensive medical support. “And while they’re living through all this stress, they make a point of trying to make things comfortable for me—the nurse!—because they need the help so badly. When I leave, they always ask, ‘Will you come back?’ It’s heart-breaking.”
Setting the Example for the Future
Her ultimate hope is to be a leader in the health sciences field and represent Black and brown women in professional settings: “My goal is to be an example for those who think they’re not smart enough to go to college, or those who think it’s too late to go back to school once they’re of a certain age, or those women of color who thought they could never be a leader,” she said. “I want to empower them to reach for their dreams.”
Her best advice? “Have confidence in yourself. I see so many women of color who lack confidence. I wish I could tell them: You have so much potential! You can do so much! Whatever happens, be tenacious. You will find another door, another way to get where you want to be. Just keep pushing forward. Don’t ever give up.”