Peña’s career has taken her places

One person at the Frenship High School class of 1979 reunion last month did not graduate with the class, but was welcomed by classmates she had known since preschool.

Annie Peña left school her junior year.

“I took a GED. Basically, I was pregnant at 17,” said Peña.

While some of her classmates went on to college, Peña said she delayed classes.

“I felt that raising my son was more important,” she said.

But by 1980, she went to South Plains College to take a one-year surgical tech program.

“My interests in school were always in science in math,” she said, noting that she particularly liked anatomy and physiology.

After completing the course, she started working at Lubbock General Hospital, now known as University Medical Center.

“I was there until 1986,” she said, adding that she decided to move to San Antonio. “I just needed a change of pace.”

During the interim, she had taken some classes at Texas Tech, but never graduated.

After just two years in San Antonio, she moved to New Jersey, following a relationship that eventually did not work out. But in New Jersey, Peña was finally able to complete her goal of getting her college education.

“I think my whole goal in life throughout the years was that I really wanted to go to college and get a degree,” said Peña. “I enrolled at Seton Hall University and finished my BSN, my nursing degree, here in 1993.”

In 2003, Peña earned a master’s degree in science and health administration, and in 2005, she earned a master’s degree in business administration, both from the University of St. Francis at Joliette, Ill. via online coursework.

Peña said many of her teachers and even a private tutor while in Frenship schools helped her to eventually find her way.

“They played an important role in shaping that picture for me, and believing in me,” said Peña.

In seventh grade, Peña said she and a few other classmates began working with a private tutor, Andy Turnbow, in mathematics to train for UIL math and science events.

“He was teaching us, I guess, more advanced math than the average seventh-grader would be doing,” said Peña. “Just talking to him and what his goals were helped us to set some goals.”

Over the years, Peña had the opportunity to travel to other countries as a nursing consultant. She lived in Argentina and in Chile for two years while working as a consultant, and is now bilingual. Her experiences as a consultant in South America and Canada have given her a unique perspective on health care in the U.S. and abroad.

In the South American countries where she worked, health care for the poor was lacking.

“The lower class, they don’t really get the care that is afforded to us in the U.S.,” said Peña. “Even charity care that we have here in the United States is better than what they have there, which is nothing.”

In Canada, she said people have to wait to have surgery scheduled.

“There were people who waited six months to have surgery, to have heart bypass,” she said.

She said if an emergency comes in that bumps an appointment, the person with the appointment is sent to the end of the list all over again.

“Just traveling like that gives you an appreciation. It makes you very thankful for what we have here in the United States,” she said.

While she enjoyed the architecture, the wine and the friendly people in South America, she said she also missed things about living in the U.S.

“You just miss little things. The grocery stores are different,” she said. “It’s a great experience, I can tell you that.”

But eventually she wanted to come home and be near her son, Jerome, who had graduated and come back to New Jersey to work and live.

Currently Peña is the clinical director of a surgery center in Cherry Hill, N.J. Her job entails overseeing nursing staff and ensuring they are giving good care to patients.

“I just got back into nursing after being out 10 or 11 years,” she said. “I can’t just sit and do the same thing day after day after day. It’s a good change.”

Favorite teacher: Jan Johnson
Favorite classes: math and science
High school activities: cheerleading, basketball

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