Health Challenges Can’t Stop “Outstanding Student”

Most Minnesotans can’t wait to luxuriate in the upcoming summer weather. Not Jennifer Nurnberg! Hot days, especially teamed with ungodly humidity, often complicate an already complicated life. “When it’s 90 percent humidity,” said Nurnberg, “then my legs aren’t working right.”

Nurnberg, 33, has multiple sclerosis. When humidity soars, and when she’s extremely fatigued at the end of the day, her legs feel heavy, almost like she’s pulling along another person. At least for now, the Saint Paul resident considers the illness a speed bump on her highway to success. Nurnberg has already accomplished a lot. She graduated this month from Metropolitan State University with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Studies and was selected outstanding student in the College of Professional Studies. In an heroic display of multi-tasking, she attended school full-time, served as president of the Psychology Club, worked full-time, had another part-time job, and reared two children as a single mother, all while negotiating an ailment that may eventually rob her of her ability to walk and live independently.

“I hope this doesn’t sound conceited,” she said, “but I’m very proud of what I accomplished with all the things I have to deal with.”

To peer into her future, Jennifer need only observe her 59-year-old mother, who also has MS and is wheelchair bound. Still, her mother was expected to cheer her daughter on during the university’s commencement ceremony last weekend.

Also expected at the ceremony were her entire family, including a brother and sister-in-law flying in from Connecticut, and her two sons, a first and fourth grader. When her youngsters discovered she was selected outstanding student, they whooped. “They said, ‘Look at how cool mom is.’ So I guess I’m now ‘cool’ to them,” she laughed.

Nurnberg is intent on setting a good example for her children about the importance of education. So far, it seems they’ve received the message. “I contemplated not going to college because of having to be away from my family at times,” said Nurnberg. “But I can see the value of my education when I come home. The kids are doing their homework. Their teachers tell me they love to learn and ask questions and want to know ‘why.’” Serving as that educational role model, she said, is the biggest gift she could give them.

Nurnberg’s success makes the daily challenges she confronts with MS more tolerable. She has learned to prioritize her day and pace herself to save energy, even thinking ahead about when she will perform mundane activities like doing laundry. Paradoxically, she has discovered that the busier she is, the more energy she has. “That’s the funny thing about my MS. I’m finding the busier I am, the more productive I get. My legs won’t work if I don’t use them.”

Jennifer is currently a teaching assistant at Highland Park Junior High School, where she works with eighth grade students who have emotional and behavioral disorders. Her own disability, she believes, accords her special insight into their challenges.

She graduated with an associate of applied science from Saint Paul College in 2003. That graduation was also a source of celebration for her children.

“We videotaped that graduation and the best thing about it was hearing my sons yelling and screaming as I walked across the stage when my name was called. It was the most beautiful thing in the whole entire world.”

While attending Metropolitan State, Nurnberg has served as president and vice president of the student Psychology Club. The self-described “outgoing, determined and focused” Nurnberg was recently inducted into Psi Chi, a national honor society for psychology students also engaged in community service activities through the Psychology Club.

“I’ve formed some wonderful relationships at Metropolitan State, including gaining access to more professional resources,” she said. “I like the whole spirit of community that Metropolitan State emphasizes and I appreciate the fact it’s for working adults.”

Nurnberg said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in special education or organizational leadership. “Education is a big outlet for me. I love learning.”

Metropolitan State University, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, provides quality, higher-education programs for adults seeking baccalaureate and master’s degrees. It is the only state university in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.