The first Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi eLine Military (ELM) students will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing on Aug. 10. This one-of-a-kind program gives college credit to members of the military and veterans for their medical experience in the service. These students can then finish their degrees online, from anywhere in the world.

The first three graduates are Irene Singles, an Air Force veteran, who began the program while stationed in Colorado; Randy Ramirez, who is currently serving in the Navy, and Nathan Parks, an Army veteran who lives near Dallas.

Singles started the program in 2011; right before her husband, who is also in the military, was deployed to Bahrain.

“I have a 2-year-old, and an 8-year-old, so I can’t just go to school like a traditional student,” Singles said. “I have to be a mom and a dad.”

With her previous experience and by working online, Singles was able to complete her nursing degree in about two years.

“When you deploy you get a lot of trauma experience. You get a lot of critical care experience,” Singles said. “Now, I will also have an accredited degree. I am ready to be a nurse.”

The ELM program started in 2010 with a federal grant. The White House and the Department of Defense have repeatedly recognized the program for its unique mission to fill two critical national needs: a nursing shortage and civilian employment for military veterans.

“They came back to civilian life and the only work they are allowed to do in a hospital is that of an orderly or an aid,” said Dr. Mary Jane Hamilton, Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “These are people that have been deployed giving medical care in combat situations.”

The White House and the Department of Defense are looking at the Texas A&M -Corpus Christi’s ELM program as a model that can be used for other nursing schools across the country as well as other professions such as computer science and engineering. There are currently no other programs in the country, giving college credit for military experience. This is something Hamilton would like to see changed.

“We want to prepare individuals for a lifetime of service, not just service to the military,” Hamilton said.

Right now there are more than 50 students enrolled in the program and about 300 are being advised. Those involved in the program say one of the reasons the program is successful is its flexibility.

“The fact that it’s online fits into their lifestyles,” said Dr. Bunny Forgione, Assistant Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “They can get online at three o’clock in the morning and they’re in class at that particular time, doing their assignments and asking questions.”

The ELM program also helps address the nationwide nursing shortage, which is expected to exceed 70,000 in Texas alone by 2020, by putting nurses in the workplace faster.