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Blinn nursing student eyes the sky

A.J. Willingham will complete his BSN through the ASCEND Program with plans to become a flight nurse

A.J. Willingham will complete his BSN through the ASCEND Program with plans to become a flight nurse

March 22, 2024

Working as a personal trainer by day and bartender by night, Fort Worth native A.J. Willingham was unsure of his future. Then came COVID-19 and quarantines.

“When the pandemic hit, gyms, bars all of those places closed down,” he said. “I really felt like I should be doing something more.”

Motivated by his passion for science and desire to help people, nursing sounded like the perfect fit. To learn more about the profession, he secured a job as a patient care technician in the emergency room at CHI St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan.

“I wanted to get my hands in the dirt. I wanted to really experience what it’s like to be in health care and manage people in the most difficult of times,” he said. “The experience was me seeing if this career was really what I wanted, and it solidified that.”

His time in the emergency room introduced him to many Blinn College District Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Program graduates. He was so impressed by their skills he was determined to get the same training.

“I decided I wanted to be as prepared as possible and the nurses I had been around were fantastic,” he said. “I wanted to be like them and I knew Blinn is where they came from, so that’s the education I wanted.”

Blinn’s ADN Program is based at the RELLIS Academic Alliance Complex at Texas A&M-RELLIS in Bryan, where students gain hands-on skills utilizing the facility’s 16,000-square-foot simulation laboratories. Nursing students spend at least two days per week in clinical rotations, in addition to lab, simulation, and lecture time. Most students dedicate 15 to 24 hours each week to scheduled program activities and at least 30 hours per week on study and preparation.

Students who complete Blinn’s ADN Program and pass the national licensure exam have a job placement rate between 97 and 100% and are qualified for a wide array of nursing positions. With demand soaring in the nursing field, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses earn a median salary of $81,220.

As a result of this success, Blinn has been recognized by Nursing Schools Almanac,,, and

Willingham plans to continue his commitment to serving the public by working in an intensive care unit (ICU) after he graduates from Blinn this spring. His long-term goal is to gain the credentials necessary to become a flight nurse, a registered nurse that provides critical care usually aboard a helicopter or aircraft.

“I want to be the person who shows up to help people in their biggest time of need in the most difficult situations,” he said. “I want to be able to accommodate any situation that is put in front of me.”

To accomplish this goal, Willingham is utilizing Blinn’s new partnership with the Texas A&M School of Nursing to earn his bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). The Aggie Student-Centered Express Nursing Degree (ASCEND) Program allows students to co-enroll with both schools to earn their ADN degree with Blinn and their BSN with Texas A&M in as little as one additional semester.

Willingham will be a member of the first Blinn class to earn their BSNs through the ASCEND Program. For Willingham, this accomplishment has extra meaning.

“I originally came to College Station with the goal of studying kinesiology and being an Aggie, but that dream kind of subsided and I decided, ‘I want to be a nurse, this is what I want to do,’” he said. “Once the ASCEND Program launched, I saw it as a great opportunity to reach my dream of being an Aggie and also accomplish the next step in my education in a timely manner.”

For more information regarding Blinn’s ADN Program, visit

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