All in the Family: Nursing Graduate Becomes Third Generation Widener Nurse

Emily Barrett, associate director of communications
Kelsey Byrd poses in front of the Widener University sign in cap, gown and stethoscope.
Kelsey Byrd will graduate with the Class of 2022 at the Mann Center in Philadelphia on May 14.

On new student move-in day four years ago, Kelsey Byrd arrived on campus with a big family support system in tow – including her mother and grandmother, who are both Widener nursing alumnae.  

New Student Move In
Move-in day 2018 (from left to right): Teresa Byrd, Jan Town Matthai, Kelsey Byrd

The New Jersey native remembers those first days as a freshman on campus and the emotions that overwhelmed her.

“I was so scared and nervous, I cried and said ‘mom don’t leave me here’,” Kelsey recalled.

Now, her grandmother and mother will be in the crowd at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, to watch her cross the stage, earn her degree and become the third generation in their family of Widener nurses. 

Kelsey was a baby in a stroller when she watched her mother, Teresa Byrd '01, get her master’s degree in the graduate family nurse practitioner program. Eleven years earlier, Kelsey’s grandmother and Teresa’s mother, Jan Town Matthai '90, had earned her master’s degree in nursing from Widener.

We all left Widener wiser, educationally prepared, grateful and aching to leave close relationships, as Kelsey is experiencing now. It is a bond we share through three generations." —Jan Town Matthai '90

Kelsey’s initial nerves from move-in day are now a distant memory. Looking back, Kelsey says Widener guided her to find her independence both as an individual and a nursing professional.

The thing that made me the most independent was being away from my family but also being able to make a new family to lean on when I need them.” —Kelsey Byrd

She credits Widener’s Living Learning Community (LLC) for nursing students for helping her find her second family almost immediately freshman year. Open to first-year students, LLCs group students who share a particular interest in academics, social or cultural issues and activities together in a residence hall. For Kelsey, that was nursing.

“That was probably one of the best decisions I could make in the beginning – I’m still friends with ninety percent of the people who lived there. It was cool because we got to do things together to help you make friends,” as well as excel academically, Kelsey explained. 

Kelsey Byrd poses in scrubs alongside nursing colleagues.
Kelsey (left) and her fellow nursing students will earn their undergraduate nursing degrees in May.

Kelsey’s undergraduate years, like her fellow graduates, were marked by unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, she and her roommates, who are also nursing students, banded together to learn and study virtually before returning to in-person instruction and clinicals. 

When COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Kelsey participated in the nursing program’s in-person clinical experience, which is designed to introduce students to a variety of health care systems and specialties. 

“It’s a great way to figure out where you want to go and what hospitals you like because you get to go to all of them,” said Kelsey.

The program’s placements in some of the region’s leading hospitals helped her hone in on her passion for emergency medicine. 

“I got to see labor and delivery, psychology, medical-surgical, and critical care, so it definitely helped me narrow down my decision,” said Kelsey. 

Kelsey will start as an emergency room nurse at AtlantiCare in New Jersey after graduation, once again following the same trajectory as her mother and grandmother who both worked as emergency room nurses. 

In addition to keeping in step with the unofficial family business, Kelsey acknowledged key faculty members, like Assistant Professor Mary Francis, for guiding her to emergency medicine. 

Francis, a nurse practitioner in the emergency department at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, mentored Kelsey with her extensive knowledge and experience from her years practicing in the field. 

“I would talk with her and get her opinion on things,” said Kelsey. “She would always give me really great advice about emergency medicine.”

With only a few weeks remaining in her final semester, Kelsey’s mother and grandmother reflect on her time at Widener and how much she has grown through the program. 

“Kelsey has matured exponentially in those years from the frightened face we drove away from the day she moved in, to an independent young adult who worked so hard to get a nursing education during the most trying hurdles of a pandemic,” said Matthai.

For Kelsey, she is once again filled with emotions, but this time the tears celebrate the end of her incredible journey.

“Now I’m crying because I know that I have to leave,” she said.

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