From Tragedy to Triumph: A Barton GED success story

February 3, 2014

Story and photos by Joe Vinduska

Life for Debbie Tomlinson was not easy growing up.  Her mother died of lung cancer when she was young and she moved to Kansas from California with her abusive, alcoholic father.  She was beaten often and at the age of 15 she was kicked out of her house.  She bounced around from home to home and eventually wound up married and pregnant at the age of 17.  The lack of her home life stability coupled with her pregnancy caused her to drop out of high school, a decision she immediately regretted.

With a young child to care for and no education, Tomlinson entered the workforce as a dishwasher, while her husband pumped gas.

“I was quick to realize life was going to be pretty tough for me if I wasn’t able to be gainfully employed,” she said.   “I really felt that there was more in life for me than that.”

Tomlinson didn’t wait long to try and better her situation.  Although she wasn’t part of the graduating class of 1975, she got her GED from Barton Community College in 1976.

“Someone told me about the GED option at Barton, and I started seeing advertisements, and I was able to tap into the GED program, and it really opened the door for me to a lot of other opportunities,” she said.

Debbie rolled with the momentum of her GED accomplishment.  She was now working as a candy-striper for Central Kansas Medical Center in Great Bend.  CKMC offered a nurses aid program, and she completed that and served as a nurses aid for several years, when one of the nurses saw the promise in her and suggested she move forward in her career as a nurse.

“I really felt like it was something I was destined to do.  I truly enjoyed taking care of people,” she said.  “I came out and talked to the people at Barton and they were very encouraging.  I started taking evening classes and while working as a nurse got my LPN and eventually my RN and graduated from Barton in 1981.  I was elated that I was officially a nurse.”

Tomlinson didn’t stop there.  She was asked to become a manager of one of the units at the hospital, which required an undergraduate degree.  She earned her undergraduate degree from Newman University in 1996.  After a brief stint in management, Debbie was eager to get back to helping patients at the bedside.  She earned her master’s degree from Fort Hays State University and became a nurse practitioner in 1997.  She then decided to go as far as she could in nursing and received her doctorate in 2010 from Rocky Mountain University.

Tomlinson has reached the end of her educational journey.  However, with doctorate in hand, she said Barton’s GED and nursing programs are what made it all possible.

“I have always been proud to say that I started my education and got my associate degree from Barton,” she said.  “The nursing program was a wonderful foundation for me to start my nursing career, but you can have a great career with just your associate degree or you can build on it.  It makes you very marketable in this area or anywhere else.”

Tomlinson said that her story is only one of many, and nobody should sell themselves short regardless of their individual situation.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it,” she said.  “Don’t let life experiences keep you down.  Just make the call to Barton.  Talk to somebody.  Let them know where you are in life and what is going on with you and ask them ‘What is the next step for me?’  If I can do it, anybody can.”

Director of the Center for Adult Education and head of the GED program at Barton Chris Lemon said getting the ball rolling is the most important thing.

“We just want to encourage people to contact us,” he said.  “It’s that easy.  Get in here and get started.  It’s the first step to getting the education you need to start your career and be successful.”

The first step to acquiring a GED is to attend a GED orientation session.  The next session begins March 17.  Call (620) 786-7560 or email Teri Maloy at