When Tiffany Mercer, a mom of two boys in Indianola, realized that accounting wasn’t her calling, she went back to school. Mercer felt called toward mental health work and enrolled in the nursing program at Mercy College of Health Sciences. At age 33, however, she felt a bit behind.

“A lot of people, by the time they are my age in the field, they’ve made a bunch of connections and things like that, and I don’t have that,” said Mercer. As a recipient of the Last Dollar Scholarship, she enrolled in the Future Ready Iowa Virtual Mentoring Program. There she met Dr. Kathleen Ruscitto. Dr. Ruscitto, an assistant professor at Buena Vista University, knows the value of mentors.

“I had challenges early on when I was finishing high school and starting college and didn’t know which direction I wanted to go,” said Dr. Ruscitto. She attributes her success to the mentors who helped her find her way. With this in mind, she applied to be a mentor in the online Future Ready Iowa program.

Dr. Ruscitto has years of counseling experience and counseling education, all focused on mental health. The mentoring program identifies a student and mentor with similar interests and connects the two individuals. The program paired Dr. Ruscitto with Tiffany Mercer, an adult student interested in mental health through the nursing route. The pair began meeting every other week to get to know each other, identify career goals, and offer support.

Mercer wanted a realistic perspective on the healthcare field, a completely unknown playing field for an accountant.

“There’s always the textbook version of how things go, so it’s nice to have that realistic perspective,” said Mercer. Honesty is a vital part of the pair’s mentoring connection.

“She shared her experiences, both good and bad because there’s obviously both,” added Mercer. As an adult going back to school, she faced challenges typically unknown to traditional students.

“We talk about the work and family balance because that’s a real thing that happens when you’re a non-traditional student and adult learner,” said Dr. Ruscitto, who remembers her days of continued education. “The struggle is real when we’re in school,” she added.

Mercer learned that the ‘struggle is real’ indeed as she progressed through nursing school. Whether it was a bad professor, a challenging class, or figuring out how a situation would work in real life and not the classroom, her mentor had her back.

“Having someone to chat with has been absolutely wonderful,” said Mercer. At the core of their mentoring connection is their strong relationship formed over the past year.

“I see mentoring similar to the counseling relationship; the relationship is really the most important. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day what I say if that relationship isn’t there,” said Dr. Ruscitto. The pair continue to communicate through video chats, phone calls, and texts.

“It’s a rewarding experience to be able to give a very brief amount of time to someone else that could make a substantial difference for them and in our communities or within the field,” said Dr. Ruscitto. The mentoring experience can be beneficial for both the mentor and mentee, shared Dr. Ruscitto.

Set to graduate from nursing school in August of 2021, Mercer plans to continue her education in mental health.

“I think we're going to be connected for life at this point,” said Dr. Ruscitto.


Tiffany Mercer and her family

Dr. Kathleen Ruscitto