Arriving in the U.S. at age 4 from Colombia, South America, Kay Maldonado knew when she graduated from high school that challenges would lie ahead.
As an undocumented foreign-born resident, it meant she couldn’t go to college despite being a straight-A student and having scholarships. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, was not even a blip on the radar screen when she graduated from high school in 2004. Introduced in 2012, DACA allows some individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children to defer deportation action for two years and obtain a work permit. It does not provide a path to citizenship. For Maldonado, hiding in the shadows was not something she wanted to do.
One path to citizenship is through the military. So in 2008, Maldonado joined the Army. “It was a way of escaping,” said Maldonado, whose aunt recently died from cancer. “I was very close to her and kind of felt I needed to leave home and do more with my life – do more for my country and have more of a purpose.”
The military became her family and a way to citizenship. “The military is a lot more diverse than you realize,” said Maldonado. Both she and her husband earned their citizenship while serving. The two met after their first year while at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.
While in the Army, Maldonado was a medical lab technician and was mobilized to Fort Lewis, Washington, and Okinawa, Japan. For 11 years, she has worked alongside physicians and nurses and has seen their passion. “I finally decided it was time to get a nursing degree.” The real impetus was memories of her aunt. “I was so close to her and when she died, I lost my way a little and needed more of a purpose.”
So, she took a little sabbatical from the military before her second year of nursing school at CU College of Nursing to focus on the program. As part of the post-911 GI bill, the government pays for Maldonado’s education while she is physically in school. Planning to resume her duties in the Army soon, Maldonado said, “I plan to go back in as a nurse. It’s been hard these last few months not being in.” Having three children ages 2, 7, and 10, juggling their classwork during the coronavirus pandemic and her own in the nursing program, and a husband who is active duty military necessitated the break. “I found I needed to take a step back.” And now, Maldonado will be stepping forward with her Bachelor’s in Nursing degree.