As Spring ISD students returned this fall for the new academic year, many Spring ISD graduates headed back to school as well, pursuing their goals in higher education. That group includes Dekaney High School graduate Willie Kinch III, who is now entering his final semester before graduation from the School of Nursing at Sam Houston State University.
Kinch, who graduated from Dekaney in 2016, didn’t always imagine himself going into healthcare. Although he earned good grades and was a National Honor Society member, he never took part in HOSA, the pre-medical student group, or saw himself as a natural in the life sciences.
“It’s funny because math and science were not my favorite subjects at all,” Kinch said. “I liked the English classes and history the most, and so it’s kind of funny that I ended up doing nursing. It’s not the typical path.”
With a love for sports, including cross country and basketball – which he started playing for Dekaney as a freshman – combined with his busy training, practice and game schedules, Kinch didn’t have time for many other activities during most of his high school years. But things changed during his final year at Dekaney, with an unexpected development that Kinch said ultimately helped shape his future.
“I got hurt senior year playing basketball, and I said, ‘You know what? I don’t think I’m going to the NBA, so let me go try something new,’” Kinch said.
That “something new” ended up being joining Future Farmers of America (FFA) with Ag teacher Kim Smith, raising a red Duroc pig of his own while also getting the chance to help classmates take care of their animals, including cows, alpacas and chickens.
“FFA was a huge impact on my life, because I was in a whole different world,” Kinch said, laughing as he recalled having to purchase his first-ever pair of cowboy boots and a plaid shirt for that year’s Spring Livestock Show & Fair, where he took home third place in the practice show.
His experiences in FFA got Kinch thinking out of the box and outside his comfort zone, which ultimately led him to reconsider some advice he’d received from a friend’s mom, a nurse who spoke about how much she enjoyed the career, and how she thought Kinch might have the right combination of qualities to be successful at it.
One of those qualities – which Kinch said his time at Dekaney had helped strengthen – was resilience. In addition to the ups and downs of life at the campus, Kinch recalled specific coaches – like Brian Wilson, who later went on to become a campus administrator in Aldine ISD and Lamar CISD – who pushed Kinch to always be the best version of himself, on and off the court, and never to settle for less than his own best efforts.
“(In the weight room) he’d always pick at me, and he would tell me, ‘Willie, you’re not working hard enough!.’ Mind you, I’m going the hardest! But he knew – and I didn’t recognize it at the time – that’s kind of how you motivate me,” he said.
Once he got to Sam Houston, Kinch joined Alpha Phi Alpha, the country’s oldest intercollegiate historically African American fraternity, and went on to serve as president of the organization’s Theta Mu Chapter. He has also served as vice president of the Sam Houston chapter of the NAACP and communications officer for Sam Houston’s Student Health Advisory Committee, along with being a member of the Student Nurses Association and the university’s Honors College.
Last fall, Kinch was selected to represent the university in a short video feature produced by The College Tour. Earlier this year, he worked to create a scholarship fund, “The WK3 Scholarship of Excellence,” to help students cover fees associated with their NCLEX national nursing licensure exam.
The path from Sam Houston’s pre-nursing undergraduate track to admission into the school’s competitive College of Nursing can be an arduous one. After not making it on his first try, Kinch redoubled his efforts, earning his Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) designation and gaining additional experience in clinical settings, including working as a CNA in a trauma unit and at a psychiatric hospital.
After Kinch applied again and was formally accepted into the College of Nursing, all that experience he had gained dealing with real patients in real situations came in handy – especially once it came time for the clinical rotations that are a hallmark of nursing school.
“The best nurses are the most well-rounded,” Kinch said. “Honestly, I’ve seen people who do excellent on the tests, they’re very scholarly, they thrive in the classroom, but when it comes to our clinical rotations, they struggle because they don’t know how to deal with patients.”
Across the nursing profession, male nurses are far less common than female nurses. Coming from a minority background makes Kinch’s path even more unique – and gives him a unique opportunity to help others.
“There’s a lot of embedded bias against healthcare for many African Americans,” Kinch said, explaining that historical incidents like the now-infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study continue to create a stigma among many African Americans against the healthcare system and healthcare professionals. Kinch said part of his goal is to compassionately address that, with empathy and respect, one patient at a time.
He’s also had plenty of moments that have reminded him of the power of positive representation. Kinch recalled one example in particular where, during clinical rotations, a patient in the hospital connected with Kinch over shared experiences, and confided that he was glad to have Kinch there supporting him through his recovery after surgery.
“He said, ‘Man, you know it really makes me feel good having a nurse that looks like me,’” Kinch recalled. “And when he said that, you know I’m not a very emotional guy by nature, but it almost brought tears, because it’s exactly one of my primary reasons in doing this. And so it does make an impact, even if it’s not always said.”
Through it all, on both the good days and the difficult ones, Kinch keeps bringing his A-game, always working to be the best version of himself – of “Nurse Will,” as he has started going by on his social media channels – and never settling for less than his own best efforts. Those lessons he learned years ago – at Dekaney and elsewhere – continue to sink in and take root each day.
Before Dekaney, Kinch attended Roberson Middle School and, before that, Meyer Elementary School. He still remembers the teachers, coaches, counselors and administrators who impacted him the most during his years in school, all the way back to former Meyer Elementary Principal Lenny Hardoin.
“He always said ‘Your attitude determines your altitude,’” Kinch recalled. “I never forgot it. So I always try to keep a good attitude.”