April 17, 2013, was the day that Brooke Browder ’18 decided that she was interested in becoming a nurse. Her hometown of West, Texas, experienced an explosion that helped change her outlook on her future career.

The massive explosion killed 15—including nine first responders, injured more than 200 people and destroyed 120 homes (damaging 200 more). Three schools, a nursing home and an apartment complex were also destroyed or significantly damaged.

Long after the physical injures had begun to heal, Browder continued to help her community recover by volunteering and encouraging her classmates.

“I am proud of her leadership in assisting the school district’s recovery from the explosion, where she stood beside me as a student leader,” said Marty Crawford, EdD, former superintendent of schools for West Independent School District. “Without her infectious positive attitude, the great story being written in West may not be what it is today.”

Moving forward

A sophomore in high school at the time, Browder was considering what career to pursue.

“I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference,” Browder said. “Mom is a kindergarten teacher, so I was thinking about teaching. Nursing was in the back of my mind, but wanting to do even more for those injured in the explosion led me to become a nurse.”

Soon after the explosion, Browder began volunteering at Baylor Scott and White in Waco.

“They had a junior volunteer program, and I was able to list a couple of areas that I was interested in learning about,” said Browder. “I rotated through the neonatal intensive care unit, pediatrics and the emergency room. It was a great experience.”

Having a close family and living in a tight-knit community, Browder was looking for something special in the university that she chose to attend.

“Texas A&M University really stood out because of the core values. My family and community believe in excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect and selfless service,” Browder said. “I knew that it would be a perfect fit, and I wanted to be a part of this school.”

Browder was accepted to Texas A&M and planned to enter as a freshman, but opportunity knocked.

“I received a call from McLennan Community College and was told that I had received a Presidential Scholarship,” said Browder. “It would pay for tuition, books and other educational expenses. It was too good to turn down.” And, staying close to home allowed her to stay in West and continue to be part of the healing and rebuilding.

“My grandparents were displaced and living with my uncle while their house was being rebuilt. I was able to still join my family for Sunday dinners while attending McLennan,” Browder said. “My brother and I are very close, and I got to see him compete in his high school sporting events. After the explosion, there was so much to be done, and I wanted to volunteer through it all.”

Starting nursing school

Browder completed her nursing prerequisites and earned an associate degree from McLennan, but still had her sights set on becoming an Aggie nurse.

“I met with Betsy Hardi, an admissions adviser on the Texas A&M College of Nursing Bryan Campus just to make sure I was on the right track for admission into the nursing program. She was very helpful,” Browder said. “I didn’t apply to any other nursing program. I was focused, worked hard and was accepted.”

Browder made the most of her time at Texas A&M, serving as Class Council president, Student Nurse Association president, Aggie Pediatric Nurse Association vice president and treasurer and class representative. In recognition of her academic achievement, she received a Texas A&M College of Nursing Dean’s Scholarship.

“I could not have imagined a better nursing program experience,” Browder said. “The professors and staff are the most amazing people, it is clear that they care about students and helping us to become the best nurses possible. Including me, my cohort has 22 students, so I gained 21 new best friends when we began this journey together.”

Browder graduates on Dec. 14, and she already has a job.

“I will be working in the emergency department in Parkland Hospital in Dallas, in their critical care residency program,” said Browder. “Texas A&M has prepared me for this exciting new opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started!”

— Diane L. Oswald

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