Mother, daughter receive Penn State nursing degrees at spring 2015 commencement

May 18, 2015

Spring 2015 commencement at Penn State was a memorable weekend for the Keil family of Palmyra, Pa.

On the evening of Saturday, May 9, Natalie Keil, a 2014 Evan Pugh Scholar with a 3.97 grade-point average, carried the College of Nursing banner as the student marshal for the graduating baccalaureate class. The following day -- Mother’s Day -- her mother, Leslyn Keil, received her second Penn State nursing degree, a master of science in nursing, at the Graduate School's commencement ceremony.

The path to a nursing career was not a direct one for either mother or daughter. Leslyn received her first undergraduate degree in education, but decided in the early 1990s to become a nurse, due in part to the encouragement of her neighbor, Carol Forsyth, currently a nurse practitioner at the Penn State Hershey Bone and Joint Institute.

“Carol was such an inspiration,” Leslyn said. “She is one of the most amazing, vibrant people I know, and I was so impressed by the work she did in Hershey’s surgical intensive care unit. Though I was initially intimidated by the challenge of nursing school, Carol never doubted that I could do it.”

After receiving an associate degree in nursing from Harrisburg Area Community College, Leslyn became a registered nurse and eventually completed the RN to B.S. program through Penn State World Campus. By that time, Natalie, the youngest of three children, had graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. An accomplished singer, she began studying vocal performance at Carnegie Mellon University, but quickly realized a musical career was not her calling. It took a bit of soul searching before she realized she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother’s soft-soled nursing shoes.

“My mother is seriously the most caring person I have ever known, and that is something that I always strive to emulate,” Natalie said. “And I always knew I wanted to work with people.”

In spring 2012, Natalie was accepted into the College of Nursing’s bachelor of science degree program. That same year, Leslyn began course work toward the M.S.N. Nurse Educator option through World Campus.

“You can’t be a nurse without also being an educator,” said Leslyn, who— -- n addition to her position as a staff nurse at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center -- is a clinical instructor in pediatrics for the Harrisburg Area Community College campus in York, Pa.

Mother and daughter share a passion for volunteering that reflects their commitment to caring for others. Since 2004, they have worked at the PA Vent Camp, a summer camp in Millville, Pa., for ventilator-dependent children with multiple health needs. Campers enjoy outdoor activities such as swimming and an accessible zipline and rock wall, as well as dance and costume shows. Leslyn learned of the camp while working in the pediatric intermediate care unit at Hershey Medical Center.

“After seeing these kids so sick, I needed something to lift me, and seeing them when they were well was just the thing,” she said. Natalie concurs as she recalls the time they talked her father and two siblings into joining them: “You don’t need medical expertise to appreciate these kids enjoying life.”

Natalie has even found a way to work her musical interests and talent into her nursing career: She has been helping Dr. Kim Doheny, assistant professor in Penn State’s College of Medicine, with a research project studying the benefits of music therapy for infants in neonatal intensive care.

“When your career is nursing, it’s really important to have something to go to for relaxation. For me, that has always been music,” she says. “I’m hoping to get back into community theater now that school is over.”

For Natalie, who has accepted a graduate nurse residency in the neonatal intensive care unit at Hershey Medical Center, the outlet for relaxation and creative expression that music provides will be more important than ever in the months to come.

Last Updated May 21, 2015