Pamela Herrera has been a mainstay on the Wildcats roster since her freshman year in 2016 and cemented her place in team history when they made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2019.
But, that is only one side of the story for the senior guard. She is taking on the heavy workload of a nursing student, as well.
Herrera, an El Paso native, was a high school star on the basketball court. The four-year varsity letter winner at Bel-Air High School was pursued by other Div. I universities, such as New Mexico State but chose Abilene Christian when signing day came.
She signed on to play basketball, but she kept her education a higher priority.
“I wanted to go to a school where I can go get my degree, get a good education, and do what I love, and that’s play basketball,” Herrera said. “ACU checked off all of those boxes, and the plus was the atmosphere. It felt like I was at home.”
Getting into the nursing program would not be an easy feat, however. Dr. Marcia Straughn, Dean of the ACU Nursing program, said students interested in the program must meet separate requirements to get considered for acceptance.
Sraughn said all students must complete rigorous prerequisite courses, such as microbiology and developmental psychology, as well as maintain a 3.0 GPA. They are also required to complete a separate application into the nursing program, complete a certified Nurse Aide course, including clinicals and pass an admission exam.
After admission, full time nursing students are required to complete 60 hours of courses over four semesters. Straughn said that of those 60 hours, they can be in class or clinicals up to 27 hours a week, not including homework or studying.
“To think about that level of intensity in a program in the middle of basketball season,” Straughn said. “That right there shows a level of dedication to her education and her craft.”
Although Herrera says she knew she would face an uphill battle in her pursuits, she sought guidance from her aunt and inspiration from her younger sister. She watched her aunt with a keen eye growing up, hoping to have the same success she’d seen all of her life.
“I would sit in her office and watch her studying all the time,” Herrera said. “Growing up, I saw her work ethic and all the knowledge she has. She really inspired me and has pushed and motivated me.”
For Herrera, her senior classification has her in 27 class and clinical hours a week, on top of the 20 to 24 hours of practice a week, that is not including travel and games.
“I have class from eight to four o’clock every day, and practice starts at five,” Herrera said. “I won’t get home until eight some nights, and I have to use the rest of the time to study before I wake up and start it all over again.”
On top of the 27 hours required in the nursing program, Herrera said that she spends on average three or four hours a day in the gym, with one day off per week. She said that if the team is in the weight room, that can add another hour to her workload as well.
“[ACU Athletics] are great at helping nursing students navigate the program,” Straughn said. “Pam is great at communicating ahead of time, especially when it comes to the travel schedule. When we know ahead of time, we can have clinicals rescheduled or have exams proctored.”
Herrera said that it has been a blessing to be able to play the game she loves, on top of pursuing her career, and be successful. She said she credited head coach Julie Goodenough and Marcia Straughn for being supportive and encouraging her to continue to pursue her dreams.
“They really respect how I’m not only a nursing student and an athlete and know how demanding it is,” Herrera said. “I have a lot of respect for them, and they have a lot of respect for me.”
Dr. Marcia Straughn gave the same sentiment to Herrera, saying she was mature beyond her years, and continues to grow. She said that she looks forward to seeing where she goes in life and will support her no matter what.
“Knowing the level of intensity in this program, as well as being a full time athlete, is something that astonishes me,” Straughn said. “I have such admiration for Pam, because she is pursuing what she loves.”
For Herrera, as her time at ACU is coming to an end, she said that she looks back on her time here and realizes that the adversity she has faced has set her up well for the real world.
“There were a lot of times where I wanted to give up and didn’t,” Herrera said. “It’s being patient and not giving up. I know that me sucking it up and sticking it out has benefited me in so many ways, and I feel like the growth and maturity I’ve had over the last few years have really helped me figure myself out.”