Medical challenges compelled pharmacy technician graduate and Checota Scholar to go into healthcare
Chardaye Hartz never got to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2021.
Instead of devouring turkey, savoring pie and enjoying her time with relatives, she was fighting for her life.
As the 20-year-old slept in the early morning hours of November 25, 2021, she suffered a series of seizures after blood clotted in her brain and triggered a stroke. Hartz plunged into a coma and awoke a week later. She had two surgeries and her brain was exposed for four months. She couldn’t walk or talk as a result of the stroke. She spent the next two months in the hospital.
During her recovery, as she worked to regain her lost cognitive and mobility skills, she became acutely aware of the dedicated medical professionals caring for her almost every minute of every day.
“I watched nurses and pharmacy technicians in real-life time,” Hartz recalled. “These people were making a difference for me. That’s when I decided I wanted to make a difference as well.”
Hartz’s empathy turned into an enthusiasm and earnestness to work in healthcare. In March 2022, she had a third surgery that replaced her skull and began to think about going to school. That fall, she enrolled in the Pharmacy Technician program at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
A year later, thanks to a full-ride scholarship from the Ellen & Joe Checota MATC Scholarship Program, Hartz has completed her courses with honors and will earn her technical diploma this month. For her academic achievements, college involvement and inspiring story, Hartz also was chosen as the college’s Outstanding Graduate – Technical Diploma for Fall 2023.
“She had doubts about school; she didn’t think that she could make it,” said Eva Martinez-Powless, Ph.D., MATC’s vice president for enrollment and retention. “But her passion kept pushing her forward.”
Hartz grew up in Milwaukee. As a youth, she was very involved with PEARLS for Teen Girls, a group that helps middle school girls develop social, emotional and practical skills to be empathetic, self-sufficient leaders. She also was a top-notch majorette and coached several dance teams.
She started high school at Milwaukee Academy of Science, a charter school, and then transferred to Milwaukee Public Schools’ Transition High School, where she graduated in 2019.
Unsure of her future, she worked as a cashier and a concession supervisor at Fiserv Forum. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Hartz said. “I really didn’t feel I had a passion for anything.”
Then came that fateful Thanksgiving, and she found her passion in the hospital while undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Hartz’s mother told her about MATC. After some initial hesitation, Hartz started classes. “I didn’t know after all I went through if I would be smart enough for college,” she admitted. “At first, I felt a little overwhelmed. I struggled with essays. I had to work to get my writing skills back.”
By spring 2023, she was excelling in the classroom thanks to her instructors, Nhat Nguyen and Jennifer Lucas.
“Chardaye is a responsible, reliable, independent and respectful student and continues to set a wonderful example for her classmates,” Nguyen said. “She continues to have a growth mindset with her willingness to learn new things, even if it pushes her outside of her comfort zone.”
Hartz quickly became a leader in the classroom, serving as tutor and helping anyone who needed assistance. Even more impressive was Hartz’s empathy, Nguyen said.
“Empathy is such an important skill to have as a healthcare provider, and it is a hard one for many healthcare providers to incorporate in their practice,” Nguyen said. “Chardaye puts her patients first and continues to think of how she would feel if she were in the patients’ shoes.
“She understands that some of these patients may not be at their best when they are coming into the pharmacy,” Nguyen added. “Knowing that they have an empathetic healthcare provider to help the patient while they are sick provides a sense of trust and comfort for them.”
“My instructors, especially Jennifer Lucas, were really in my corner,” said Hartz, who went on to serve one of her clinical assignments at Froedtert Hospital. “I could not have gotten through this without their amazing help.”
In the fall, she got some financial help by getting a Checota Scholarship, which paid for her tuition, books, supplies, meals and parking for the semester. The Checota MATC Scholarship Program is designed to help students earn a diploma or certificate and quickly enter the workforce.
“The Checota Scholarship was a great help,” Hartz said. “I had a lot of expenses and a lot of bills. This was my most expensive semester yet, but the Checota was amazing.”
After entering the workforce, Hartz plans to become a Level IV Pharmacy Technician and then return to MATC to study nursing.
“Everything worked out very, very well for me at MATC. It helped me create goals for myself. The college had teachers I loved. It was a truly peaceful experience. I never liked missing a class.”