2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

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Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Julia M. Peña

Julia M. PenaJ.C. Harmon High School, 1982

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Emerson Elementary, Argentine Junior High.

Julia Peña thought she drew the short straw during nursing school. When students were signing up for rotations at the hospital, she got stuck with the burn center. She was so scared and unhappy that she went home and cried.

But one day into the work, she realized how much she liked the people and the work. Now 28 years later, she is still there.

Peña is a staff nurse in the outpatient burn/wound clinic at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The hardest part about her job is that while taking care of her patients she often has to inflict pain on them. The best part is helping to heal them. She loves seeing them smile.

“I think that I give people hope,” she said. “If I can make a difference in their lives, even though it’s in small tokens, it’s something you can’t put a price on.”

Her high school psychology teacher Bruce Eighmey played a pivotal role in her education. He saw leadership potential in her and placed her on committees to lead school clubs and to plan school functions such as the key club and junior/senior prom. She has continued to keep in touch with him over the years.

“He had these great words of wisdom and would always say things that made you think,” Peña recalled.

When she was in college studying nursing, a teacher told her she was not using all of her talents and that she should focus on a career in engineering. So she switched, but after one semester she knew it was not her field.

Her advice for today’s students is to listen to your inner self and choose a career that pleases you.

Peña coordinates a number of programs to help burn victims in the area. She volunteers for an annual fun walk and spring fling for burn survivors. She teaches fire safety and helps place smoke detectors in family dwellings. For the past 14 years, she has helped coordinate the Burn Survivor Support Group at KU.

She said her greatest accomplishment in life is making her parents proud through her higher education, her career and her family.