By Selene Rodriguez
It is with resilience, commitment and determination that South Texas College alumna Jennifer Breneman finally fulfilled her lifelong dream of a Medical Coding certificate after more than 30 years of overcoming life and family challenges.
“Moving around the country because of my husband’s military career led me to jump from one job to another, always putting my family’s needs first and education on the back burner,” the 50-year-old explained. “It was only after my husband’s retirement and settling in the Rio Grande Valley that I finally had the opportunity to graduate with a Medical Coding certificate. STC finally gave me everything I had ever wanted.”
Over the course of three decades, the Arkansas native explored diverse majors such as culinary arts, computer science and business, a tough journey that all started when she made the difficult decision to drop out of high school in 1992 to raise her first child.
“Having a baby in high school made me terrified of what people were going to say, so I dropped out and ended up getting my GED diploma instead,” she explained. “Right after, I did a semester in culinary arts. However, being a full-time student while working nights at a restaurant and taking care of a newborn was too hard on my mental health.”
While her husband served in the military, Breneman became the mother of three children and faced new challenges with diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s Syndrome for two of her children.
“I love my children, and I wanted to show them that everything is possible no matter the circumstance. Having experienced the challenges of job hunting without a high school diploma, I wanted them to understand that education can make a difference,” she said. “In 2002, with the rise of computers, I developed an interest in computer science and started pursuing a degree. However, my plans were interrupted when my grandma had a stroke, and I had to prioritize taking care of her. For me, family always comes first.”
Embracing her role as a supportive caregiver, Breneman went on to take on several jobs in call centers and collection agencies, where she had the opportunity to work on patients’ billing accounts and get a first glance at a career in health care.
“I was raised by my great aunt who had a strong work ethic and a love for education. She wanted me to pursue nursing, but I didn’t because I knew I would get too attached to my patients,” she said. “However, working in a collection agency allowed me to assist them with their billing accounts. I was exposed to both accounting and health care and realized I loved helping patients. It was very rewarding.”
As her husband neared retirement, Breneman seized the opportunity to pursue her dream of an education and dedicated herself wholeheartedly to completing an associate degree in Information Technology.
In 2018, the family decided to move to her husband’s hometown of Edinburg to help manage his family’s business, which inspired her to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Southern New Hampshire University.
The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) gave Breneman’s family a new world of opportunities.
“My husband’s father is Dale from Dale’s Diesel service, and his work inspired our son to join the Automotive and Diesel programs at STC,” she explained. “My other son chose Welding and Advanced Manufacturing. Both have been warmly welcomed by this incredible community, and witnessing that inspired me to enroll as well.”
Breneman pursued online certificates that would benefit her in her new role such as Payroll and Multimedia Specialist, but Medical Coding was always her ultimate goal.
She graduated from the three-semester Medical Coding Specialist program in December 2023.
“It encompassed everything I had done in the past, from computer science to data entry and health care billing. It was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “This was the only graduation I attended in my life. It was an amazing experience.”
As an adult learner, she actively encouraged her classmates to share resources and learn from one another by recounting her own experiences and journey.
“I understand that working and being a student is challenging, so I wanted to support others going through it. As I’ve grown older, I recognize the significance of education,” she said.
Now, as a proud grandmother, and with her youngest children nearing graduation, she is preparing to take her national exam to become a Certified Coding Specialist and eagerly looking forward to exploring exciting job opportunities in the RGV.
“It’s amazing to think that I didn’t discover my true calling until my 30s, and I couldn’t pursue it until my late 40s,” she reflected. “I’m grateful for where I am now because STC has given me more than an education; it provided me with a supportive network. I value the numerous mentors, instructors and classmates I’ve encountered at this institution.”
For more information on the Medical Coding Specialist Certificate or other programs offered at STC’s Nursing and Allied Health Division, visit nah.southtexascollege.edu/ or call 956-872-3100.