As soon as  Eric Mulford graduated high school, he received his EMT certification. Shortly after that, he became a firefighter paramedic. Twenty two years later, he decided to attend nursing school at Elon University.

Sophomore Mulford is the oldest nursing student in the first cohort at 41 years old and said he feels like a “big brother” to the other students.

“I had the opportunity to come here and be part of something that's pretty big as far as developing this program and helping these younger students get through the program and become great nurses,” Mulford said.

Outside of classes and working at the Burlington Fire Department, Mulford is married to Cara Lucia, Elon professor of sports management. Mulford and Lucia have four children among them, three from Mulford’s previous marriage and one from Lucia’s. They also have two bulldogs, Hamilton and Lincoln.

Mulford has to balance family life on top of career and school, and while he said it hasn’t been easy “by any means,” he and Lucia have come up with time management strategies that allow them to take time for themselves.

Lucia said one of these strategies is using a shared calendar to plan date nights and family events as far as three to four months in advance. She also said that when Mulford isn’t working a night shift, they will not talk about school for the first 30 minutes of catching up at the end of the day.

Mulford worked in Roanoke City, Virginia, before moving to North Carolina five years ago. He landed a job as a paramedic with the Burlington Fire Department and still works there while attending Elon. There are days, he said, where he will be up all night in the fire department and up all day in the classroom. 

Despite working in Burlington, Mulford said that firefighting is a “younger person’s game,” and he had to take a step back from specific tasks because they have become too physically demanding.

“Being 41, it gets to the point where I can't even keep climbing up and down these ladders and trucks and doing all these different things,” Mulford said.

Growing out of these activities was part of why Mulford chose nursing school, he said. But he also decided to attend Elon because he “always had a passion for taking care of people,” especially working in public safety.

Because of his past and current experience as a paramedic, Mulford serves a bigger role than just a student — he also teaches classes and assists with research, which requires him to perform tasks such as taking blood samples. He said he takes on these projects as part of being a big brother.

“If you have knowledge or you're able to help somebody, it's important to share that information and grow that person up to where you are so that you can continue growing as a person,” Mulford said.

While Mulford will soon age out of public safety, he said being older in college is beneficial. Not only does he have more life experience, but he said he also doesn’t get distracted by factors normally important to typical college students.

“There's a lot of on-campus activities and things a college person usually does like events, and games, and tailgates, and sororities, and fraternities and so on,” Mulford said. “And I don't have all those distractions. I have outside, regular-life distractions.”

Mulford and Lucia met online shortly after Mulford moved to North Carolina in 2018. Their first date was at the Durty Bull Brewing Company in Durham. Nine months later, they were engaged. Mulford asked Lucia to marry him during a Reese Witherspoon trivia night at their first date location.

The Durty Bull knew about Mulford’s plans to propose, so they asked a bonus question to trivia participants where the answer involved a wedding proposal. Lucia said Mulford jumped up, got the correct answer and proceeded to ask Lucia to marry him in front of everybody. Later they found out that the security cameras captured the proposal on video — a tape they still own.

The couple got married on Oct. 10, 2020 because the date used the numbers “10, 10, 20, 20.”

Lucia said she and Mulford are all about supporting each other, which is partly why Mulford chose Elon, her place of work, over other schools with nursing programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she said they were able to support each other at home easier, especially when Mulford got into a serious car accident that left him with a broken jaw, broken ribs and shoulder damage.

“You couldn't have people really come visit. … We would do a lot of sitting outside on the porch so he could see people across the street,” Lucia said. “I would get him chocolate milkshakes because with your mouth wired shut, it provides some hope.”

Lucia said it’s interesting to have a student perspective in her household, even if it’s not coming from one of her children. She likes hearing about how he navigates classes.

While Mulford is a nontraditional student, he urges anybody, no matter how old they are, to pursue higher education — even if they’ve already done it.

“I think education is important, and you should continue to grow and learn every day,” Mulford said. “So as far as me making a decision to go back to school later on in life, I think that that's continuous growth. And my purpose is to grow and to continue to help people.”

Mulford wants nontraditional prospective students to know Elon is a good choice for them.

“Elon University doesn't have many non-traditional students here. It's just not known for that, it’s known for traditional student access,” Mulford said. “It’s important to know that they are welcoming to non-traditional students and that anybody can come here and go back to school, if they want to.”