SHU's Nursing Program Celebrates 30th Anniversary

News Story: September 1, 2010

With the theme “The Past is Prologue,” Sacred Heart University’s Nursing Department is commemorating three decades of excellence in nursing while continuing to build on a history of successful change and innovation.
The highlight of the 30th anniversary celebration is a special evening on Saturday, Oct. 2, at Testo’s Restaurant in Bridgeport. The evening includes a silent auction and cocktails at 6:30 p.m. and dinner and presentations at 7:30 p.m. The 20th anniversary of SHU’s Mu Delta Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the honor society of nursing, also will be celebrated at the dinner, which coincides with Homecoming Weekend.
The guest speaker will be nursing consultant Faith Roberts, RN, BSN, who will present “It’s In Every One of Us.” Roberts, who is now the Parish Nurse Program coordinator for the Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ill., draws on her extensive experiences in administration, education and clinical practice to show the drama and humor that can be found in nursing.
All SHU nursing students, alumni, clinical partners, faculty and staff, and Mu Delta Chapter members are invited to attend. The cost is $45 per person and $80 per couple.
Since its inception in 1980, the Nursing Department has experienced “such enormous growth and such enormous demand,” its chairman and professor, Anne M. Barker, Ed.D., RN, noted during a recent interview. What was once described by a consultant as a sleepy little nursing program is now a thriving department.  “With five graduate programs including a doctoral program, two undergraduate programs, an online program and doing service abroad, it’s really an amazing tale of huge growth,” said Barker, a self-described “old-timer” at SHU with 23 years of service. “I would bet there may have been 20 students in the first class of 1980 and we now have over 500.  We’ve had tremendous growth in student body, as well as in the multiple programs we offer.”
The department began with an “RN-to-BSN program,” which allows registered nurses with associate’s degrees or diplomas to earn Bachelor of Science degrees, and gradually added Master of Science degree programs for Patient Care Services Administration, Family Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Leader, and Nursing Education. In 1993, in tandem with SHU’s move toward becoming more of a residential university than a commuter one, a “traditional” nursing program was implemented to allow high school graduates to earn their BSNs in four years. In 2007, along with the rest of the College of Education and Health Professions, the department relocated to SHU’s Cambridge building in Trumbull, and this fall, a three-year Doctor of Nursing Practice program was launched with 20 students.
The department is continuing to expand its online offerings to serve students and the community both in Fairfield County and beyond. For example, three of the Master’s degree programs are already available online, as well as the RN-to-BSN and this year, it has been accelerated and expanded. Right now the students who are studying online range from Maine to Florida,” said Barker. “Since higher education is moving quickly into the direction of the online environment, we are ahead of the game.”
The Cambridge Campus’ laboratories for nursing education also are state-of-the-art and include computer-aided simulations. During lectures, the i>clicker classroom response system can be used, which allows instructors to stop at any point in their presentations, pose multiple-choice questions and have the students click on the answers. “They love it because it’s like ‘Jeopardy.’ And then the instructor can assess immediately who’s getting the correct answers, if the concept is working, and whether or not they can move on to the next lesson,” Barker said. The students’ responses are also recorded, which helps instructors determine when interventions might be needed, she said.
“We have embraced educational technology, and we’re very far ahead of a lot of programs,” said Barker, who expects the focus and momentum to continue. “I’m sure we’re going to be moving in this direction in the future, based on this technology that we’ve started, and looking at virtual classrooms and virtual labs and some virtual teaching as well. We want to be recognized for premier use of our educational technology.”
Extending the department’s reach in another direction, nursing students and faculty now also have the opportunity to participate in “field experience missions” to Jamaica and Guatemala. Offered for the first time last year, the missions are “a service-abroad activity versus a study abroad,” Barker said. “They go to provide service to the population.” The 2009 mission to rural Jamaica centered on medical-surgical practices and treated 850 patients; the Guatemala mission this past March emphasized obstetrical nursing and treated 1,157 people.
“This we see as a part of our future and where we’re going to continue to build the school and to develop its distinctiveness and uniqueness,” said Barker. “We have really good, qualified faculty who have a broad range of interests that are pulled together by a mission to care for the vulnerable population, both locally and globally. A lot of their research and their interest is in the vulnerable populations of the world. That is a huge new venture for us, and it’s nice that it coincides with the program’s 30th anniversary – it’s all coming together.”
Patricia W. Walker, Ed.D., the dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, also noted that nursing education has grown tremendously since she joined SHU in 1997 and that “this year in particular is a very exciting year” for the department. “I’m very proud of all of the accomplishments of the faculty and staff. With their continued efforts and the support of [SHU] President Anthony Cernera and Vice President Thomas Forget, I know we will continue to achieve great things.”