Weber State University’s nursing program celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013. The nursing faculty is proud to be part of a long and honorable legacy of excellence in nursing education. WSU offers students the option to earn a certificate as a practical nurse, or a degree as an associate’s degree registered nurse, or a bachelor’s degree registered nurse. The WSU nursing program’s legacy has provided nursing education not only in Ogden, but, through its outreach programs, virtually every community throughout Utah.
Weber State’s nursing program was launched shortly following the end of World War II. Compounding the effects of the war on the civilian pool of registered nurses, the United States found itself embroiled in the North Korean conflict. These combined factors produced the gravest nursing shortage of modern history. Mildred Montag, a doctoral student at Teacher’s College and Director of Adelphi College’s School of Nursing, designed and proposed the associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) model as an alternative to the two existing educational models for nurses. She posited that both the three-year hospital-based Diploma program, as well as the four-year university-based BSN program were excessively time intensive, and proposed that a two-year college-based associate degree program would be a time-efficient and realistic alternative for educating technical registered nurses.
With funding support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Montag designed and implemented a research project in which seven community colleges throughout the United States would be selected to serve as research pilot programs for a revolutionary associate degree model for nursing education. It was the year 1953, and Weber State College (now Weber State University), located in downtown Ogden, Utah, was selected as one of the seven pilot Montag ADN programs.
Thirty-six enthusiastic and courageous young women, joined by equally courage nursing faculty, became the first class of the Weber State associate’s degree nursing program. Needless to say, this new and unproven model for educating nurses was met with significant resistance and concern by Ogden’s nursing and medical communities alike. Ruth Swenson, RN, served as the first director of Weber’s associate’s degree nursing program. Working very closely with community leaders, health care facilities, nurses, and physicians, Ms. Swenson and the program faculty overcome any concerns. The success of the students soon won the support for the new nursing program.
Much has been accomplished since the first class was admitted to the WSU nursing program. Today, well over 7,000 men and women have graduated from the program and gone on to serve as registered nurses in their communities. Throughout the 60 years the program has been in existence, the nursing faculty, with the leadership of Ruth Swenson, Leola Davidson, Gerry Hansen, Debra Huber, and most recently Susan Thornock, has developed a nationally recognized nursing education program. They have developed and implemented an effective “career-ladder” approach to nursing education, and a respected and successful distance and innovative Internet-based online delivery model for PN, ADN, RN to BSN and MSN education.
The WSU nursing program also is proud to have had the opportunity to serve as the 1971 Utah Board of Regents designated provider of ADN Nursing Education in the State System of Higher Education. As a result of this mandate, associate’s degree nursing programs have been offered by WSU at cooperative campuses located throughout the state. Programs were offered at Utah State University in Logan, Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) in Salt Lake City, Southern Utah University (SUU) in Cedar City, and Dixie State College in St. George. One of these campuses, Utah State University, continues to have a cooperative nursing program with WSU, while SLCC, SUU, and Dixie State College have been approved by the Board of Regents to offer their own nursing programs. In continuing fulfillment of this early mandate, WSU nursing outreach programs continued to be offered throughout Utah’s rural communities, including Tooele, Richfield, Roosevelt/Vernal, Payson, Price, Delta and Panquitch.
Despite early voices of concern and dismay, the college and university-based associate’s degree model for nursing education has been a tremendous success, growing from seven pilot programs in 1953 to more than 900 programs throughout the U.S. today. WSU, beginning as a pilot program for a unproven and revolutionary model of nursing education, offers hundreds of men and women throughout Utah the opportunity to become a registered nurse. The health and well-being of these urban and rural communities have benefited from the invaluable service provided by WSU’s nursing graduates.
This contribution to our state is a source of great pride for WSU’s nursing program, both today and into the future. Displaying the spirit of those 1953 faculty and students, the current faculty and students are ready to embrace the challenges facing today’s nursing professionals. The WSU nursing program continues to be as committed to serving the nursing education needs of Utah as were the nursing pioneers we honored during our 60th anniversary commemoration in 2013.