History of Weber State School of Nursing

Weber State University’s School of Nursing, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013, is proud to be part of a long and honorable legacy of excellence in nursing education, offering students certificates as a practical nurses, along with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees to become registered nurses. 

WSU’s nursing program started 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 factors contributed to 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 an 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 diplomas and four-year university-based bachelor’s degrees (BSN) were excessively time intensive, and she proposed that a two-year college-based associate’s 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 implement research pilot programs for a revolutionary associate’s degree model for nursing education.

In 1953, Weber State College (now WSU), located in downtown Ogden, Utah, was selected to host one of the seven pilot Montag ADN programs. Thirty-six enthusiastic and courageous young women, supported by an equally courageous faculty, became WSU’s first class of associate’s degree in nursing students. 

This new and unproven model for educating nurses was met with significant resistance and concern by Ogden’s nursing and medical communities. Ruth Swenson, RN, served as the first director of the program. Working closely with community leaders, health care facilities, nurses and physicians, Swenson and the program faculty overcome the concerns. The success of the students soon won the support for the new nursing program.

Today, more than 7,000 men and women have graduated from WSU’s School of Nursing and gone on to serve as registered nurses in their communities. 

WSU’s 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. WSU’s program has 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 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 Panguitch. The health and well-being of Utah’s urban and rural communities has benefited from the invaluable service provided by WSU’s nursing graduates. This contribution to our state is a source of pride for WSU’s nursing program, both today and in the future.
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. 

Displaying the spirit of those 1953 faculty and students, current faculty and students are ready to embrace the challenges facing today’s nursing professionals. WSU’s School of Nursing continues to be as committed to serving Utah’s nursing education needs.