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Taking Flight

The first pre-licensure BSN cohort to graduate from the Bolivar campus is taking their skills into the real world.

By Denise Elson Tucker ’89

What started as a mission of the Southwest Baptist University leadership to offer a residential nursing program on the Bolivar campus has resulted in the graduation of the first pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing (PLBSN) cohort on May 14.

SBU's first PLBSN graduates from the Bolivar campus"Our communities need nurses, and at SBU we are proud of the ability to graduate servant leaders who incorporate their faith into the care they provide," said Dr. Brittney Hendrickson ’08, ’11, ’12, DNP, RN, dean of the College of Health Professions and nursing faculty at SBU. "This could not have happened without the faculty who teach in this program and the example they set. This group of students has been a blessing to work with and has reminded us many times why we are here."

After a successful site visit from the Missouri State Board of Nursing in early January of 2019, the board approved an enrollment of 24 students to the Don and Carrie Babb Department of Nursing for the 2019 cohort. That first class began their studies on Jan. 23.

And two and a half years after classes began for the PLBSN program on the Bolivar campus, sending off this first cohort was bittersweet for program coordinator and instructor Dr. Nancy Delmont, RN, CNE and the BSN team of Heather Daulton, MSN, RN; Blair Stockton ’18, MSN, RN, OCN; Julie Wilken, MSN, RN; Tori O’Brien ’16, ’19, MSN, RN; Cindy Todd ’07, ’11, ’13, DNP, RN; Kati Clancy ’09, ’12, ’15, MSN, RN; Leigha Pellegren ’06, ’12, ’18, MSN, RN; Hendrickson and division head Dr. Renay McCarley, RN, CNE.

"The faculty put in so much work to prepare these new graduates, and we are so excited to see them go off in the world; we feel like they’re really well-prepared," Delmont said. "We get a lot of positive feedback about their professionalism, integrity and quality of their work, so we feel like the hard work that we put in paid off in them.

"It is exciting because it’s like watching your babies grow up at warp speed. But at the same time, it’s bittersweet because they’re going to leave the nest. This will be our first NCLEX pass rate, which is very significant to our graduates and our program."

Meet the Class of 2021

Amelia Masters, Taylor McKowen, Jess Struckman and Landon Fisher may have traveled different paths to get to the program, but together with their 16 classmates they reached the same destination – SBU BSN graduates.

Amelia Masters with her grandmother
"Honored and humbled is what comes to mind," Amelia Masters ’21 said of being a member of the first cohort. "It’s kind of unprecedented. Whenever you’re part of something that has never been done before, there’s a certain ‘specialness’ about it that no one else will get to feel, and so you get really close with who you get to do it with."

Masters, a native of Kiron, Iowa, was looking at a few other schools before learning about SBU. Her uncle, who works for Mercy, told her that the hospital employs many top-notch SBU nursing graduates. So, she and her family made a side trip to Bolivar while visiting relatives in the Springfield area.

"As soon as I walked on campus, it felt like it was home," Masters said. "I never felt that on any other campus. I was like, ‘there’s something different about this campus.’ And it was the middle of summer when there were no students here or anything."

Taylor McKowen ’21 began her nursing degree journey in her hometown on SBU’s Springfield campus. Her desire for a residential college experience led her to make the move to the Bolivar campus.

"I’m just so thankful the Lord provided an amazing community here and friends that I would not have met, if I wouldn’t have transferred," McKowen said. "The Center for Global Connections (CGC) has provided opportunities for missions and that’s grown my love for going overseas – and all of that happened here.

"I feel honored to be in the first cohort. I feel like our cohort has been really flexible and the instructors have been great. They’ve given us so many opportunities. They really form relationships with us and help us grow and help us to keep moving forward when things get tough. We all have each other’s backs, and it’s been really great."

Taylor McKowen with her motherLandon Fisher ’21, a transfer student from Pleasant Hope, made a few stops before finding his place at SBU. He went to Missouri State University and then Ozarks Technical Community College when he was contacted by Delmont, a family friend, who told him he would be a good candidate for SBU’s program.

"And it’s just kind of where I was being led," Fisher said of the move to Bolivar. "So, I applied and now we’re here. It’s just crazy how things work out."

Fisher said the thought of being part of SBU’s first PLBSN cohort to graduate from Bolivar is "surreal."

"You come in here and it just seems long – the five semesters – and you’re just ready to get started," Fisher said. "But, honestly, it flew by and it’s just such a blessing to be able to be surrounded with people of a like faith. It’s an honor, really, to be part of the first cohort and help lay this foundation for, hopefully, a long time to come."

Jess Struckman ’21 had taken a year off after her senior year of high school and was taking a class at Citizens Memorial Hospital when she was encouraged to contact Delmont about SBU’s new program.

"I was taking the class at CMH to be a medication technician and the teacher of that class was talking to me about SBU’s program because I was having trouble deciding which school to apply to," Struckman said. "She gave me Dr. Delmont’s contact information, I got in touch with her and now we’re here.

"I feel very excited and really lucky to have been a part of it and really just blessed that I was able to get in and do it. I’m really glad I waited an extra year for it to open up."

Nursing students work in a simulation labResiliency during a pandemic

The cohort had completed two semesters before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the Spring 2020 semester. Delmont said the faculty did not see a drop-off in the students’ performance. "I’ve got to give credit to an amazing group of faculty that put our students first," Delmont said. "And while the experience wasn’t the same as face-to-face, or patient-to-nurse, we provided experiences, virtual experiences, and the discussions that followed, to really work on their clinical reasoning, clinical judgment and reflection of practice. Those are things that are very significant in nursing that we also work on when we’re here.

"When they came back, we actually worked that much harder to make sure that we had activities designed for them to ensure that they could still do the skills they had not been able to perform for months. Quite frankly, we didn’t see any negative impact. I’ve been in nursing education for nine years, and this is the best group of graduates I’ve ever seen."

Nursing/Honors program is possible

Masters, who was presented with the Bolivar PLBSN Florence Nightingale Award, not only was a member of SBU-Bolivar’s first PLBSN cohort but she was the first nursing student to graduate as a member of the Gordon and Judy Dutile Honors Program.

"It was a really neat thing to be a part of both honors and nursing while I’ve been here," Masters said. Masters worked with Dr. Jodi Meadows ’92, former director of the Dutile Honors Program, to develop a path specifically for the nursing/honors student because it had not been done before.

"Dr. Meadows taught me how to love learning again, and I think that that has been priceless for my nursing education," Masters said. "We were able to figure out an honors/nursing plan and now there are people in the cohorts below us who have followed my path; the classes that I took, they’re making it work."

Jess Struckman with her mother, JulieThe Florence Nightingale Award recipient is voted on by the PLBSN Program faculty and presented to one student based upon: Servant Leadership – interaction with peers, faculty, clinical sites, the community, patients and their families; Academic Excellence – ability to apply their knowledge of theory and clinical concepts in the delivery of safe, quality, and compassionate patient care; and Professionalism – attendance and punctuality, positive presence in the classroom and clinical settings, passion for the profession of nursing.

Looking back, looking forward

Masters, McKowen, Struckman and Fisher secured jobs prior to graduation, as did many others in the cohort, and feel confident and well-prepared heading into their careers.

Masters and McKowen, both have hearts for overseas missions and recently completed a medical mission project in Uganda, hoping to return one day.

"I really love that our nursing professors stressed that Christ is the center of our education and Mrs. Stockton has said to me multiple times that they want us to be competent nurses, but to be serving nurses first," Masters said. "Christ cares for the person. Yes, He cares about their physical needs, but He cares about them. To be able to see that demonstrated to us, and to learn that here, I think is very, very valuable."

"Every patient was created by God, and the Lord intentionally puts us in their lives," McKowen said. "I’ve been trying to go into each shift that I work as a tech with a mission mind-set, which has grown through being here through our nursing instructors and through the CGC. All of that combined has helped me grow into wanting to be on mission all the time."

Struckman, who plans to pursue her master’s in nursing administration this fall, said the growth she experienced through SBU’s PLBSN program, both academically and spiritually, has made her more con dent as she begins her career.

"All I can say is it’s just life-changing for me; that really sums it up," Struckman said. "I have definitely grown in my faith. I had the opportunity to pray with a patient, and I feel like that’s a great thing that we’re able to do. I know we won’t always have patients who have the same religious views as us, but I feel like we can always share about God whenever, and I feel like SBU has really helped shape our education, not just academically but with our faith as well."

Landon Fisher receives his diplomaFisher has always wanted to help people and will be doing that in CoxHealth’s step-down unit. He says the PLBSN faculty at SBU have prepared him and his fellow graduates for their careers.

"I think everyone I’ve talked to has kind of come into their own and they’re realizing that all these skills, all these assessments, everything that we’ve done these last four semesters is coming to this peak," Fisher said. "Everyone’s doing it and doing it like flawlessly, and they’re excited. They’re excited about starting an IV and they’re proud of themselves. When I start one I’m like, ‘I’m prepared to do that, that was easy to do, and I feel confident in what I’m supposed to listen to, and I’m confident enough to know what’s not supposed to be there.’ I feel like I gave good, competent, holistic care to my patients, and I feel like I can do that from being in this program.

"It’s difficult, but you learn from your failures and you grow. I like to say, ‘Be comfortable with being uncomfortable,’ because that’s where you get the most growth.

"I feel like I can trust in these people with my life. I would easily let them take care of me. And the faculty is like family. They’re not really faculty – they’re honestly family."

And, Delmont says the faculty feel the same way.

"Having a team that works together, with the same goal that uses the gifts and talents that God has given each one of us, is huge," Delmont said. "I have learned that these students value the relationships that they have had with each other, and with the faculty, and those relationships will be lifelong."

PHOTO 1: The first PLBSN cohort to graduate from the Bolivar campus is joined by a few faculty (front row).

PHOTO 2: Amelia Masters ’21 with her grandmother during the Bolivar Nurse Pinning Ceremony

PHOTO 3: Taylor McKowen ’21 being pinned by her mother at the Bolivar Nurse Pinning Ceremony

PHOTO 4: Students practice their skills in the Simulation Lab.

PHOTO 5: Jess Struckman ’21 with her mother, Julie, during the Bolivar Nurse Pinning Ceremony.

PHOTO 6: Landon Fisher ’21 shakes Dr. Brad Johnson’s hand during Spring Commencement.

*Published: 8-9-2021