Iowa State nursing program features students with diverse experiences

There are 22 students working on completing their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree with Iowa State’s nursing program. The program started after the idea was brought up from the president of the Des Moines Area Community College.

Julia Benda

There are currently 22 students in the Iowa State nursing program working to advance their education and career by completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

The first students in the Iowa State Bachelor of Science in Nursing program graduated in December after the program began in the fall of 2018. The program is for registered nurses looking to further their career path.

The nursing program was started because the president of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) brought the idea to Iowa State for starting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing completion program.

The nursing students come from diverse nursing settings and experiences. Some of the students have recently become registered nurses and others have been nurses for over 40 years.

Virginia “Ginny” Wangerin is a clinical assistant professor of food science and human nutrition in the nursing program. She has been teaching nursing for over 30 years. She said she loves what she does and enjoys getting to mentor new and future educators while continuing to practice her own skills.

“I just have a passion for nursing education,” Wangerin said. “I was at DMACC for a long time and really grew that program. So when I was approached about the possibility of creating a program that would allow those DMACC graduates to progress and it was at Iowa State […] it kind of seemed like a no brainer.”

Wangerin said it can be difficult for students to know which educational route to choose because there is a lot of competition and available options. Wangerin is passionate about quality education and said the nursing program is providing students with quality education and experiences.

“It was an opportunity to really do something that I felt was a significant accomplishment,” Wangerin said. “I feel that this is something I can be proud of when I retire and that I can leave behind something that will make a difference.”

The program allows students to not only follow good policy, but to create it as well, Wangerin said. The program goes beyond the basic entry level practice students were prepared for in the first level of their education, and gives students the skills to be more entrepreneurial, innovative and more of a leader.

“Already, just even in the less than two years that we have been offering classes, we are already seeing a significant difference in the contributions that our students are making, so that is very exciting for us,” Wangerin said.

The nursing program is a hybrid program and meets one day a week. Class time is spent building a community and participating in active learning settings. The rest of the program is online, which allows students to continue working and advance their education simultaneously.

One of the students currently in the nursing program is Alexia Salyars, senior in nursing. Salyars talked about her long-term goals and said she hoped to end up on the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner route, having looked at the necessary steps to get to that point.

“There is a big push on the percentage of [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] prepared nurses within an organization because there is so much evidence to back up patient outcomes that can improve with that,” Salyars said. “This program, we all have different specialties but it’s allowed us to pick things that we can all use in our own specialty to improve our patient outcomes.”

Salyars said the peer group has a range of experience, from working with premature infants to end-of-life care and hospice programs.

Another senior in nursing is Lora Duncan. She said she had the intent of completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, but never found the right fit in a program.

“I like that we meet in class, it’s only one day a week so it works very well,” Duncan said. “I still work full time. I still work a 40-hour workweek and it fits in.”

One set of classes the nursing program offers is a one year sequence. The first semester, the students take a class called health and wellness and look at theories, meanings and health from a deeper perspective.

The second semester class is population health, and is one of the key differences between baccalaureate and associate degree nurses.

Kendra Odland, senior in nursing, said she learns better in a classroom setting rather than online. Odland graduated from DMACC in Ankeny and now attends the nursing program classes at Iowa State on Tuesdays.

“I particularly liked that, as someone who graduated from DMACC, there are not many registered nurses to [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] programs that also have classroom classes,” Odland said. “I think this is the only one. I just learn better when I participate in a classroom setting and I comprehend more […] so I was really excited when they said that they were starting the program.”

Odland said the program has high expectations, but the students are supported by the peer group and professors.

“They have high expectations, but they also gave us a number of contact information and told us even if it’s late at night, send a message and we will respond,” Odland said.

Odland said working in the community is something that is important to her, and she likes that the nursing program at Iowa State focuses on public health and the community. She used to provide care at her local YMCA, and the focus of public health and community at Iowa State really fits into her values.

The nursing students come from all backgrounds and areas of expertise. Many of the students planned to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at a certain point in their career. But for others, the calling was more spontaneous.

Katie Merriam, senior in nursing, said she woke up one morning and decided to pursue her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

“I seriously woke up and was like, ‘I’m gonna get my bachelor’s,’” Merriam said. “I got a flyer at work for the [Registered Nurses] to [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] program in my email. I emailed Wangerin back and I was like ‘I’m really interested in this,’ and I came and met with her and was like, ‘I’m doing this.’”