From left: Sharon Wilkerson – Legacy of Service Award, Kristen Schapson – Outstanding Former Student Award, Gary Williams – Ascension Seton Medical Center Williamson, and Dean Nancy Fahrenwald

Celebrating our past, charting the future

The Texas A&M College of Nursing has come a long way in the last 10 years
July 30, 2018

The traditional 10th anniversary gift is tin or aluminum, representing flexibility and durability. That seems appropriate as Texas A&M College of Nursing celebrates its 10th anniversary, as flexibility and durability have been the hallmarks of the college’s brief history.

Established in 2008, the inaugural class was admitted pending approval from the Texas Board of Nursing. “The board was overwhelmingly positive about the program, we were approved on the Friday before the start of the semester, the students were called over the weekend to let them know and classes started on Monday,” said Sharon Wilkerson, PhD, RN, CNE, ANEF, the college’s founding dean.

Two weeks into the first semester, Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast. With hundreds of special needs patients evacuated to Reed Arena on the Texas A&M University campus, fledgling Texas A&M nursing students were asked to help care for the patients’ medical and physical needs.

“Many patients were from the memory care unit and were evacuated without detailed information on the specific medications they needed or their plan of care,” Wilkerson said. “Nursing students and faculty checked patients’ vital signs and blood glucose levels, changed wound dressings and oxygen tanks and assisted elsewhere as needed. It was both challenging and rewarding.”

While Hurricane Ike may be the most prominent obstacle the young college faced, it certainly wasn’t the only one.

Students and faculty met in borrowed classrooms, policies and procedures were developed as specific needs arose and planning was underway for the construction of the Health Education Professions Building, the place that the college would one day call home. “It was amazing to see the flexibility and dedication of the faculty, students and staff in meeting every challenge that came our way,” said Wilkerson. “We couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to lay the foundation for the college.”

Texas-sized growth and achievements

The first 10 years of the college saw rapid expansion, growing from 44 traditional and second-degree students in the inaugural class, to 369 bachelor of science (BSN) and master of science (MSN) in nursing students in fall 2018. The college currently offers three tracks to the BSN degree—traditional, second degree and RN-to-BSN—and three MSN degrees, including family nurse practitioner, education and forensic nursing. The main campus is located in Bryan-College Station with regional locations in Round Rock, McAllen and Lufkin.

Since the college was established, BSN graduates have consistently achieved a 97 percent or better pass rate on the NCLEX-RN (nurse licensing examination), ranking 10 points higher than the state and national averages. To date, all of the college’s family nurse practitioner cohorts have achieved perfect records, with 100 percent first-time pass rates for all graduates on their certification board exams.

This high standard of academic excellence has been noticed.

In 2015, the National League for Nursing named Texas A&M College of Nursing a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education (2016-2020), and several external nursing websites have ranked the college among the best nursing schools in the state. In recognition of the leadership position the college has in forensic nursing, the Texas Office of the Attorney General tapped faculty to lead the effort to revise the Texas Evidence Collection Protocol and to revise and deliver the Texas Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner course.

Celebrating

The college recently hosted a 10th Anniversary Awards luncheon, with former students from the inaugural class, several founding faculty and administrators and current faculty, staff and friends.

“The college has achieved so much, in such a short time. It was fun seeing everyone, and celebrating,” said Dean Nancy Fahrenwald, PhD, RN, PHNA-BC. “It was the perfect time to recognize a few of the individuals and organizations that have helped to establish our standard of excellence.”

Sharon Wilkerson, founding dean, received the Legacy of Service Award, one of three inaugural awards given at the luncheon. The Legacy of Service Award recognizes a current or former employee who positively impacts the lives of others in the nursing profession through their exemplary service and dedication. Wilkerson played a key role in planning and overseeing the physical and academic development of the college’s main campus in Bryan-College Station and in establishing the college’s regional locations in Round Rock, McAllen and Lufkin.

Kristen Schapson, BSN, RN, CCRN, received the Outstanding Former Student Award, which is given to a former student who exemplifies leadership and has advanced in the nursing profession by exhibiting the Aggie Core Values. Immediately after graduation, Schapson volunteered with Project Medishare as a nurse in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, serving patients in desperate need of quality health care. After nine months in Haiti, she returned to the United States and was hired to work in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, she stayed at the hospital for several days, caring for patients and their families as access to the hospital was blocked by flooding.

Ascension Seton Medical Center Williamson received the Partner in Nursing Award. This award is given to a person or organization that has demonstrated their commitment to nursing through a partnership with the College of Nursing. For nearly a decade, Seton Medical Center Williamson has supported the Texas A&M College of Nursing. With a lead gift to help establish the college’s Round Rock campus in 2009, they provide program support to enhance student learning and serve as an important clinical partner, allowing nursing students to work beside their exceptional nurses to hone their skills, broaden their knowledge and develop confidence.

“We are proud to recognize these honorees for the tremendous impact that they have had on our college,” Fahrenwald said. “They both inspire and challenge us as we move to the next chapter in the college’s history.” 

Charting the future

“Our vision is to empower a diverse population of nurses to improve the health of vulnerable and underserved populations and to increase access to health care across the state,” said Fahrenwald. “To accomplish this, we will graduate more nurses, recruit more nurses to become nurse educators and researchers and continue to prepare our students to be nursing leaders in clinical and research settings.”

— Diane L. Oswald

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