Northern Illinois University

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

October 6, 2009

School of Nursing celebrates 50 years

School of Nursing celebrates 50 years. Top: nursing students meet for a study session. Bottom: student nurses gather around the entrance to Forest Hospital.

DeKalb, Ill. — The black sign hanging from the post outside Hopkins House stated simply, in white letters, “Offices. School of Nursing. Coordinator – T.V.”

As the original and humble home of the Northern Illinois University School of Nursing, Hopkins witnessed many of its firsts.

The first class – seven strong – to graduate, 1963. The launch of the R.N. completion program, 1964. Initial accreditation from the National League for Nursing, 1965. Graduate students admitted for a newly implemented graduate curriculum, 1968.

Fifty years later, as the school celebrates five decades as a part of the university, it remains committed to exploring new frontiers. One visit to the futuristic technology at work in the Human Patient Simulation Lab quickly proves that.

“We had the lo-fidelity models in my day. They were falling-apart plastic things,” said Brigid Lusk, chair of the school since 2005. “We learned on each other – and oranges. I’ve injected many thousands of oranges in my day. It’s really tough getting blood out of an orange.”

But the school’s primary mission – to produce ethical, effective and contributing members of the nursing profession who promote health and well-being in individuals, families and communities, across the life span, through educational, scholarship, service and clinical practice – brightly reflects the honorable heritage of nursing.

A 50th anniversary celebration is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 17, including a tour of the school’s current headquarters, a reception with hors d’oeuvres, a dinner with a program presented by current and former faculty and an evening of music and dancing.

Lusk, who is only the school’s fifth chair, calls the anniversary “a nice milestone” and “a good time to reflect.” Six thousand invitations were sent to alumni, former faculty and friends for “just a good time to look back to see where we were and where we are.”

“In 1959, there weren’t that many baccalaureate schools of nursing. These students were very much the crème de la crème because they were getting their bachelor’s degrees,” said Lusk, who arrived at NIU in 1989.

“We’re also thinking about the way forward. Nursing is certainly at a crossroads. There’s an effort to have the bachelor’s degree the only way you can become a nurse, which would fit with most other developed countries,” Lusk added.

“Nurses are still misunderstood by the public. Throughout the last 50 years, nursing has been a real and responsible profession. We have people’s lives in our hands. We’re there with patients 24-7. Only when members of the public themselves, or their loved ones, are in the hospital do they understand. Nurses want to be nice people, yes, but above all we are well-educated scientists.”

Two score and 10 years ago

School of Nursing celebrates 50 years. Annette S. Lefkowitz (left) and Ann. M Hart

Annette S. Lefkowitz founded the NIU School of Nursing in 1959 and served as its chair until 1978. Ann M. Hart, associate chair during those years, guided the school as chair from 1978 until 1990.

In those earliest of days, co-ed nursing students boarded buses in the morning for transportation to their clinical sites, including Forest Hospital, Sherman Hospital and the DuPage County Health Department. Professors gave lectures at 6 a.m. or, in some cases, at the front of the buses.

By 1969, when the first three graduate students earned their master’s degrees, the school won its first federal grant: $197,000 for psychiatric nursing from the National Institute on Mental Health.

The school dropped anchor at Montgomery Hall in 1969 and remained there until 1987, when it moved to its current home on Normal Road.

The former Roberts Elementary School is perhaps the friendliest academic building on campus. Walls are covered with framed photographs – of students in their white caps, of faculty in group poses, of friends and alumni – and plaques honoring students and faculty alike. Maps show locations of dozens of clinical sites. NIU School of Nursing sweatshirts are for sale. Benefactors of scholarships and other gifts are paid tribute in framed biographies and portraits.

In 1973, the graduate program earned initial accreditation. The Student Nursing Organization submitted an application to Sigma Theta Tau International in 1974; 62 students, 14 faculty and seven alumni were inducted in November of that year. Beta Omega was officially established as a chapter of Sigma Theta Tau in the fall of 1975.

In 1980, off-campus classes began when the school received degree-granting authority in Rockford. Other sites followed, of course, and the school still sustains that mission at community colleges across the top of the state.

In the 1990s – Marian Frerichs was acting chair in 1990-91, Sara Barger served as chair from 1991-95 and Marilyn Frank Stromborg held the top post from 1995-2004 – the school launched the Tri-County Community Health Center in 1994 and the Center for Nursing Research two years later.

More than 15,000 different people of all ages from DeKalb, Ogle and Lee counties have sought treatment at the bilingual clinic since it opened. Ninety-nine percent are classified as low-income; one of three is a minority. No one is turned away for an inability to pay.

The clinic’s work has earned the financial support of generous community benefactors who have contributed and pledged more than $2.25 million in recent years, crucial support after the 1998 expiration of the federal grant that created the clinic.

The new millennium

School of Nursing celebrates 50 years. Nursing students practice in the Human Patient Simulation Lab.

In 2001, then-U.S. Speaker of the House and NIU alum J. Dennis Hastert helped to identify more than $450,000 in the federal budget to help Tri-County buy much-needed medical, educational and office-related equipment.

Recent years have brought the school’s first-ever master’s degrees in the advanced practice role of family nurse practitioner – six completed that program in 1999 – as well as online classes and statewide nurse educator fellowship recognition and university teaching awards for several faculty members.

A reorganization in the summer of 2007 combined nursing with public health and health education.

Of course, students continue to perform well.

Nursing graduates of the School of Nursing and Health Studies who took the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensure Examination during 2008 posted a 95 percent passing rate. Comparatively, the pass rate was 90 percent for all nursing programs in Illinois and 87 percent for all U.S. programs.

“Our teaching focus now is that nurses don’t need to walk out of school knowing every skill,” Lusk said. “Nurses need to have a core understanding of what’s going on in the body and adapt to any situation. We’re giving them less rote information and making them more able to deal with any emergency. That, I think, is a big change.”

Meanwhile, enrollment is strong on- and off-campus.

“People have an image of a nurse as being someone with a rather exciting profession. You’re at the front line. You feel you can actually make a difference in people’s lives, and that draws a lot of people. It’s exciting, satisfying and completely interactive,” Lusk said.

“It’s also a profession where you can still get a job. You’re going to get a job, and it’s a decent-paying job,” she added. “We’re gradually seeing more men enter the profession, and we would love to have even more men in the profession. We would love to have more under-represented groups. Only 2 percent of nurses are Hispanic. We need way more Latino and African-American nurses. That’s a concern.”

Visit for more information about the school and its 50th anniversary.

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