More than a half-century ago, southwestern Connecticut residents interested becoming nurses were educated at the Danbury Hospital School of Nursing. In 1965, when the hospital closed its nursing education program, its board of directors recommended that then-Western Connecticut State College fill the void using the hospital’s clinical facilities to create a collegiate program.
In 1964, the former home of Danbury High School on White Street was purchased by the state and renamed White Hall after Alexander White, a Danbury native. It would serve as the initial and ongoing home for our Nursing program, which in 1965 became the second tax-supported institution in Connecticut to offer a baccalaureate program in nursing.
A lot has changed in how nurses are educated and their role in health care in the 51 years that have passed since our first graduating class.
A 2019 Business Insider article, “THEN AND NOW: Here’s how being a nurse has changed in the last 50 years,” points out that, “Fifty years ago, doctors still treated nurses as assistants, and the role was seen as an extension of women’s caregiving instead of as a career. The role required less formal education, and nurses had just a ‘rudimentary’ understanding of scientific medical care, according to Minority Nurse. Today, nursing makes up the largest workforce in healthcare — and continues to grow as America’s baby boomer population ages. Nurses can attain various higher education certifications and degrees, and can be highly specialized in new fields like forensic nursing and informatics. Now, they’re on the frontlines of the world’s coronavirus pandemic, risking their lives to help others in dire medical need.”
As evidence of these insights, here are some milestones from the past 51 years of Nursing at WCSU:
The first director of Nursing Education in the mid-1960s was Associate Professor Eleanor King, who came from the Yale University School of Nursing. Initially two faculty members, Agnes Brown and Anna Ostopchuk, were hired to teach the first nursing classes. In 1968, Helen Mizer and Elizabeth Olsen were hired to teach maternal-child nursing and medical-surgical nursing, respectively. Additional faculty were hired to teach the senior year nursing students.
Professor King left WCSU in the early 1970s and Dr. Ruth Kohl became the new department director. She had been the director of the Danbury Hospital School of Nursing before she left to earn her doctorate at the University of Connecticut, and was instrumental in developing the RN-BS degree completion program.
In 1984, Dr. Kohl retired, and Dr. Andrea O’Connor assumed the director position. Under her leadership, the Nursing department offered a master’s degree in nursing with Clinical Nurse Specialist, education and administrative tracks.
WCSU was the first school in the United States to install an IBM Advanced Technology classroom in the Westside Classroom Building in 1988, which became widely used by the school’s Education and Nursing departments. The same year, the Nursing department received its charter from the International Honor Society of Nursing- Sigma Theta Tau. Mary Ann Riley and Helen Mizer co-founded the Kappa Alpha Chapter.
In 1993, Dr. Barbara Piscopo was elected chairperson of the department. Under her leadership, the Master of Science program was revised, and a Nurse Practitioner track was implemented in consultation with Dr. Laurel Halloran and Dr. Andrea O’Connor.
In 2000, the Department of Nursing extended the RN-BS program to include course offerings at the WCSU at Waterbury site, located on the campus of Naugatuck Valley Community College. A year later, Dr. Stephanie Golub was elected chairperson of the department. In 2003, Dr. Piscopo returned to the department chairperson role, and the Nursing offices and Nursing Lab in White Hall were remodeled.
Simulation technology took center stage in 2004, when Dr. Karen Daley purchased the university’s first SimMan patient simulator. Soon after, two more SimMan patient simulators joined the department, providing a hands-on experience for Nursing students.
In 2005, Dr. Monica Sousa ’04, ’10, ’16 and Lois Crucitti ’71, ’97 co-founded the Alumni Nursing Society. This is the first chapter developed from the WCSU Alumni Association.
In August 2006, the Nursing department acquired two more Nursing labs in Higgins Hall.
Dr. Karen Crouse was department chair from 2007-11, followed by Dr. Catherine Rice from 2011-13. The Ed.D. program started under Rice’s direction. In 2012, in a joint program, WCSU and Southern Connecticut State University admitted the first class to the Doctorate in Nursing Education program.
Dr. Joan Palladino was department chair from 2013-19. During her time as chair, there was a significant expansion and update of labs including skills, fundamentals and Sim labs. There was also an increase in the number of students accepted. In 2016, a new physical assessment lab and classroom area opened in the basement of White Hall. In 2017, four new state-of-the-art simulation labs were opened, which included three new SimMan patient simulators; two SimMan Essentials; a SimMom and baby; and Harvey, a Cardiopulmonary Patient Simulator. In 2019, SimJunior and SimBaby joined the simulation family.
Dr. Jeanette Lupinacci assumed the role of department chair in 2019, and has been a leader ever since, providing guidance and working with state and clinical agencies during COVID-19. This resulted in Nursing students providing vaccinations at community clinics, enabling them to have a tangible role in the area’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
In 2020, the entire Department of Nursing faculty offices and Skills labs moved to the newly renovated second floor of White Hall. The Fundamentals Skills classroom and lab also were opened. The State Board of Nursing inspected the new labs and office in fall 2021.
The Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) program will launch in fall 2022. This is a post-master’s program with tracks in Mental Health and Acute Care, Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Nurse Specialist.
What does WCSU Department of Nursing look like today? It’s come a long way from the two faculty members and eight students in the first graduating class 51 years ago:
20 full-time faculty and 30 adjunct faculty
Traditional Bachelor of Science students: 224
RN-BS students: 13
Master of Science students: 90
Ed.D. in Nursing Students: 4
Two Skills labs with classroom
Physical Assessment lab with classroom
Four Simulation rooms
Eight SimMan patient simulators including: Sim 3 G, two SimMan Essentials, SimMom and Baby, two SimJunior, Sim Kid, and Sim Anne.
It also boasts one of the most consistently successful NCLEX pass rates in the state.