A guiding light

Bonnie Sowers, as well as Hesston College nursing program faculty and staff, have managed to do something rarely seen on college campuses these days ? especially with the current economy.
During her tenure at Hesston College, as assistant director and then director of the nursing program during the past 40 years, nursing graduates have experienced a job-placement rate of 100 percent.
?As far as we know, all of our (registered nursing) graduates who actively sought a nursing position have been offered a job in nursing,? Sowers said.
?We have actual records on nursing employment from 2000 to present. In the earlier years of the program, we did not track our program outcomes as carefully as we do today, but we cannot recall anyone who ever notified us that they were unable to locate a nursing position.?
Sowers doesn?t take credit for the high employment rate, though.
?First of all, we are fortunate enough to recruit outstanding people to join our program,? Sowers said. ?The vast majority have a real heart for people and come to us with strong personal values already in place and a commitment to holistic care. That is part of the reason they choose HC as the setting for their nursing education.?
In addition, faculty members do an ?excellent job? educating the committed nursing students, assisting in their development during the 18-month program as ?competent and caring nurses,? Sowers said.
The nursing program has eight full-time core faculty members: one director, one administrative assistant and four adjunct/clinical faculty members. The nursing coursework has 112 students enrolled, 25 to 30 more are taking pre-nursing courses during the academic year.
?The local health-care community also has high respect for our nursing program ? our graduates ? and many agencies are pleased to employ HC nurses,? Sowers said.
The nursing program, under Sowers? direction and leadership, has stayed on the cutting edge of nursing education. It has kept pace with many changes in nursing and health-care during the years, such as the fast growth in pharmacology and medications, HIV/AIDS, new diseases and illnesses, and modifications in acute-care technology settings.
?One of the biggest changes has been our approach to clinical nursing,? Sowers said. ?In the past five years, we have made extensive use of patient simulators in our campus labs. Students now participate regularly in our Newton Medical Center Simulation Center (on the Hesston College campus), being instructed by a nursing faculty member who holds advanced practical nursing credentials and who works exclusively with our students in simulation.?
Nursing students now are better prepared to care for the needs of actual patients in real-life settings after they?ve had much practice and testing with simulations.
Faculty member Gregg Schroeder, an advanced practice registered nurse with a Master of Science in Nursing degree, watches students from a cubicle that looks like it has a two-way mirror on at least two sides, and plays out real-life scenarios for students with the simulated patients that lie in hospital beds, responding to what students do. The simulated patients can be male or female, adult or child, post-op patients or having an illness, such as pneumonia, to name a few scenarios.
A second campus simulation lab, Riegsecker Nursing Laboratory, has two patient-care rooms ? one with a birthing simulator called Noelle and another with SimMan, which is a high-fidelity simulator used for medical/surgical and critical-care nursing case studies, as well as Advanced Cardiovas?cular Life Support testing and prep. This lab also has a few infant simulators with an infant warmer.
The simulation lab activities can take place before or during lecture classes.
One student, sophomore Bri Stutzman, enjoys this kind of instruction.
?This works really well for my learning style,? said Stutz?man, who describes herself as a hands-on learner.
Applying what she learned in lecture class in the sim lab reinforces skills and techniques, she said.

Working with Sowers

Students, as well as co-workers, think highly of Sowers, admiring her dedication to the nursing program, students and staff.
?In the 35 years I have worked with Bonnie, what I have come to value most are her vision for our nursing program, her wisdom in leadership and her warm relational style,? said Marilyn Unruh Flaming, academic assistant in the Department of Nursing. ?Students consistently sense that they have found an encouraging advocate in Bonnie. She is an optimistic, joyful person to work with and has been a caring, inspirational role model for students and colleagues. We all love her!?
Hesston College President Howard Keim says Sowers has been the leader of the college?s ?highly successful? nursing program and chairwoman of the Career Programs Division, as well as the Assessment, Research and Coordinating Committee. He also noted she has led three accreditation reviews with the Higher Learning Commission; these all resulted in 10-year renewals.
?She is a wonderful, collaborative, cheerful presence on campus,? Keim said. ?It is difficult to think of a person who has contributed more to our success than Bonnie Sowers.?
Sowers said has enjoyed working with Flaming, as they work as a team to administer the program.
?It?s a working relationship ? good friends supporting each other in other aspects of our lives,? Sowers said.

More than 40 years

Sowers finds it hard to believe the duration of her career at Hesston College.
?I have been at Hesston College for 40 years,? she said with a smile. ?It?s just hard to believe. I just received recognition for my 40 years of teaching at Hesston College this past May.?
Sowers attended Hesston College as a student for one year, then transferred to Goshen (Ind.) College, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1969. She transferred schools because Hesston didn?t offer a nursing degree at the time.
She joined the Hesston College faculty in 1970, instructed in the Goshen College nursing program for a few years, earned her master of science degree in psych mental health nursing in 1975 from Ohio State University and went back to Hesston College in 1975, where she was recruited as the nursing program assistant director, later becoming director.
?(I?ve) been here ever since,? Sowers said. ?It?s been a wonderful job for me. I couldn?t have asked for a better career. It has been full of rewards.?
The success of her students and former students is high on the list.
?It has been such a delight and blessing to see students grow, change and make a contribution to health care ? here in central Kansas and all around our state, nation and world,? Sowers said.

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For example, Sowers recently received a note from a 1999 graduate who is an advanced practice registered nurse, employed as a hospitalist in North Carolina. Sowers said another graduate told her she was accepted into the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Wichita State, and yet another graduate, Gloria Solis from Newton, is a chief nursing officer and chief operating officer at a large medical facility in Missouri.
Sowers also recalled one student who was a ?very dedicated? single mother while at Hesston, but had trouble making ends meet as she went through the nursing program. The former student was quite grateful for the financial assistance she received, and is now a nurse manager who frequently checks with the college to see if she can financially help current students who are going through similar circumstances she did.
?But of no less importance are the hundreds of graduates working each day in a multitude of health-care settings, practicing nursing at the bedside, touching and transforming lives ? one patient and one family at a time,? Sowers said.
Many of these nurses work at Harvey County clinics, long-term care, hospital and home-health settings.
Sowers was recruited to work at Hesston College by Ray Showalter, the first director of the HC nursing program. Before that, Sowers had been employed by Halstead Hospital. Her husband was attending Hesston College at the time, so it was a ?win-win? situation for them, Sowers said.
?It helped my husband with tuition costs and essentially brought me back to work at a place I love,? Sowers said. ?I have deep roots here and have been affiliated with HC all my life.?
Those deep roots were anchored in the Hesston College soil as her father was president of the college for 19 years. The social life of their family centered on the college.
?This has always been a part of our lives,? Sowers said. ?Teaching at Hesston is a real natural for me. It feels like home.?
While she was assistant director, Sowers did a lot of teaching. Now, as director, much of her role revolves around advising students as well as administrative duties.
When she does have the opportunity to teach now, Sowers will present students with critical-thinking scenarios. She challenges students to come up with their own answers instead of the old days? ?sage on the stage? kind of learning where instructors impart information and then test students on it.
Now, students do is what is called ?flip the classroom.? Sowers gives students notes before class, so they come to class prepared and armed with questions.
?It becomes a critical-thinking time instead of just a faculty member departing information,? Sowers said.
To become registered nurses, students earn an associate?s degree at Hesston College, then take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Some of the students then attend other schools to receive bachelor?s degrees.
At Hesston College, students and faculty learn together.
?We say it?s really a learning-centered classroom? focusing on how well students learn as opposed to how well faculty teach, Sowers said.
Most nursing students attend Hesston College because emphasis is placed on holistic patient care ? caring for a patient?s body, mind and spirit ? not just the physical aspects. In fact, the official motto of the nursing department is ?A Tradition of Service ? A Commitment to Care.?
Along those lines, some of the nursing faculty adopted this Scripture for the department: ?Don?t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. YOU are the equipment? (Mark 6:8, The Message translation).
?It has been a real joy and blessing to be part of such a close, relational community ? a Christ-centered community,? Sowers said.

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Photos and story by?Wendy Nugent

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