Montana State University

College of Nursing celebrates 75 years of providing excellence in education, outreach and research

August 1, 2012 -- by Anne Cantrell

Helen Melland, dean of the MSU College of Nursing. Photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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When the Montana State University College of Nursing was founded 75 years ago, three hospital nursing schools that were scattered across the state merged into one university-based program. Since its inception, the college has been widely regarded as a pioneer in new programs and as a statewide leader in nursing education, research, clinical practice and outreach.

Today, the college enrolls more than 1,000 students. It also offers a diverse range of undergraduate and graduate programs.

"The past 75 years displays the enormous potential of the MSU College of Nursing," said Helen Melland, dean of the college. "We look forward to the future and continue to seek out ways to be innovative in the field."
Before it was founded, nursing education in Montana occurred mostly in hospitals, where individuals often learned as apprentices, according to Melland. However, previous national studies had recommended that nursing education should occur in colleges and universities.

"Those reports emphasized the need for the separation of service and education, as well as the need for nursing education to be science-based," Melland said. Moving nursing education into the academy was also important because it positioned nurses to be partners in a team of health care providers, she added.

In 1937, under the leadership of Anna Pearl Sherrick, Montana State launched a baccalaureate nursing program. The few students who enrolled took pre-nursing courses on the Bozeman campus and then completed their bachelor's degrees on the Great Falls campus. The program grew rapidly, both in numbers and locations, and upper-division nursing courses are now delivered on five satellite campuses around the state. In 1939, the College of Nursing opened a campus in Billings, then expanded to Butte in 1955 (the Butte campus later closed), to Missoula in 1978, and to Kalispell in 2000. In 2003, upper-division courses began to be offered on the Bozeman campus.

With the development and rapid expansion of the baccalaureate nursing program, college administrators recognized that nurses needed to have the opportunity to earn advanced degrees. In 1957, the college began offering a graduate program in nursing. Now, the college offers graduate programs for family nurse practitioners, psychiatric mental health family nurse practitioners and clinical nurse leaders.

The college also recognized that, with a graduate program, it needed to have faculty who were active researchers. Its research mission has since expanded, so that several faculty now research a variety of health-related topics, such as end-of-life decision making, environmental radon, health disparities, oral health in rural and Native American communities, and rural nurse clinical decision-making.

"We are very proud of the range of programs we offer," Melland said. "Because we know that our students come to us with diverse backgrounds and goals, an important part of our mission is to provide a variety of programs and choices in order to better serve our students' needs."

In all of its offerings, the college aims to provide opportunities and support for its students that will help them be successful, effective nurse leaders. Melland pointed to CO-OP (the college's model program for Native American students), service learning trips abroad and an accelerated baccalaureate program as examples.

Caring For Our Own, nicknamed CO-OP, is a program that recruits and graduates Native American nurses, many of whom will return to their own communities to provide professional nursing care. CO-OP supports students with tutoring and advising help. Many students also say informal support from CO-OP peers and administrators is crucial to their success.

The college offers students the opportunity to travel abroad so they can develop nursing skills in a different culture and provide care to underserved populations. Ten students and two faculty recently made a trip to Honduras, where they provided health care in dozens of homes, distributed water filters and provided education. Future students plan to provide similar services in the Dominican Republic.

The college also recently began offering a new post-baccalaureate accelerated nursing option, which is available to students who already have a bachelor's degree in a discipline other than nursing. Once admitted to the nursing major, students enrolled in the option may earn the degree in 15 months instead of the 29 that traditional students take to complete the curriculum.

Helping students complete their studies more quickly benefits not only the students, but also the communities in which they will ultimately work, Melland said.

The college has also kept on the crest of technological advancement in the field. It boasts a graduate program that is primarily delivered using distance education technology, and, through simulated environments, it provides valuable learning experiences for its students--experiences that would not be available otherwise.

Pending approval by the Board of Regents, the college also hopes to offer a doctorate in nursing practice degree that will prepare highly skilled advanced practice nurses--a major benefit to Montana's health care system.

For all of these reasons, the college's 75th anniversary is more than a celebration.

"As we mark 75 years of the MSU College of Nursing, we not only honor the rich history of the college, but we also look to its future," Melland said. "We know it will continue to serve our state in important ways for years to come."
The College of Nursing History Book has been updated and is available for purchase. For more information, visit
See pages 25 and 27 for information on 75th anniversary events at Homecoming 2012.