In a large, open and brightly lit laboratory, dozens of future Marquette Nurses are paired off at classroom tables, while some are huddled among the rows of hospital beds on either side of the room. Faculty members look on and offer guidance as the student teams practice blood pressure readings on one another.
It’s an experience these students do not take for granted: they are the first cohort of Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing students in the College of Nursing’s new remote facility at Pleasant Prairie. Replacing the smaller facility the college had occupied since 2016, the program’s new home provides greatly expanded simulation and skills lab spaces, bigger classrooms, enhanced technology, and lounges for student and faculty, among other things.
“When I got in this new facility, it felt uplifting and it made me really want to go to class,” says Gener Banal, a student in the program.
It’s a feeling created by design. The new space was laid out to provide a greater sense of community, which is particularly important for Banal and his friends, who all moved to Wisconsin from California for the accelerated hybrid offering, which is part of Marquette’s 66th-ranked MSN program.
“We need a space where all of us can get together as students and exchange ideas, collaborate and teach one another,” Banal says. “Online classes are great for flexibility, but you still need a way for students to come in and work together as a team. That’s what we are at the end of the day: a team.”
“Nursing is such an in-person field; you’re constantly interacting with people, patients and other health care workers,” says Jaiza Borja, who came to the program from Modesto, California. “A facility that allows you to do that is so important.”
Borja, Banal, Andrea Deinard and Damanjot Bajwa (affectionately referred to as “Baj” by his group) all met on orientation weekend after a round of icebreaker activities; they became fast friends. Even though they visit each other outside of class, their real bonding occurs while learning nursing skills together.
Previously, these third semester students had taken tests and practiced simulation and labs in the old facility, which was too cramped to allow for many of the group activities the growing program now has available.
“The old location didn’t have nearly as extensive the range of mannequins available to us during our simulations compared to this one, and I’m looking forward to exploring everything we’ll get to do with them,” Borja says.
“Building that camaraderie is crucial when you’re working from home most days,” Deinard adds. “This building gives us a lot of outlets to meet people.”
Student success and community-building was the biggest priority when plans for the facility were first set in motion. Since Pleasant Prairie is almost an hour’s drive from Milwaukee, it requires extra effort to make students in the program feel as though they are a part of the broader university community.
“We want the students in Pleasant Prairie to know without a doubt that they are Marquette students,” says Dr. Karen Robinson, interim assistant dean of graduate programs. “Marquette’s presence is everywhere there. When students come through the doors, they will not miss where they are. They will know they are at Marquette University.”
Dr. Jill Guttormson, dean of the College of Nursing, had similar thoughts when evaluating expansion options.
“The idea of the Marquette Nurse has to be something that all kinds of students can relate to, no matter what degree they’re pursuing or where they’re studying,” Guttormson says. “One of my favorite things about coming into work every day is seeing how our on-campus faculty, staff and students go out of their way to lift each other up. That dynamic needs room to exist in Pleasant Prairie, as well, which is why we’re so excited about this new space.”
The college’s on-campus location will get a similar growth opportunity soon; construction is progressing rapidly on the renovated David A. Straz, Jr., Hall in advance of a projected summer 2024 opening. Like the Pleasant Prairie upgrade, the Straz Hall expansion will also double the square footage of its predecessor and come with new student facilities, such as expanded lounge areas, storage lockers and a kitchenette.
When deciding on the expansion options for both buildings, Guttormson and her fellow faculty members had to put a lot of thought into what tomorrow’s students will look for when choosing a nursing program.
“I think the past few years have underscored just how important feeling physically and emotionally linked is to the college experience. Fostering that was at the heart of our decision making,” Guttormson says.
Students in Pleasant Prairie feel like the change of venue is already having an effect. Banal joked about the Marquette-branded Nerf basketball hoop hanging in the student lounge, saying that he and his friends can play basketball whenever they want.
Banal and his friends all say they want to help underserved communities. Borja is intent on becoming a nurse practitioner, while Deinard wants to get into mental health care. All are confident the Pleasant Prairie facility will allow them to get even more out of an already strong program.
“We’re prepared for a lot here. By the time we’re done, we’re going to be exceptional nurses and fully prepared to take on the health care world,” Baj says.