Norwich Nursing – A Half-Century of Service

By Jacque E. Day,
with contributions by C. T. Haywood ’12.

It was a bold step taken more than half a century ago by a forward-thinking college president that gave rise to Norwich University’s nursing programs.

It’s never a dull day for these ADN students of the Class of 1964, who split their time between Vermont College classrooms and clinical training at area hospitals. Boarding the bus to campus from Barre City Hospital are Kay (Alderfer) O’Brien, Christina Donoghue, Deborah Latham, Alice (Hathaway) Brown, and Barbara Scammel.  (Photo courtesy of NU Archives.)

It’s never a dull day for these ADN students of the Class of 1964, who split their time between Vermont College classrooms and clinical training at area hospitals. Boarding the bus to campus from Barre City Hospital are Kay (Alderfer) O’Brien, Christina Donoghue, Deborah Latham, Alice (Hathaway) Brown, and Barbara Scammel. (Photo courtesy of NU Archives.)

By the 1950s, a nursing crisis had emerged in Vermont. The evolving role of nurses in the medical profession had put increasing demands on their time, and Vermont’s expanding hospitals also meant more beds. There simply weren’t enough trained nurses to go around.

To make matters worse, the options for nursing education in Vermont had dwindled. Before World War II, nurses had trained in hospital-run, non-degree diploma programs. In 1943, the University of Vermont introduced the four-year, baccalaureate nursing degree, the first in the state.

Throughout the 1950s, as conventional wisdom increasingly favored academic settings for nurse training, the diploma programs—once available in even the smallest of community hospitals—were gradually phased out. By 1959, only two remained in Vermont.

But a new solution lay just over the horizon. A prominent, New York-based nurse educator was about to revolutionize nursing education with the introduction of the associate degree in nursing (ADN). After much drama, Vermont College would become the first school in the state to offer the ADN.

Vermont College (VC) began training nurses at the dawn of the Vietnam era, which brought about another national nursing shortage as the armed forces drew more and more nurses into their ranks. VC—along with Norwich University, after the schools merged in 1972—responded to those demands, developing innovations in nurse education, and eventually offering its own BSN completion program in 1979. By 1983, Norwich University had established the Division of Nursing, with Anita (Fregosi) Ristau as division head, and Linda Ellis as BSN program chair.

In the 1980s, fear and ignorance surrounding a mysterious new illness called AIDS led to yet another nursing shortage, and once again, the joint NU/VC programs responded. Through those early decades, our nursing programs forged ahead, growing, filling important needs in Vermont, and laying the foundation for the future.

The backstory of how Vermont College became the first school in the state, and the first private college in New England, to offer the ADN is fraught with intrigue—warring educational institutions, and legislative languish. In 1961, fed up with red tape, Vermont College President Ralph E. Noble upset the bureaucratic apple cart, declaring that his college would independently establish the state’s first ADN program. And the rest, as they say, is history.

HISTORICAL TIMELINE

1957:
The Vermont legislature names an Interim Commission on Nursing to address the shortage of professional nurses in the state.

1958:
Seven U.S. colleges pilot the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), the first in American higher education. Mildred Montag had developed the ADN as a compromise between hospital-run diploma programs and the four-year college option, which was inaccessible to many would-be nurses.

1959:
The Vermont Commission on Nursing makes a recommendation to the legislature to bring the controversial ADN to the state, and suggests that Vermont College in Montpelier carry the flagship program. Learning of the impending legislation, the president of Castleton State College begins lobbying for the ADN.

1960:
The Vermont State Senate passes a bill directed at establishing a two-year nursing school at Castleton State. After more seesawing, the measure stalls in assembly.

Frustrated by the legislature’s lack of definitive action, Vermont College President Ralph E. Noble announces that
VC will go ahead with the ADN program independently.

Members of the first ADN class in their brand-new uniforms, fall 1961.  (NU Archives.)

Members of the first ADN class in their brand-new uniforms, fall 1961. (NU Archives.)

1961:
After resurrecting the proposal, the Vermont legislature approves the Castleton State ADN program.

Vermont College admits a class of 29 women. The founding faculty include program chair Ruby Carr, Marion Gorham, and Anita Fregosi (later Ristau).

1962:
Nineteen students enroll in Castleton State’s ADN program. Mildred Montag, creator of associate-degree-level nursing education, visits Vermont College and encourages Gorham and Fregosi (Ristau) to write an article based on their leading-edge maternal child health (MCH) curriculum.

1963:
The Vermont College ADN program, now approved by the State Board of Nursing, graduates its first class of 22 women. Ruby Carr, program chair, resigns and is succeeded by Marion Gorham.

1964:
The VC program receives National League for Nursing (NLN) accreditation, one of only a small number of two-year colleges at that time to achieve that distinction. Gorham and Fregosi (Ristau) publish their article, “Our MCH Course Begins with Adolescence, in Nursing Outlook.

The original VC nursing faculty. From left: Anita Fregosi, Marion Gorham, Ruby Carr. (NU Archives.)

The original VC nursing faculty. From left: Anita Fregosi, Marion Gorham, Ruby Carr. (NU Archives.)

1965:
The American Nursing Association (ANA) turns nursing education on its head with the statement: “The education for all those who are licensed to practice nursing should take place in institutions of higher education.” The ANA recommendation further stipulates, “Minimum preparation for beginning technical nursing practice at the present time should be an associate degree education in nursing.”

Freshman Maureen (Deady) Shay ‘68 receives her nursing cap from Joy (Whitney) France ‘67. (NU Archives.)

Freshman Maureen (Deady) Shay ‘68 receives her nursing cap from Joy (Whitney) France ‘67. (NU Archives.)

1970:
The National Commission for the Study of Nursing and Nursing Education issues a recommendation that nurses be trained
across the board for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

1971:
The American Assembly for Men in Nursing is founded.

According to Louise Davis, VC chair of nursing, the ADN program admits its first two men.

1972:
Vermont College merges with Norwich University, taking the name Norwich University of Vermont College.

1973:
Mark Rubenstein becomes VC’s first male ADN graduate. His wife, Gail, also graduates from the program, making them the first married couple to complete the program together.

Nursing faculty member Sister St. Thomas helps a student learn how to properly turn a patient, 1973. St. Thomas taught in the program from 1971 through her retirement in 2000. (NU Archives.)

Nursing faculty member Sister St. Thomas helps a student learn how to properly turn a patient, 1973. St. Thomas taught in the program from 1971 through her retirement in 2000. (NU Archives.)

1978:
The nursing program is awarded a $225,000 Health and Human Services grant to renovate Stone Science on the VC campus. The funds go toward updating the nursing lab and developing self-paced learning modules to meet the diverse needs of its students. Jan Hansen is brought on board as the project director.

1979:
Under the chairmanship of Anita Ristau, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is launched as an upper-division course of study for ADN graduates and registered nurses (RNs). Suzanne Kusserow becomes the first full-time BSN faculty in 1979, followed the next year by Barbara Boise and future chair Linda Ellis.

(NU Archives.)

(NU Archives.)

1981:
Members of the first baccalaureate class receive their BSN diplomas at a commencement ceremony on the Vermont College campus. The program receives its NLN accreditation.

1982:
Vermont College establishes satellite locations for nursing education, with BSN training sites at White River Junction and St. Johnsbury, Vt., later expanding to other parts of the state.

1983:
Nursing becomes one of eight academic divisions of Norwich University (the precursors to today’s university-wide college system). Ristau heads the Division of Nursing, and Ellis becomes BSN program chair. The offerings expand to include a summer ADN program for licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

1987:
NU introduces a three-year, weekend ADN program.

1988:
The Veterans Administration Hospital at White River Junction contracts with Norwich to provide an on-site nursing degree program to VA nurses that allows them to earn their degrees tuition-free. The first program of its kind in the nation, it attracts the attention of the New York Times and various nursing journals.

Ellen Ceppetelli. (Photo by Homer Smith.)

Ellen Ceppetelli. (Photo by Homer Smith.)

1990:
Rutland Hospital contracts with NU for an on-site RN-to-BSN program.

1991:
Nursing faculty member Ellen Ceppetelli joins a statewide, $1 million Robert Wood Johnson/PEW Foundation grant-funded project aimed at strengthening hospital nursing. Through 1995, Ceppetelli is the assistant director of the project, called the Vermont Nursing Initiative.

1991:
Kathleen Kenney-Curran becomes the first NU graduate to commission into the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Kathleen Kenney-Curran. (NU Archives.)

Kathleen Kenney-Curran. (NU Archives.)

1993:
The nursing program moves from the Vermont College campus to Northfield and settles into the basement of Webb Hall.

1994:
Norwich University graduates its first RN-to-BSN baccalaureate nursing class on the Northfield campus.

1995:
Norwich University welcomes the first full four-year BSN program class. Linda Ellis succeeds Ristau as head of the Division of Nursing.

1996:
Dr. Faye G. Abdellah, the first nurse and the first woman to serve as deputy surgeon general, speaks at commencement. The nursing-theory pioneer and two-star admiral advocates for nursing theory to be more about the person, less about the disease.

1998:
The nursing program loses its division status and joins the Division of Mathematics and Science.

1999:
Marilyn Rinker takes over as program chair. Jan Hansen, who would later architect the online Master of Science in Nursing program for Norwich, joins the full-time faculty. Rinker, Hansen, and Trudee Ettlinger undertake the looming accrediting process, and within a year, the program earns full, unconditional accreditation.

2000:
The Associate Degree in Nursing program is gradually phased out of the curriculum. Anita Ristau, who had left Norwich in 1995 to become the executive director of the Vermont State Nursing Board, is named a Professor Emerita.

Marilyn Rinker chaired the NU nursing program from 1999-2007. (Photo by Jay Ericson.)

Marilyn Rinker chaired the NU nursing program from 1999-2007. (Photo by Jay Ericson.)

2005:
NU’s School of Graduate Studies (now the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies) launches its first online Master of
Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. Jan Hansen administers the graduate program, splitting her time between the MSN
and her BSN faculty position. The MSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, part of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

2008:
Valerie McCarthy becomes the full-time chair of undergraduate nursing and begins an initiative to upgrade the nursing program facilities. “She had a clear vision of the facilities that were needed to educate the nurse of the future,” Hansen says. McCarthy also crafts a curriculum reflective of today’s Norwich BSN, leading to improved graduate outcomes on the National Council Licensure Examination.

Nursing students practice with syringes in Webb Hall’s nursing lab, 2008. (Photo by Isabel Nielsen.)

Nursing students practice with syringes in Webb Hall’s nursing lab, 2008. (Photo by Isabel Nielsen.)

2009:
On May 11, the BSN program moves into the basement of Bartoletto Hall, which includes a state-of-the-art hospital simulation lab funded through a $335,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Nursing professor Ernest Lapierre works with a student in the Bartoletto Hall lab. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Nursing professor Ernest Lapierre works with a student in the Bartoletto Hall lab. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

2010:
In response to the national shortage of nursing educators, the online MSN program introduces its education track. Following another university reorganization, the School of Nursing becomes part of the College of Professional Schools.

2011:
Norwich University’s BSN program receives a full five-year accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, earning high marks in every area.

2013:
Under Hansen’s leadership, the MSN program renews its full accreditation through 2023. COL Sharon Richie, ANC (Ret.), PhD,
is appointed director of NU’s School of Nursing.

Jan Hansen (speaking at a pinning ceremony) played an instrumental role in developing the MSN program, which she now runs full-time. (Photo by Isabel Nielsen.)

Jan Hansen (speaking at a pinning ceremony) played an instrumental role in developing the MSN program, which she now runs full-time. (Photo by Isabel Nielsen.)

2014:
Director of Nursing Sharon Richie and two Norwich nursing students travel to the Philippines with NU VISIONS Abroad over winter break on the first of four planned service-learning trips to the island nation.


Within each timeline entry is a larger story—about individuals with the passion, the skill, and the determination to make quality nursing education available across Vermont. A timeline entry gives us the facts of the satellite programs of the 1980s and 1990s, but it doesn’t tell us how many hours Ellen Ceppetelli drove in a given week to teach classes in St. Johnsbury, Brattleboro, and White River Junction. Ceppetelli says she and her fellow faculty traveled “nights, weekends, all kinds of hours” to bring the Norwich baccalaureate program to working nurses across the state.

A timeline entry tells us that men first entered the Vermont College nursing program the same year as the founding of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing. But it doesn’t tell us what Anita Ristau saw firsthand: “how brave these men were for going into nursing,” and how they were ridiculed for their career choices. “We really had to fight to give male nurses an equal opportunity,” Ristau says. “[Patients] didn’t want men on maternity. I used to argue, Well, who is your obstetrician? Your OB is a man! And then there were men who didn’t want men taking care of them. What the hospital made me do was, if I wanted to assign a male nurse, I had to ask the patient first. So we’ve come a long way.”

Perhaps most important, while a timeline shows the progress of nursing at Norwich, it only hints at the near-constant and uphill battle to gain credibility in academia. Today’s Norwich-educated nurses are a testament to that progress. Ceppetelli, who now directs nursing at Castleton State, recently hired Susan (Whittemore) Quinn, a Norwich nursing student from 25 years ago, to teach in their programs. Quinn recently completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice.

A timeline also doesn’t show the future. Nursing Director Sharon Richie is working on new applicant-evaluation procedures that place heavier emphasis on SAT scores, GPAs, and grades in the sciences and math. And Jan Hansen tells us that soon the MSN program will offer a nursing informatics track.

Much has happened in 50 years, with a lot of change along the way. The satellite programs were eventually phased out, as was the ADN program that started it all. But change is the inevitable outcome of progress. The Norwich nursing programs have evolved over time to meet the demand for quality healthcare, and Norwich nurses will continue to lead in this profession that is ultimately, at its heart, about service.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Joe Byrne, associate vice president for academic affairs, VP and CGCS Dean Bill Clements, and Ellen Ceppetelli, Jan Hansen, and Anita Ristau, for providing details from their collective experience across five decades teaching nursing at Vermont College and Norwich University. Key sources in this compilation are the NU Archives, Voices of Vermont Nurses with contributions by Professor Emerita Anita Ristau, and Summer Year 2000 Pictorial View Book VC/NU Nursing 1963-2000, by Professor Emerita Sister St. Thomas.

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