By TED CARTER
The opening of University of Southern Mississippi’s Asbury Hall for classes Jan. 17 gives USM a leading role in a strategy by which Mississippi has more than doubled its nursing school graduates since the start of the previous decade.
USM’s college of Nursing already accounts for 23.55 percent of nursing baccalaureate degrees awarded in the state, followed by Mississippi College (18.3 percent) and Mississippi University for Women (16.45 percent).
The elongated, 81,000 square foot, three-floor building on the western edge of the Hattiesburg campus ensures the College of Nursing can sustain enrollment growth of well over 50 percent that began at start of the decade, said Dr. Katherine Nugent, who has been the college’s dean since 2004.
USM’s College of Nursing enrolled 550 students for the spring term. That number can grow to more than 800 students with the 135 percent increase in space Asbury Hall offers over the former Harkins Hall home, according to USM.
If current trends hold, a large majority of the students will practice their profession in Mississippi. “Eighty percent of our undergraduate students stay in Mississippi,” Nugent said. “I think that is a very good number.”
The enrollment growth follows a state plan initiated in the 2000-2001 academic year to double the number of nursing graduates. A key part of the plan was the hiring and retention of more faculty. The result, state education officials say, has been sustained nursing graduate growth from both the 16 associate degree and seven baccalaureate degree programs.
Today, the schools are turning away fewer students from nursing education programs, state education officials say.
With ever-greater demand for nursing education at USM, the university began planning for the new home for its nursing college in 2007. The college’s main building, Harkins Hall, “was too small for the growth we were having in enrollment and for the work were doing,” said Nugent, referring to increased use of critical simulation labs and the start up of new nursing programs.
Fundraising for the $31 million building got off to a strong start with a $4 million commitment from the Asbury Foundation of Hattiesburg. The gift led to the naming of Asbury Hall.
In the years that followed, private donations to the effort rose to nearly $8 million, mostly from within the Pine Belt and elsewhere in the state. “What is of very great importance to me is the faith people put into our programs,” Nugent said.
With help from state dollars, the college broke ground on Asbury Hall in spring 2014. Faculty and staff began moving into the new home just before Thanksgiving.
Nugent said the building is designed with two main purposes in mind. One, she said, “was to provide a student friendly environment that encourages our students to develop and explore areas of study and to practice their skills.”
The other air, Nugent said, was to provide areas for students to interact with each other and to self-study. To that end, Asbury Hall will stay open late each night.
The first two floors of Asbury Hall are dedicated to student use, with first floor classrooms ranging from 1,200 square feet to 2,400 square feet. The first floor also has a 3,200 square-foot lecture hall with 120 seats. The second floor includes a 2,700 square-foot student resources center and several specialty labs of under 500 square feet.
The second floor has a pair of nursing skills clinical labs, one of 1,530 square feet and eight simulation beds and another of 1,878 square feet and 12 simulation beds. A neo-natal specialty unit on the second floor has a pair of simulation cribs.
The second floor also has a 1,200 square-foot student lounge
Nugent said the building and equipment inside it lend themselves to more effective teaching. “The design and technology provide an environment in which faculty can excel in their teaching modalities,” Nugent said, emphasizing the ease in which professors can provide interactive learning.
“They can do so many things besides lecture,” she said.
The simulation labs, described by the university as state of the art, are designed to “keep our students growing in their decision-making skills,” especially in emergency situations.
Asbury Hall also increase the college’s ability interact with the community, according to Nugent.
“It is very adaptable,” Nugent said. “It is clearly built for future growth.”
Asbury Hall’s opening comes on the 50th anniversary of the college’s founding at USM, Nugent noted. “How great it is have a 50th anniversary and a new building.”