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Improving nursing education

Southwestern Michigan College’s first 50 years produced 2,974 nurses. From the very first graduation of 20 women from Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, Decatur, Lawton, Berrien Center, Buchanan, South Haven and Paw Paw on Feb. 5, 1967, at Dowagiac’s Federated Church, nursing has been a flagship program. By expanding the Nursing and Health Education Building, President Dr. David Mathews said, “We’re trying to position the college so the next generation has access to affordable, highest-possible-quality college education close to home. This is the last piece to our puzzle” after $8.6-million O’Leary and Daugherty building upgrades and three residence halls costing $7.5 million each. The project “allows us to double the size of our ACEN-accredited nursing program,” Mathews said, “and add another health-related occupation,” such as occupational therapy assistant or physical therapy assistant.

The 12,047-square-foot 1970 facility south of the David C. Briegel Building on the Dowagiac campus will be rebuilt to 29,086 square feet facing residential halls.

An east-west open area encourages student/faculty interaction outside classroom instruction.

Four simulation labs replicate hospital rooms with computerized mannequins augmenting clinical instruction.

Two eight-bed skills labs provide students a place to practice inserting IVs, check blood pressure and perform total-body assessments.

In April SMC announced five-year accreditation for its associate degree in nursing by ACEN, the Atlanta-based Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

SMC hosted a three-day site visit in September 2016 by three deans from Maryland, Pennsylvania and California, but the daunting four-year process actually began when the college sought to become an accreditation candidate in 2014.

“ACEN requires three years of data to make sure a program meets the gold standard in the nursing world,” Nursing and Health Services Dean Rebecca Jellison said. “It focuses on continuous improvement. One of our program outcomes is the pass rate on NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) — those who pass the NCLEX are certified to practice as a Registered Nurse (RN). This year we graduated 33 students, and our pass rate, 85 percent, is better than the 81-percent national average.”

“I have a continuous-improvement plan calendar I live by. Every month at faculty meetings we look at different standards,” Jellison said. “When we go through this process again in 2022 this will be in our archive to write our self-study report. We had two years to complete our self-study, which we submitted in June 2016.”

Jellison said eight faculty and her administrative assistant helped evaluate standards.

“(ACEN) looks at student work, your meeting minutes, everything with a fine-toothed comb,” she said. “They went to classrooms, met with the faculty and cabinet and we had to take them off-campus to hospitals to meet clinical people.”

“This accreditation, combined with the groundbreaking of our nursing building expansion, truly show SMC is a leading program to help the community,” SMC President Dr. David Mathews said. “It provides outstanding access to affordable, high-quality credentialing for students while meeting the workforce needs of area hospitals and health-care providers.”

The SMC nursing program is also approved by the Michigan Board of Nursing to provide education leading to an associate degree in nursing.

ACEN is located at 3343 Peachtree Road NE, Suite 850, Atlanta, GA 30326, 404.975.5000,

The SMC Foundation

The Southwestern Michigan College Foundation insures all eligible students have financial access to college education.

This non-profit, tax-exempt corporation established in 1970 bridges the financial gap between students’ needs and resources with scholarships.

More than 160 scholarships and endowments are held in the foundation. In 2015-16, investment earnings of $311,770 were awarded to 244 students. These scholarships were in addition to the $446,201 the college provided to 268 students.

Edward A. Guse’s LaGrange Township farm was donated to the college after his 2002 death.

Thanks to 2014 and 2017 auctions for growing rights on 210 tillable acres, the farm south of Dowagiac grows scholarships along with vegetable specialty crops.

Fifteen students received $2,500 Edward A. Guse Agricultural Scholarships in the last two years.

Nancy Wuszke’s $100,000 May endowment will fund George Wuszke Agricultural Memorial Scholarships for students enrolled in the Michigan State University Institute of Agricultural Technology.

In April, Niles-based Southwest Michigan Landlord Association created a $7,500 endowment honoring founder and SMC alumnus Phillip R. Lawson.

“Changing lives through higher education can be accomplished by individuals or businesses just by making a financial contribution,” Executive Director Eileen Toney said. “Many gifts are received into the foundation through planned giving, direct donations and establishing endowments.”

Last year the foundation embarked on a major gift initiative to provide financial funding for the Nursing and Health Education Building expansion on the Dowagiac campus.    

To learn more about the foundation's major gift initiative and to support changing lives, visit or contact Toney at (269) 782-1301 or