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History of the College


College of Nursing 80th Anniversary Video Produced in 2015

South Dakota State University College of Nursing 1935-2015

Legacy of the College of Nursing

The story of the College of Nursing reflects a legacy of leadership, vision and innovation. One of the nation's first baccalaureate programs for nurses, the college has consistently and relentlessly pursued excellence and expanded its central role in health care delivery. Thousands of nurses have prepared themselves for key roles in hospitals, clinics, communities, government agencies, academia and research. Many graduates moved rapidly into highly influential executive positions. After a humble beginning with six students enrolled in an undergraduate program taught by one faculty member, the college currently boasts enrollment of more than 1,800 students in pre-nursing, undergraduate and graduate programs. In 2015, the college includes online programs and four face-to-face program delivery sites, with locations across the state of South Dakota in the communities of Brookings, Sioux Falls, Aberdeen and Rapid City. Online programs reach students located in more than 40 states. Faculty numbers have grown from 1 to 59. They are leaders who champion nationally accredited programs that offer multiple degree options and clinical specialties. These incredibly talented faculty prepare students to earn the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, the Master of Science (M.S.) degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree through many pathways to advanced education. The College of Nursing at South Dakota State University is a nursing education trailblazer. 

Leaders of the College have responded quickly to changes in health care, population health and developments within the discipline by creating, expanding or modifying programs and delivering education off-site or via technology. Building such a multifaceted, complex college hinged on several key initiatives: faculty development, procurement of resources, clinical, academic and community partnerships and a continuous flow of highly qualified and committed students. 

Being a land-grant institution, South Dakota State was devoted to the interlocking missions of education, scholarship and service. The field of nursing at SDSU has consistently devoted its resources to these three important areas. The College of Nursing was the state's first program to develop capacity for nursing research. In addition, the college kept its focus on the rural and underserved populations of the state and the region, and emerged as a leader in service through continuing education, program outreach and development of nursing faculty, nursing leaders, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists as well as nurse scientists. True to the land-grant mission, College of Nursing programs have never been based only on campus. As a practice discipline, nursing students are required to interact with members of the community to gain critical thinking, problem-solving, psychomotor and elder and child care skills to prepare them to enter the workforce upon graduation. Nursing education delivered by SDSU has touched residents of nearly every community in the state of South Dakota and extends beyond the borders to numerous states. 

Leadership in nursing education at SDSU 

Fourteen committed and strong women have served as the chief nursing leader at South Dakota State University. Each shared a memorable leadership style and brought unique visionary perspectives to the quality and continual growth of nursing education, and eventually health sciences education and research.  
  • Leila I. Given, Head, 1935-1938
  • Martha Krause, Head, 1939-1943 
  • R. Esther Erickson, Director, 1943-1954 
  • Elza Turner, Director, 1954-1955 
  • Helen K Gilkey, Director, then Dean, 1955-1957 
  • Dr. Inez G Hinsvark, Dean, 1957-1967 
  • Berneice Wittkopf, Acting Dean, 1967-1968 
  • Dr. Genevieve B. Johnson, Dean, 1968-1977 
  • Susan Hardin Palmer, Acting Dean, 1977 
  • Dr. Carol J. Peterson, Dean, 1977-1987 
  • Dr. Margaret Hegge, Acting Dean, 1987-1989 
  • Dr. Carman Westwick, Dean, 1989-1991 
  • Dr. Mary Adams, Acting Dean, 1991-1993 
  • Dr. Roberta K. Olson, Dean, 1994-2013 
  • Dr. Nancy Fahrenwald, Dean, 2013-2018
  • Dr. Roberta K. Olson, Interim Dean, 2018-2019
  • Dr. Mary Anne Krogh, Dean, 2019-present

As the university developed, organization structure changed and, along with that, the role and expectations of the nursing leader evolved. The title of "Head" was in place for the first eight years of the Department of Nursing as it was under the Division of Pharmacy. R. Esther Erickson was the first leader with the title of "Director" and that role stayed from 1943 until 1956 when the Department of Nursing became the Division of Nursing and separated from the Division of Pharmacy because of higher and growing enrollment. The title was changed to "Dean" in 1957 and has been in place since. In 1964, the Division of Nursing became the College of Nursing when the institution changed from South Dakota State College to South Dakota State University. Inez Hinsvark served as dean during this time of transition and completed a doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles, while on sabbatical leave from 1960-1961. Genevieve Johnson served as acting dean at that time and later served in the role of dean. Carol Peterson was named the dean of the College of Nursing in 1977 and became the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at SDSU until retiring in 2009. Roberta Olson followed and served as dean for nearly 20 years. Nancy Fahrenwald was named dean in early August 2013 after 18 years of service as both a faculty member and the college's first associate dean for research (2009-2013).  

Programs and Curriculum

The college's undergraduate and graduate programs continue to evolve and integrate advances in health, health care and nursing science. For example, the many applications of the electronic health record (EHR) are central to nursing education across degree programs. As health-care organizations have grown over the decades, each added executive roles in nursing and within the entire system. More and better-prepared nursing leaders were needed to fill these influential positions. In response, the college added specialized graduate programs in the late 1970s to respond to these demands, partnering with clinical facilities to ensure graduates had the skill sets and competencies to meet role expectations while also meeting national accreditation expectations. The early years of nursing education provided arts and sciences courses that fulfilled requirements of a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, specifically for postlicensure registered nurses (RNs) who were graduates of hospital-based diploma programs. This modality existed until 1952 when leaders in the nursing profession recognized prelicensure education of RNs should occur in a university setting with a strong foundation in the arts and science courses. In 1956, the first cohort of prelicensure graduates who earned a B.S. in nursing completed their program. The M.S. in nursing was initiated in 1979 with the first graduates in 1981. The Ph.D. program was started in 2005 with the first graduate completing in 2008. The DNP program was started in 2009 and the first seven graduates completed the program in 2012. The plans of study (curriculum) for all programs have changed over time to keep current information in the content. The graduates from the undergraduate program consistently achieve a higher licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) pass rate than the rate for all exam takers in South Dakota and the nation. Nearly 100 percent of nurse practitioner graduates pass their national specialty certification examinations and exceed national pass rates. 

Faculty Development

Faculty availability and educational preparation have changed since 1935. While class sizes vary, the clinical sections are held constant with a 1:8 faculty: student ratio per South Dakota Board of Nursing expectations. Accreditation standards provide the mandate as to the level of faculty academic preparation. More than 50 years ago (1964), the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) initially accredited the college. At that time, there were few nurse educators with a doctoral degree. The dean or director could hold a M.S. degree in nursing or education and faculty members could hold a B.S. degree in nursing. 

By the early 1980s when graduate programs were developing across the nation, more faculty became available with graduate education in nursing. In the early 1990s, accreditation standards mandated that the dean or director hold a doctoral degree. Since that time, faculty teaching in graduate programs were expected to hold doctoral degrees to direct the master's theses for the students. Undergraduate faculty needed a master's degree in nursing to provide the classroom content. Licensed nurses who supervise clinical experiences were expected to hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. Basically, the premise was that faculty needed to hold a degree higher than the level of students they were teaching. Doctoral preparation of nursing faculty has led to advancements in the science of nursing and health and has led to an increase in the level of educational preparation of faculty. 

Dean Carol Peterson supported faculty in the late 1970s with a master's in education or a bachelor's in nursing to get graduate preparation at the master's level in nursing. Three faculty moved to Tucson to earn a Ph.D. in nursing at the University of Arizona—Paula Carson, Dianna Sorenson and Barbara Goddard. 

In the late 1990s, Dean Roberta Olson supported faculty to pursue doctoral education in order to have the preparation needed to expand graduate education. The first cohort to complete included Nancy Fahrenwald, Joyce Fjelland, Barbara Hobbs, Jo Voss, Shirley Roddy and Sara Becker. These individuals were soon followed by other faculty who saw the need to be ready for the development of the Ph.D. and DNP programs and provide continued evidence-based knowledge in undergraduate and master's courses.  

Technology for Patient Care and Teaching 

Nursing is a practice discipline, which in its early years depended almost entirely on lecture, demonstration, practice labs and bedside return demonstration and evaluation. The demonstration setting was supplemented with relatively crude models, the most common called "Mrs. Chase" or "Mr. Chase." These human-sized models were made of a plaster-like substance with hinged limbs and no removable parts.

In the 1970s, "Mrs. Chase" evolved into models made from more realistic materials, removable parts and even some early transitions into "Sim Man." These slightly improved models were supplemented with selective use of human models and students practicing on each other. The latter raised significant questions about privacy, safety and liability. In the 1980s, when physical assessment became a requirement in the standard undergraduate curriculum, models were hired and used selectively to assure that students received a realistic practice experience. By 2012, the College of Nursing had established a computerized simulation lab to supplement active clinical experience using high fidelity simulation mannequins. In the fall 2014 semester, two rooms were remodeled to add space for simulation scenarios in Brookings.

Additional technology includes the use of Internet connectivity for live conferencing through Skype and the Digital Network, electronic medical record practice modules and a variety of simulation mannequins. Students were required to purchase a personal laptop computer beginning in 2002 for classroom, study and examination usage.

Facilities Across the State

The Department of Nursing was initially housed in the Administration Building from 1935 to 1957. In 1957, the Division of Nursing moved from the Administration Building to remodeled quarters in the Old Engineering Building (now Solberg Hall). In 1969, federal and state dollars provided for the new Home Economics and Nursing Building for the College of Nursing. This building is currently named Wagner Hall.

Off-campus sites were added as the program expanded. Rapid City opened in 1977 with RN Upward Mobility classes. The bachelor's and master's degree classes were added in 1989. In 2002, the Sioux Falls campus was added as a site for the new Accelerated Undergraduate Option. The Aberdeen site, located on the Northern State University campus, opened in January 2012 to accommodate the cohort of Accelerated Option students.

Building updates to incorporate changes in technology and class-delivery modalities have been done. The sites have also undergone remodeling for simulation-learning laboratories.

Students and Alumni over the Decades

In 1935, the initial enrollment included nine students obtaining arts and science courses. They were high school graduates pursuing a diploma program along with RNs who had completed a hospital-based diploma programs. In 1937, the number of enrolled students grew to as many as 20. In the 1940s, the student count rose to 45. By 1952, the pre-nursing students were preparing for the planned B.S. with a major in the nursing program at South Dakota State College.

Class sizes (cohorts) in the 1950s and 1960s varied from 18 to 32. During the 1970s, there was an increased demand and interest in nursing. Class sizes grew to as many as 56. The variance between 48 and 56 admissions each semester continued through the early 1990s. In 1994, 48 students were admitted to the major in spring and fall in Brookings. In 1994, there were 24 to 40 admitted once per year in Rapid City. Enrollment numbers in Brookings increased, first to 56 each semester and then to 64 each semester. In 2006, the degree was becoming more coveted, along with the strong reputation of the excellence of SDSU graduates. In January 2006, 125 qualified applicants were left on the waiting list in Brookings after the first 64 were selected. President Peggy Miller, Provost Carol Peterson and Dean Roberta Olson were getting pressure from parents, friends and potential students to increase class sizes. Class size increased from 64 to 80 in Brookings while planning started for a standard option in Sioux Falls.

From the one graduate in 1936 and three in 1937, more than 300 students now graduate annually from the undergraduate standard and accelerated options.

State graduates work across the globe and deliver excellent care, according to patient feedback. The caring nature, excellent communication skills and high level of professionalism make the graduates in demand. The faculty has consistently shaped the professional behaviors of these students and should be commended.

Alumni are welcomed on campus to update faculty and administration on the nursing careers started at SDSU. Many individual alumni achievements are documented in the college's magazine and website.


The College of Nursing has nurtured many partnerships with organizations and agencies throughout South Dakota and surrounding states. Clinical partnerships enable students to practice in the most current facilities in all specialties. Interprofessional partnerships facilitated interdisciplinary initiatives with medicine, pharmacy, nutrition, physical education and myriad professions. Academic partnerships provided avenues throughout the state for nurses to pursue higher education in their own locales and facilitate completion of doctoral degrees for faculty members. Research partnerships expanded the capacity of the college to advance the science and build the knowledge base of nursing and rural health.

Each partnership required an ongoing investment of time and commitment to build trust and foster mutual agendas. Communication, recordkeeping, formal agreements, meetings and other commitments were necessary to sustain these partnerships. While time-intensive, these partnerships were essential to the evolution of nursing at SDSU.

Statewide Outreach and Facilities

Outreach to citizens is essential to meet the mission of a land-grant institution. Education needs to be accessible and available to all. In the early years, outreach was done by driving to the site and establishing a classroom and office to welcome students to enroll and provide classroom education. The next strategy was the frequent use of telephone calls or driving to meet the student. The development of technology has allowed people to be reached through the Internet, Skype and the Digital Network.

Outreach includes RN Upward Mobility sites across South Dakota to assist RNs with associate degree or diploma preparation to complete their B.S. in nursing. RN and LPN refresher courses were set up with inactive RNs and LPNs who chose to re-enter nursing. Faculty members teach continuing education courses and workshops in Brookings and across South Dakota to update RNs on current health information.

Capitation, Training, Research Grant Funding

The College of Nursing has matured, expanded and innovated through federal funding since the 1960s. The first federal grants included the building grant to construct and furnish the nursing building in Brookings (Wagner Hall). Annual capitation grants were based on enrollment. Both building and capitation grants were used for program development and expansion. A series of continuing education grants designed to update nurses throughout the state followed. Once the RN Upward Mobility and graduate programs launched, federal grants enabled new delivery sites and specializations. Recently, the Ph.D. and DNP programs were supported by federal funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Technology integration into the curriculum has been enhanced through training grants. Each project carried accountability, matching funds for infrastructure and personnel along with meticulous reporting, creating a cumulative record of fiscal and organizational stewardship.

These federal training grants have stimulated expansion, innovation and maturation of the nursing programs as well as fostered faculty development to strengthen nursing education at all levels in the college. Training grants brought national experts to South Dakota, sent faculty to national conferences and secured resources that would not have happened without these external infusions of funds. It is safe to say federal training grants played a major role in developing the today's premier programs. Capitation and training grants have provided more than $10 million.

Once the Office of Nursing Research became operational in the early 2000s, the infrastructure for grant proposal writing and management expanded capacity. The long and robust history of federal funding to support nursing education at SDSU has propelled the college into regional prominence, offering undergraduate and graduate students state-of-the-art learning experiences. From 2006 to 2015, the extramural funding has exceeded $13,000,000.

Budget Changes

Files from the 1940s reveal faculty members received $3,000 for a nine-month salary. Dean Olson's nursing education cost $1,000 for tuition and books in 1960-61. One quarter's tuition was $66 in 1960 or $198 for the year. Spring ahead to 2014-15 when average salaries for doctorally prepared assistant professors are more than $68,000 for nine months. Tuition, books, fees, housing and meals for the undergraduate student for two semesters each year adds up to more than $10,000—still a good rate for an excellent education.

The college budget reflects a portion of tuition earned from the students (state aid) and clinical fee dollars. The total budget was $3 million (without grant funding) in 1994 and rose to nearly $10 million (without grant funding) from these same sources in 2013. The research and training grant dollars assisted with costs for equipment, faculty travel and salary for the grant participants. However, temporary faculty needed to be hired to cover course responsibilities for those faculty members on grant funding.

Scholarship Support for Students

The goal of the scholarship, grants and loans section is twofold. First, to provide a comprehensive look into the college's archives, personal communication and department records to find references to all types of scholarship, grant and loan support for nursing students;and second, to specifically capture the growth in scholarships which are specific to the college.

The director or dean initially led the initial efforts for scholarship funding. Letters were sent to potential donors. While some funding was received in this manner, it came in small amounts. The first part-time director of development was hired in 2005, since then recruitment for student scholarship support increased with focused identification of requests by the dean and the college's director of development. In 2013, the provost charged each dean to spend at least 25 percent of their time cultivating donors for their college. The College of Nursing Development Director assists the Dean to obtain funding for endowed scholarships and faculty chairs.


The College of Nursing has evolved from its earliest years with one faculty member to a talented cadre of doctoral-prepared researchers and practitioners as well as master's prepared expert clinicians, teachers and administrators. These individuals are committed to serving our state, region, nation and world with high-quality academic programs, research that improves health and quality of life, and partnerships for better access to quality health promotion and health care. The college's reputation is strong, its baccalaureate, master's, doctor of nursing practice and doctor of philosophy graduates are equipped for the challenges of a dynamic health-care system, developments in clinical practice and discovery research that make a difference in health outcomes. The legacy of education, scholarship and service beats at the very heart of the College of Nursing. Mar. 20, 2015