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SDSU's NANEC helps increase South Dakota's nursing workforce

Bev Warne with student

In 2015, South Dakota State University's College of Nursing was having significant issues retaining Native American students. The retention rate hovered around 65%—a troubling number that underlined the many challenges Native Americans have to overcome when pursuing higher education degrees. 

Enter Bev Warne, a nursing professional who retired in 2009 after successfully developing a program at Arizona State University to assist Native American/Alaska Native students graduate with a degree in nursing. When SDSU leadership learned that Warne had returned to her native Rapid City, they inquired if she would be interested in creating a similar type of program for SDSU's College of Nursing. 

Warne, who has spent the better part of her career helping Native American students earn degrees, was immediately on board and began developing an SDSU-specific program.  

Less than a decade later, the college's retention rate has improved dramatically—to 96%—thanks in no small part to the Native American Nursing Education Center and the Wicozani – Life Pathway in Nursing program, direct products of Warne's plan. 

The NANEC building, located near downtown Rapid City, is welcoming to everyone but is specifically designed to help Native American nursing students. There are quiet rooms for studying and Wicozani Otipi—a welcoming room, outfitted with Lakota art and quilts—where students can relax and recenter. The room is also equipped with snacks and drinks. Students know the room is always a place where they can get something to eat. 

The NANEC building is also where the program's mentors can be found—a key component to its success. Including Warne, the program has three mentors who help students navigate the trials and tribulations of seeking a college degree. They are available to students via face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls, texts and other forms of communication. Alongside support, they also help connect students to resources they may find helpful in their journey. Kathy Labonte and Renee Zacher are also mentors in the program and Tiara Ruff is both the program's outreach coordinator and a mentor.

Students in the program regularly meet one-on-one with mentors for holistic support, benefit from cultural ceremonies and programming and flourish through resources designed to guide their success. The center provides a nurturing and collaborative environment, emphasizing learning through mentorship. 

Each month, NANEC hosts Wohanpi na Wouspe (Soup and Learn) events where Lakota speakers discuss various cultural topics to any SDSU nursing, student, staff or faculty member. The general public is also welcome to attend these events.

Since its inception, the number of students the center served has steadily grown. This year, 30 students are enrolled in the Wicozani – Life Pathway in Nursing program and utilize NANEC’s resources on a regular basis. An increase in enrollment at NANEC is also good for South Dakota’s nursing workforce as many graduates stay in the state after completing the program.

NANEC to host national conference

In April, NANEC mentors traveled to Tucson, Arizona, for the annual National Alaska Native American Indian Nursing Association National Conference, hosted by the University of Arizona. The theme was "Renewing Our Spirit in Nursing."

Next June, NANEC will host the 2024 National Alaska Native American Indian Nursing Association conference in Rapid City. The conference will be held on June 10-11 at the Holiday Inn. The theme is "Being a Good Relative to Achieve Health Equity." This will be the first time SDSU has hosted this conference.