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With just over two weeks to go before the start of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s fall 2021 semester, new Interim Dean Bonnie Nickasch shares how she plans to chart the course ahead for the College of Nursing (CON).

What lessons learned during the pandemic will faculty and staff in CON bring forward with them into the new academic year? 

Bonnie Nickasch

Concerns about COVID-19 are ongoing. We are committed to continuously monitoring the mental and physical health of all employees and students because we understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s health—both directly and indirectly. From the institutional standpoint, this pandemic has significantly changed the educational landscape. We have been challenged to think and learn differently. The CON will continue to evaluate and adjust teaching styles and curriculum in order to support students and faculty/staff. We can’t predict the future, but we can control how we react to change. No matter what is going on around us, we will work to remain positive and innovative and focus on producing caring and scholarly nurse leaders. With optimism, flexibility and a little humor, I am confident that the CON will demonstrate its resilience and emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever before.

In the new academic year, we will be continuing to use virtual technology given everyone’s increased comfort with virtual platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. However, we also will more fully appreciate our time together on campus.  Thus, I envision we will have a “new normal” that includes a mix of in-person and virtual learning.  I have noticed it is easier to teach certain skills in person and that in-person increases camaraderie; whereas, virtual technology helps to save time and increase efficiency.

What’s new in the CON for the 2021-22 academic year?

We will have many new instructional academic staff and changes in leadership throughout the CON during the 2021-22 academic year.  July 2 was a day of transition. Judith Westphal retired after three years serving as dean of the CON (and 13 years as faculty). Although her leadership will be greatly missed, we are confident in our ability to continue to educate caring and scholarly nurse leaders.  At this time, I am honored to serve as the interim dean, and a national search for permanent dean is underway.

With my transition to the Dean’s Office, there have been a few other shifts in leadership. Kathleen Elertson has assumed the role of post licensure program director and Nahal Rahmanpanah assumed the role of family nurse practitioner director. Brent MacWilliams stepped down from his position as BSN accelerated option director to focus more on his teaching/scholarship;  and Erica Janssen stepped into this position. Peter Strube also stepped down from his position of assistant director of nurse anesthesia, and Jessica Tomasiewicz has since assumed that role. Additionally, due to increasing enrollment and a few retirements, we have brought on many new undergraduate and graduate instructors.  It is an exciting time of transition in the CON.

How will your college be celebrating the sesquicentennial?

We are planning to have a large presence at the community gathering on Sept. 12. We are encouraging faculty and staff to attend with their families. Leaders of the Oshkosh Student Nursing Association, Men in Nursing and the CON alumni chapter are working diligently to recruit students and alumni to join the celebration. We encourage our alumni to tour our newly renovated space, including our state-of-the-art simulation center.

What are your own personal thoughts about the coming semester following the unprecedented year we experienced in 2020-21?

First and foremost, I would like to celebrate the return of students and faculty/staff back to campus in the fall. We will be hosting opening week “Welcome Back” activities to foster camaraderie in the college. I anticipate that there will be a period of adjustment for nursing students and instructors as we emerge from this unprecedented and challenging year. We have experienced many challenges with an increase in stressors for many people. The concern for burn-out due to the demands within the nursing profession is higher than ever before.  I want to be sure to support both students’ and faculty/staff’s physical and mental health as they return to campus. Lastly, this year has reaffirmed the important role that nurses have in our society. I look forward to maintaining, or ideally increasing, enrollment in all CON programs to grow the profession and better serve our communities.

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