SPOKANE, Wash. – The Washington State University College of Nursing is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1969.

From the first class of 37 students, the program has produced over 10,000 graduates with more than 80% staying in Washington after graduation. The college has expanded from one cramped location in Spokane’s historic Carnegie Library to campuses and sites statewide. Now based on the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus, it offers a range of degree options and its faculty have brought more than $14 million in research funding to WSU in the past few years.

But Coug Nursing has always been about more than numbers.

The college’s greatest impact has been in reaching underserved citizens with free vaccination clinics and health screenings offered by students and faculty at schools, health fairs and homeless shelters. It’s in the People’s Clinic that cared for the uninsured and under-insured in Spokane for a decade, and in the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, a traveling clinic for children staffed by college nurses. It’s in outreach and support programs that have existed since the college’s founding to serve students from rural areas and under-represented minorities.

WSU’s nursing program began as the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education (ICNE), a consortium of Washington State University, Eastern Washington State College and Whitworth College, and the now-closed Fort Wright College. Students spent their first two years at their home campuses and their last two years studying nursing, a model that’s still used today.

Mel Haberman, PhD, RN, FAAN, was in that first graduating class at ICNE; he now leads the college as interim dean. Said Haberman, “The College of Nursing grew from a handful of visionary nurse leaders living in Spokane to today’s largest brick-and-mortar nursing program in the state with over 900 enrolled students. The consortium of four schools was the first such program in the country. Rather than totally relying on textbooks and old-fashioned lectures, our students learn skills via simulation using high-tech mannequins and through flexible online programs. Educated to address the diverse health care needs of Washington citizens, our graduates are truly the nursing profession’s bridge to the future.”

Nursing BSN students practicing on a simulation mannequin.
WSU College of Nursing BSN students practicing on a simulation mannequin.

The WSU-led consortium still includes Eastern Washington University and Whitworth University. More recently, College of Nursing faculty were instrumental in forging agreements with Washington’s community colleges to help students transfer seamlessly into the nursing program.

Today, students from Whitworth, EWU and community college transfers make up roughly 70 percent of each incoming class in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

“The students coming through our College of Nursing take their futures seriously. This is mirrored in our devotion to the future of nursing,” said Daryll DeWald, vice president and chancellor for WSU Health Sciences. “For 50 years, we’ve worked hard to evolve our nursing programs to better equip and empower our graduates to make an immediate impact in the industry. There is no doubt in my mind that this tradition will continue for many years to come.”

The college has always been based in Spokane but has had a statewide presence for decades. ICNE opened a satellite program in Yakima in 1981, and nursing programs were part of WSU’s expansion to the Tri-Cities and Vancouver in 1989.

Nursing faculty at WSU are leading researchers in the fields of addiction, concussion, Native American health care and the use of smart-home technology in health care.

Said Interim Dean Haberman, “It’s been my honor to have been affiliated with this college since it was founded. Coug Nurses have changed so many lives, and their impact will only continue to grow.”

Anniversary gala planned

The college will commemorate its 50th year and look toward the next half-century at a gala on March 7, 2020. The event will be held at The Historic Davenport Hotel.

Visit the 50th anniversary image gallery to see more photos commemorating the work of Coug nurses and the development of the college over the past five decades.