Wisconsin Idea can thrive at new nursing school

Nursing is an increasingly technology-driven field, so it’s only fitting that the student nurses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing now have a state-of-the-art facility to call home.

Named for Signe Skott Cooper, a longtime UW nursing educator and member of the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame, Signe Skott Cooper Hall opened to nursing students and faculty in the fall of 2014, and its educational impact is already being felt in a digitized age.

“Over its long history, the School of Nursing has fostered leadership in science, education, and practice,” said Katharyn May, dean and professor of the School of Nursing. “Dean Helen Bunge, the school’s first dean, established the very first research journal for nursing, Nursing Research, which continues to be the gold standard.

“Today, the digital age drives nursing’s discovery enterprise. Manifest in the design of Cooper Hall is the notion that nursing must push past conventional thinking to remove the barriers to person- and family-centered care.”

The 166,500-square-foot free-standing home to the nursing school, built by J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., was nearly 30 years in the making, earning private donations, securing state funding, and involving input from numerous faculty and staff. For decades, the School of Nursing lacked a significant presence and identity on campus, despite its highly ranked national status.

The $53 million project took just over two years to complete, and now Signe Skott Copper Hall offers one of the largest active learning spaces in the country, designed to support best practices in nursing and inter-professional health education.

Classrooms are fully interactive and integrated with wireless and wired instructional technology. The state-of-the-art facility supports 30% growth in faculty numbers, research programs, and enrollment. Expected to serve up to 650 people annually, the school’s future development has also been taken into account.

The building is to “serve the State of Wisconsin for the next century,” said Mark VanderWoude, assistant dean for facilities and planning. As of right now, the facility’s north wing is only two stories, but was constructed to support three more floors. Additionally, the building was designed to remain flexible in support of the changing needs for future generations of faculty and students.

The new building also changes how students are educated. Active learning environments throughout the new hall stress a health care standard of excellence: team-based, patient-centered care that stretches from the first clinic visit or hospital admission to in-home monitoring, encompassing the entire continuum of care concept.

“Over time, faculty continually have sought new ways to teach nursing to undergraduates. Cooper Hall provides students with learning opportunities to study person-centered care from inspired educators knowledgeable about consumer-health technologies,” noted May.

What this all translates into are more new nurses entering the workforce already armed with the know-how to make a difference right away with their new employers.

“Today, our graduates reach across the globe to serve the health needs of populations — caring for the homeless in a respite care facility in Washington, D.C., providing primary care for orphaned children in Kenya, staffing disaster relief efforts in the slums of Haiti,” May said. And the UW has a tradition of educating the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers — more than anywhere in the country, she adds. Nursing has played its part in this effort.



Incorporating the Wisconsin Idea

Early in the planning process for Signe Skott Cooper Hall, it was determined the facility needed to create an influence that would extend beyond the classroom and into society (i.e., the Wisconsin Idea). “From Signe Skott Cooper’s traveling to remote places in Wisconsin to provide nurses with continuing education to today’s eHealth technologies,” May said, “we are committed to asking the questions, ‘What difference does it make that we do this?’ ‘Does it serve the people of the state, or the nation, or the world?’ The Wisconsin Idea drives so much of what happens here at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.”

And by keeping the Wisconsin Idea close at heart throughout the project’s development, a building epitomizing the ideals of nursing was constructed, aimed to transform lives, communities, and the state.

Several sophisticated advancements were implemented throughout the building to encourage inter-professional learning and prepare students to support their local communities facing a rapidly changing health care system. Adjacent to the new facility is a student gathering space featuring an open atrium, outdoor patio, and 300-seat auditorium to foster ongoing interaction among students, faculty members, and local communities. These particular design elements help students learn together as they enhance their skills in team-based care. Throughout the facility are additionally simulated clinical spaces. They incorporate existing and emerging technologies in teaching environments identical to where students would practice after graduation, better preparing them to serve their future patients.

At heart of these latest advancements is the 7,400-square-foot Center for Technology Enhanced Nursing (CTEN). Although the integration of academic technology was key in its development, CTEN uses technology for two unique objectives: active learning and clinical simulation space. For example, there are two active-learning environments in the building. Each is composed of 17 large, round tables equipped with power access for laptops and connections to flat screens. A video-switching panel and microphones additionally support these active-learning spaces. As explained by Jerzy “George” Jura, director of academic technology at the School of Nursing, “the focus here is not so much technology for its own sake, but rather, tools that make teamwork and collaboration easier.”

With its open, airy design and advanced learning environments, the new building has certainly created the wow factor needed by the university’s nursing program. According to VanderWoude, the building is “incredibly functional and versatile … [making] the UW and Wisconsin proud. The Wisconsin Idea can thrive here.”

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