Sara Campbell

Illinois State University’s Board of Trustees recently approved a doctoral program for Mennonite College of Nursing.  The nation is facing a critical shortage in nurses, and one underlying factor is the lack of Ph.D. nurses to educate those who want to become nurses.  The Illinois State University Ph.D. program will join 108 U.S. programs addressing the shortage of Ph.D. nurses.

Mennonite College of Nursing has earned a national reputation for excellence, from their beginning in 1919 as the Mennonite Sanitarium Training School with 11 students through today as a thriving part of Illinois State University with close to 225 undergraduate and 40 to 50 graduate students.

Mennonite College was facing either closure or merger with another nursing institution when three prominent Bloomington-Normal businessmen saw a potential fit with Illinois State University.  Joe Warner, a Mennonite Board member and president of Heritage Enterprises, thought a partnership with Illinois State would be beneficial to both—allowing Mennonite to stay in operation in Bloomington-Normal and allowing Illinois State to acquire its first professional school.  Warner interested then Senator John Maitland and then Chairman of the Illinois State University Board of Trustees William Sulaski in exploring the possibilities and practicalities of Mennonite becoming Illinois State’s sixth college.  Senator Maitland was successful in securing a $1.2 million State of Illinois appropriation to move Mennonite to Illinois State in 1999.

Mennonite students were always affiliated with Illinois State from as early as the 1920s, when they took dietetics at the university.  Staritng in the 1940s, Mennonite students came to Illinois State (Normal) University for their education in nutrition, sociology, anatomy and chemistry.  The 1950s saw Mennonite students taking courses daily at ISNU.  The affiliation did not stop with coursework—Mennonite students participated in Homecoming 1945, building their own float for the parade.

Mennonite students in the early 1900s followed an apprenticeship type of training, observing the doctors and nurses at the Mennonite Sanitarium and bathing, grooming and feeding patients as well as changing beds, cooking and housekeeping.  There were no formal faculty members. Today’s Mennonite has 23 full-time and 34 part-time faculty, who teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  The students from yesteryear had to rank in the top third of their high school class; most of today’s students are in the top quarter of their class.

Nancy Ridenour has been dean of Mennonite College since they moved to Illinois State. This fall Ridenour will leave to spend two years in Washington, D.C. helping to shape American health care policy as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow.  In the third and final year of the fellowship, she will return to Mennonite as a faculty member and apply her health policy experience to projects on the community and state levels.

President Al Bowman has named Sara Campbell as the interim dean of Mennonite.  Campbell has a long history with Mennonite, starting as a student in 1986 and working as a lab assistant, coordinator for student development and as a faculty member.  Campbell received her doctorate in nursing from Indiana University and her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Illinois State.

“Having graduated from both Mennonite College of Nursing and Illinois State University obviously brings special meaning to me as I move into the interim dean position,” Campbell said. “When I was a nursing student years ago, I dreamed of one day being the dean of Mennonite College of Nursing. It’s an incredible feeling to have arrived at this juncture with such a great opportunity to lead an outstanding nursing program housed in an outstanding university. This is where tradition holds strong, but with innovation welcomed. I can’t think of one place that I would rather be than right here.”

Campbell said Mennonite has grown into a college known for its focus and expertise in the care of older adults, with a heavy emphasis on long-term care.  “The collaboration with Heritage Enterprises was designed to prepare nursing graduates for best practices in the care of older adults and also to facilitate the long-term care setting to become attractive to graduates as a career option,” Campbell said.  “While the college will continue work in the long-term care settings, it is time to explore moving care of the older adult and best practices into acute care and community settings.”

“This is an ideal time for the college to explore options for increasing student numbers or decreasing time to degree, both of which would meet the same objective of producing increased numbers of quality nursing graduates into the workforce. Increasing numbers of registered nurses is a huge societal need.”

Campbell said she also wished to focus on building strong teaching-scholarship-service communities within Mennonite and to find creative ways to engage students in the college and campus that plant the desire to stay in touch once they have graduated. She said students graduating today are very different than students who graduated 10 to 30 years ago.  “It will require innovative approaches to keep alumni coming home,” Campbell said.