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Better together: Mennonite College of Nursing supports bringing engineering to ISU

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”—JFK

Twenty years ago, Illinois State University made the bold and brave move to add its first professional college by bringing the Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN)—a college that had operated as a private institution since 1919—to the University. There is no doubt that, at the time, there were some who questioned whether this was the right thing to do.

But the ultimate success and survival of any organization rests in that organization’s ability to plan for the long run. The strength of Illinois State University, since its founding in 1857, has always been its ability to see opportunity, plan for the future, and seize the moment.

Today, the Mennonite College of Nursing is not only a point of pride for the whole university, but also a champion for health in our community. The college’s faculty, staff, and students are reshaping health care in McLean County; expanding access for the vulnerable and underserved; providing boots on the ground for public health initiatives; and advocating for children, seniors, and an array of persons in between. Illinois State nurses graduate and impact people’s lives in a way that grows exponentially, touching not just one person or one family, but entire communities.

Simply put, the Mennonite College of Nursing is changing the world, one exceptionally well-prepared nurse at a time.

Today, we at Illinois State University are again faced with a wonderful opportunity—the opportunity to bring engineering to our university. As part of the recent naming of our Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, we learned about Thomas Park Clements and his many health care patents. His life story—a Korean War orphan turned proud American turned engineer turned biomedical inventor—is a prime example of how engineering and health care go very well together.

At many institutions of higher learning, nursing, and engineering learn and create alongside each other.

At many institutions of higher learning, nursing and engineering learn and create alongside each other. This collaboration allows for the development of products and devices that improve the health and well-being of our communities.

“During my time in North Carolina, I witnessed an excellent example of this type of collaboration,” said MCN Dean Judy Neubrander. “Older simulation equipment, particularly simulation babies, had many wires. The wires were cumbersome and took away from the student learning experience. Engineering and nursing students worked together to find a solution. Ultimately, the engineering students designed a pattern and method to make the sim baby high functioning with minimal cord intrusion. The collaboration between the two departments helped students in both areas grow.”

“We all know that health care is changing. There is a lot of discussion around the role that nurses will ultimately play in shaping that change. The truth is, as the largest, most trusted profession, it is critical that nurses are at the table as we think about the future of how care is administered, new technology, and the patient experience. Nurses are at the bedside. We are acutely aware of the challenges, and we have the answers. But we need help implementing those solutions. I am excited by the thought of nurses and engineers working and learning side-by-side on this campus, laying the foundation for the future,” said Seon Yoon Chung, MCN’s associate dean for Academics.

Universities across the country are realizing the benefit of this type of collaboration.

Universities across the country are realizing the benefit of this type of collaboration, with nurse-engineer teams triggering new, high-tech health care inventions. In an article published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship in 2018, Glasgow and Viator explored the role of the nurse-engineer in improving patient care device innovations, finding that partnerships between nursing and engineering maximized the contribution of the nursing profession to the design and implementation of creative solutions. Researchers in the Departments of Nursing and Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Buffalo explored nursing teams, and utilized computer modeling to do social network analysis, ultimately with the goal of improving patient care. Here at Illinois State, nursing faculty are already exploring ways in which technology is reshaping health, through simulation, telemedicine, and a variety of other ways.

“Engineering blends easily into nursing with all the advancements necessary to keep health care progressing. Think of all the medical equipment and devices that help us to lead healthier lives. Our nursing students are taught best practice on simulators and simulation wearables. Our wearable IV trainer is just one of several devices designed by nurses and created by engineers. These tools promote lifelike nursing skills while including human interaction. We continue to be able to provide more simulation because of the advancements in products and technology,” said Becky LaMont, MCN faculty member and director of the Nursing Simulation Lab.

The evidence speaks for itself: When you search “nursing” and “engineering” in Illinois State University Milner Library’s peer-reviewed scholarly journal database, over 8,000 articles are returned—for the year 2018 alone. Topics include the following:

  • Bridging medical simulation with computer science and engineering
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Soft rehabilitation and nursing-care robots
  • Mobile health monitoring in nursing homes

“In the end, this is about providing a better opportunity for undergraduate students to learn and graduate prepared to make an impact. It’s about providing a better opportunity for graduate students and faculty to make real contributions to the research and literature and impact patient care. It’s about all of us working together, to do what ISU has always done: boldly embrace a new opportunity,” states MCN Associate Dean for Research Mary Dyck.

Janeen Mollenhauer, MCN’s associate dean for Student Support, agrees. “The spirit of collaboration on campus was critical to the successful onboarding of Mennonite College of Nursing to this campus, and it will remain critical as engineering is introduced to this college community. Administrators, faculty, and staff working together in the best interest of the students is a cornerstone of this institution.”

Growth and change can be uncomfortable. But today, let us not think with fear of the unknown, or of the things we are afraid we stand to lose. Rather, just like we did 20 years ago, let us look boldly toward a bright new future. It is time to step bravely forward together—for our students, for our community, and for our world.

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