Add Alt Text Here

Memories of SSU

Wendy A. Smith

Professor of Nursing, 1986-present
Director, Family Nurse Practitioner Program, 1986-present
Student: BSN 1977-79; MSN 1985-86
Distinguished Alumni, 2005

An Innovation in Nursing Education: The Second Step

            In 1975, I was living and working in Southern California. A graduate of a diploma school program (a three-year hospital based nursing program), I was employed by a large hospital as a critical care nurse. I loved my job. It had all the thrill and excitement of providing nursing care to those patients who needed intensive nursing, and it entailed all sorts of technology. Yet, I knew I needed more. More what? Excitement, thrills? No, I needed more education. I craved to be a bigger part of diagnosing and decision-making, and a planner of nursing care. I sought out several schools in Southern California and was thwarted by the fact that I had a diploma, not an academic degree. Alas, due to family reasons, I was forced to give up my quest. In 1976, my husband and I moved to Santa Rosa.

            Getting used to a new job, new city and new friends and neighbors was a challenge. Buying a home for $43,000 was a huge stretch for us; so, thinking of returning to school was not high on my agenda. However, little did I realize how important the move would prove to be and how fortuitous that Sonoma State College was just a 15 minute car ride from my home. From new nursing colleagues, I was introduced to a state of the art nursing program, the “Second Step Program” at Sonoma State. This program, I was told, recognized previous education, as well as professional experience and practice, and had a fairly new, even experimental, curriculum that allowed a nurse to progress to a baccalaureate degree in two years.

            Who would have thought that here, in the heart of Sonoma County, there existed the answer to my future, a nationally recognized nursing program established within a liberal arts college. One day, wanting to investigate this, I drove down the “busy” freeway for a whole twelve miles to Rohnert Park. There was the campus, a fairly barren environment with lots of parking, five or six large concrete buildings, some small low buildings, and in the northwest corner—my nirvana—Nichols Hall, home of the Nursing Department.

            The staff was exceedingly helpful, as is the staff today. They actually took time to explain how it could be done, and went on to make an appointment for me to speak to a faculty advisor. People to people contact has always been, and remains, the hallmark of the Sonoma State Nursing Department. I found out that this new two-year program was a national, even international project. It was funded to demonstrate that nursing education could be a progressive process that takes into account where one is in one’s career, then builds upon that practical and didactic knowledge to produce baccalaureate prepared nurses.

            The first day of school—college—was awe-inspiring. In my class, there were students who had moved to Sonoma County specifically to attend the “Second Step Program.” There were students from Massachusetts, Louisiana, Washington, current Air Force and Navy nurses, and even a nurse from Australia. It was such a privilege to be a part of this group of students. Then to meet the distinguished faculty was further testimony to the fact that I was definitely in the right place.

            At the time, I did not realize that in 1972, the newly arrived faculty team and staff, initially housed in trailers, worked tirelessly to develop an innovative curriculum that was copied and used as a starting point for the curricula for the second step programs nationally and internationally. In 1974, the Nursing Department office moved to the second floor of Nichols Hall, and nursing faculty offices occupied the majority of the second and first floors with large nursing labs on both floors. The grant supporting this visionary experiment in nursing education had funded many of the supplies, space/area alterations, equipment and staff for the program. Because it was a demonstration project, program evaluation and outcomes research were well supported. Detailed evaluation and research findings showed that “Second Step Program” graduates were highly sought nurses, who practiced throughout the state and nation and in many international settings.

            What I realized in the first meeting, over 31 years ago, was that the Sonoma State Nursing Department and faculty were deeply committed to the educational need of nurses and to the health care needs of the larger community that the campus served. The program was developed so that didactic supported clinical experiences and the clinical coursework was community based. Sonoma State University, and specifically the Nursing Department, nurtured both students and community, and they continue that tradition today. For over 35 years the Nursing Department has graduated superbly prepared and sought after baccalaureate and master’s degree nurses, who serve all realms of the health care community locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.

            Now a faculty member myself at Sonoma State, I am testimony to the power of that community of earnestly devoted teachers who willingly tested new roles and innovative education models in nursing. The Sonoma State University nursing faculty of today carries on that legacy. They willingly push the boundaries of nursing education pedagogy and practice to meet the healthcare needs of California and of underserved populations.