‘A community service initiative’: K-State, WSU Pathway program to meet rural community, student needs


Courtesy of Kansas State Unviersity

Kansas State University is performing rennovations at Justin Hall to accomodate the new Pathway to Nursing program between K-State and WSU.

As the nationwide nursing shortage continues to cripple rural communities, two Kansas universities have teamed up to create a dual-degree nursing program unlike any other in the state. 

Wichita State and Kansas State University’s (KSU) year-old Pathway to Nursing program aims to fulfill the needs of Riley County and smaller surrounding counties, while giving the next generation of highly-trained nurses a jump-start on their post-college careers.

Initially orchestrated in 2020 by former KSU Health and Human Sciences Dean John Buckwalter and WSU president Richard Muma, the degree program was designed to provide students with a comprehensive, unique learning experience with degrees from both universities: a Bachelor of Science degree from K-State and a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from WSU. 

Each semester, 20 KSU enrolled students are accepted into the pathway program, where they are able to receive instruction from Wichita State faculty from the convenience of the KSU campus. Program coordinators assessed studies showing that smaller class sizes and increased accessibility positively contribute to students’ retention and degree completion status.

“The intimacy that they get and the special attention, and the mentorship — informally and formally — that they have … I don’t know of another program like that in the state, or in the country, for the price,” Laura Sooby, College of Health Professions assistant director for undergraduate programs, said. 

Students with various program backgrounds can customize their nursing journey and take a wide variety of courses to make their nursing education more practical and meaningful. No matter a student’s academic background, they can incorporate those credits and experiences into skills to supplement their nursing careers.

“One thing that … was really emphasized when I was an undergraduate student was ‘How fast can I get through?’” Sooby said. “This program is a direct argument against that. Spend the time to explore subjects — use college for what it’s meant for.”

With the program in full swing, faculty and administrators are strategizing on how best to serve local community needs through revolutionary instructional methods and new collaborations. 

According to Sooby, through partnerships and letters of support from almost every major medical facility within a 130-mile radius of Manhattan — including Topeka’s Stormont Vail and Manhattan’s Ascension Via Christi — clinical rotations and addressing the nursing shortage crisis has never been more achievable. 

“We got some really encouraging notes from our site surveyors that ‘the state’s rooting for you, we’re all watching for you to make this work, and let us know how we can help,’” Sooby said. “It promises for a successful program.”

With KSU students having access to WSU professors, shared nursing curriculums and equipment, such as the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, admins are hoping that by making the program accessible and customizable, they will be able to support a new generation of local, rural nurses, as well as make them more desirable to employers.

Students have the advantage of including what they learn in their undergraduate major to nursing,” Kenneth Sisley, WSU assistant educator and site coordinator said in an email to The Sunflower. “This enables students to have great insight to the problems that affect our populations and makes them a valuable nursing student and nurse.”

Already, the program has sparked reform in local nursing practices. After Sooby hosted a sexual assault response panel for her students last year, she came to find out that the local Manhattan Emergency Room did not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). 

Patients instead had to be transferred to Topeka — nearly an hour away — for essential examination and documentation of injuries as well as holistic nursing care. Program coordinators advocated to the College of Health and Human Sciences deans and, as a result, are in the process of recruiting and licensing a SANE nurse for the Manhattan area. 

As faculty prepare for the next semester of the Pathway to Nursing program, Sooby and others are hopeful that they will be able to inspire students to accept future career roles within their communities to provide essential care to those most in need.

“It’s very much a community service initiative,” Sooby said. “The biggest return of investment that we stand to gain is the benefits to the community”