Auburn University’s new nursing building brings students and faculty together

Published: October 20, 2017
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The wait is over for Auburn University’s new home for the School of Nursing.

The construction that began in spring 2016 is completed and nursing students, faculty and administrators could not be more thrilled. The state-of-the-art facility is situated as a gateway into the growing Health Sciences Sector on the corner of Lem Morrison Drive and South Donahue Drive.

"The new building serves as a proud place that we can call home,” said Ashley Westberry, senior in the School of Nursing. "It will bring a name to nursing as a whole on Auburn’s campus. The building will serve as a way to say, ‘we’re here and doing amazing things.’ I am truly honored to be a part of this program and excited to see where it is headed in the future.”

The 89,000-square-foot facility is the first building on campus to provide a home for all of the nursing’s classes, simulation labs, active learning centers and offices. For years, the school has experienced an increased enrollment, outgrowing available spaces and technological resources. Classes were spread among large classrooms in the Haley Center, Cary Hall and the Student Activity Center, while faculty and the dean’s offices were housed in Miller Hall.

Dean Gregg Newschwander, who has led the school for eight years now, has seen the increased need for a new facility as the program has grown from 55 new students a year in 2009 to 210 new students this semester. Currently, the school reports enrollment of about 410 undergraduates and 150 graduate students.

In a space study completed in 2014, the school contrasted its lack of space to the space needed for the program and plans for the new building were approved. Newschwander credited the nursing faculty for the success as they have worked "double loads to be able to increase enrollment and make a testament for the necessity of this building.”

"It brings us back together, which sounds a little bit corny, but I didn’t see students often for days at a time,” said Newschwander. "If they didn’t have labs or they’re off at clinicals, we didn’t see them and the first semester students never saw the fourth semester students.”

The new building is next to the new Pharmaceutical Research Building and in close proximity to the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, which creates the opportunity for unprecedented research collaboration and inter-professional teaching, Newschwander said.

The latest technology is now available for students to learn, practice and evaluate their essential nursing skills. A large skills lab and advanced simulation suite with 12 hi-fidelity mannequins and four observation areas will make student and faculty experiences more efficient and effective.

"I think I am most excited for the new style classrooms and simulation suite,” said Catherine Kinney, a senior and past president of the Student Nurses Association. "Active learning is a critical part of nursing education and these new classrooms are specifically tailored to provide the necessary resources.”

Perhaps most important, the building is designed with the nursing student in mind. Every design decision was carefully made in order to best enhance the student experience. Classes are set up in three-hour segments with breaks rather than block scheduling, and in the new building, students have study space, outdoor areas and dining options, all intended to make the building a home for the students even when they aren’t in class.

"The message of the building for us was really state-of-the-art, high-technology learning, but we also wanted comfort, warmth, a lot of wood and warm colors,” said Newschwander. "The natural light is incredible.”

Student conference rooms and small group study rooms have some of the finest views from the building, which is "appropriate and encourages faculty to go to those places and engage with the students,” he added.

"The students are arriving early in the morning and staying well after classes have ended to study in the multitude of spaces provided for them,” said Francine Parker, associate dean and associate professor. "Faculty and staff have so enjoyed having students in one space and seeing them hangout, mingle and study in the spaces designed for their use.”

Newschwander said the program isn’t looking to expand the traditional undergraduate program, but the building will be able to accommodate the growth they’ve seen in the past few years and set Auburn’s program apart from other universities. The graduate programs for nursing will see growth and expansion in the new facility, including a larger nurse practitioner program, post-master’s program and doctoral program.

"This was not possible without an awful lot of support from Samford Hall. For the provost, the president and the Board of Trustees to make an investment like the new building says a lot about how they see the future of this program,” said Newschwander. "It’s a very big statement and more than we ever imagined.”

The School of Nursing moved offices this summer and began classes in the facility on the first day of the fall semester.