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Sweetwater County Receives Accolades for Excellence

Western Wyoming Community College nursing program wins 'best in state' recognition.

By Val Hunt Beerbower on April 30, 2020

Sweetwater County WY
Rock Springs / Jeff Adkins

Western Wyoming Community College grabbed headlines recently when it was ranked among the best community colleges in the state, and the reasons why are many. Students have access to degree programs, including accounting, computer science, music and welding, just to name a few. But perhaps the most popular program offered at the college is nursing, which was named the best in the state for 2019 by RegisteredNursing.org.

“In May 2017, we achieved 100% first-time pass rates for the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) for that cohort with 31 graduates,†says Western’s Nursing Program Director Ann Marie Clevenger. “In May 2018, we had an 83.87% first-time pass rate for that same test for our cohort of 31 students, and our June 2019 cohort achieved a 94.87% first-time pass rate.”

Health Care is Future Focused in Sweetwater County

What’s the secret sauce to churning out first-rate nurses at Western? Clevenger credits its participation in a concept-based curriculum that combines classroom, laboratory, simulation and active day experiences with an outstanding 1:8 faculty-to-student ratio.

“Classroom theory content aligns with laboratory, simulation and active day experiences in each unit,†she says. “We provide an option to attend theory either face to face or via synchronous online learning platform.”

Western is part of Wyoming’s ReNEW program, which touts shared concept-based, statewide curriculum, where students can earn an associate degree or continue on to earn the bachelor of science in nursing degree (or higher) starting at any of the community colleges or the University of Wyoming (UW).

Sweetwater County WY
Rock Springs / Jeff Adkins

To support the students’ well-rounded education, Western has developed collaborative relationships with clinical agencies.

“We have two full-time faculty in outreach locations within our service area,†Clevenger says. “We also have an active advisory board that meets twice a year with staff and our community partners.”

Active learning also takes a central part in nursing students’ educations. Students prepare and research prior to coming to class, then apply the information in class with learning activities. Faculty facilitate by assisting to identify strengths or knowledge gaps.

“There is not a lecture portion in our curriculum,†Clevenger says. “It is the ‘flipped classroom’ design.”

Discover Sweetwater County

This technique involves group work and integrating theory with laboratory, simulation and concept-based clinicals that allow the classroom exercises to be practiced and applied in tandem.

Western’s clinical partnership program offers intimate training that gives students the confidence they need to nail those licensure tests straight out of the gate. Thanks to Western’s carefully structured program, nursing students here have an excellent path to their career trajectories.

“Preceptors are chosen by leadership within their facilities. The preceptors guide students one on one in clinical experiences,†Clevenger says. “The experiences range across the spectrum of nursing from acute care, home health, psychiatric and school nursing.”

When they’re not in classrooms, instructors dedicate time to continue their own education.

“The faculty are involved in clinical areas outside of education to stay abreast of current nursing trends,†she says.

When Western nursing graduates complete their education, the ReNEW program gives grads a clear path to obtain their bachelor’s degree in nursing at UW. High demand in nursing-related career fields in the Sweetwater County area ensures each crop of skilled nurses can find a job right in their own backyards.

Sweetwater County WY
Rock Springs / Jeff Adkins

Q & A with Dr. Kimberly Dale, Western Wyoming Community College’s New President:

Q: What are you enjoying most about your move to Sweetwater County?

A: My husband, Randy, and I are a blended family, with five children and one grandson. Randy and I love mountain biking, hiking, kayaking – and we just started to paddleboard. We are thrilled to be in southwest Wyoming where we have access to countless outdoor activities.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in higher education?

A: I graduated from college as a high school business teacher, but my calling was more toward teaching at the college level. I began my career in higher education as an adjunct business faculty member. I taught at both a community college and large university and found that the collaborative and caring college culture toward students was a great fit for my leadership style and personality.

Q: What made the position at Western Wyoming Community College (WWCC) attractive?

A: Western has a national reputation for excellence, so when the opportunity became available, my husband and I drove out to Rock Springs to see if we could see ourselves living here. The answer was yes! I feel blessed to have been selected for this esteemed position at this impressive college.

Sweetwater County is Female Forward

Q: What qualities make Western a unique learning environment?

A: For a small, rural college, Western has an abundance of amazing and dedicated talent. Our faculty and staff are professionals with deep subject matter expertise. They are also completely committed to providing a rich and supportive learning environment for every student who enters our doors.

Q: What unique educational opportunities does WWCC provide?

A: We have too many to list, but we are probably best known for our programs that support the trona mines and other extraction industries in southwest Wyoming. Western has done an outstanding job partnering and creating programs that meet the needs of business and industry. I don’t think local folks realize what an amazing national reputation this college has.

Q: What were your impressions of the area?

A: Randy and I did research the area before we applied for the job to see if it was a good fit. I really appreciate how downtown Rock Springs is working on its Main Street initiatives, adding art and music events and trendy shops and venues to draw us downtown. The efforts made are showing. Sweetwater County is a gateway to an unbelievable number of outdoor recreation opportunities. We have a hard time deciding what outdoor adventure to do next.

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