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UT has recently garnered significant national accolades, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Trailblazer award for retention and graduation rate gains and the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for outreach. These successes are due to the hard work of our innovative employees. Here’s a look at two College of Nursing faculty members who are trailblazers in and out of the classroom.

faw ramseyGary Ramsey

Challenged by the Institute of Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s goal that 80 percent of the country’s nurses should hold bachelor’s degrees by the year 2020, Gary Ramsey took a risk.

“Given the unprecedented demand for educated nurses—matched with the nurses’ demanding schedule—something needed to change,” said the clinical assistant professor of nursing, who oversees the college’s RN to BSN program. “We needed to reduce barriers to study such as lack of time for studying, family obligations, or seamless transition from one program to another.”

Ramsey overhauled UT’s program, making it the first and only fully online undergraduate program at UT and one of a few fully online RN to BSN programs in the state.

The move has enabled nurses like Julie Hubbard, a working mother of two, to get their degrees and help more people.

“When you factor in set class times, your life suddenly revolves around a schedule you no longer have control of,” Hubbard said. “If a situation presents itself that you need to be somewhere during that class time, you have to make a choice—miss class or ignore the other obligation. The online classes allow you to maintain the flexibility to meet your obligations on your own schedule.”

Thanks to Ramsey’s changes, the program’s student roster has jumped from fifteen to around seventy-five—including students as far away as Washington State.

Ramsey said because the nursing field is constantly changing and becoming more demanding, his work with the program will never be done. In fact, this fall the RN to BSN program’s curriculum will be revamped to respond to student needs.

Ramsey also oversees the curriculum for the college’s traditional BSN program and the accelerated BSN program—which he created—for students with a degree in something else who want to change career paths.

“Dr. Ramsey has led the undergraduate nursing program in the College of Nursing through many successful transitions. His student-centered approach has contributed to high retention rates and student success,” said Victoria Niederhauser, college dean.

Ramsey said the hard work is worth it because it lets him watch students grow into caring professionals.

“It is very reassuring when I hear our employers say that our graduates are some of the very best nurses coming out of our schools and colleges.”

Susan Speraw

Residents of Clay County, Kentucky, won’t have to drink soda because they can’t get clean water, thanks to Susan Speraw, a research professor of nursing.

Her work with students and colleagues will be bringing a water kiosk to the Appalachian community.

The Kentucky residents make up just a fragment of the people who have benefited from Speraw’s passion for helping others.

“I believe that we have that moral responsibility to care for the least among us, and I have been so fortunate to have been in a position to do so,” she said.

Susan Speraw and child
Susan Speraw, who led a medical clinic team to a remote village area of Haiti, greets a child and mother who were seeking medical care.

Speraw discovered this passion early in her career—working with immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and refugees fleeing wars in El Salvador and Southeast Asia. This experience springboarded a career at UT, where she has led medical teams to earthquake-stricken Haiti, founded a unique nursing program focused on global and disaster nursing, and is now—for her final act before retiring this month—leading the Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Interprofessional Collaborative Education Project, which is focused on improving the area’s community wellness and disaster preparedness.

“Dr. Speraw has been the trailblazer in leading innovative programs in the community and throughout the world. Her passion for promoting holistic health in communities like Clay has inspired students and her faculty colleagues alike,” Niederhauser said.

The Appalachia Project uses an innovative type of care that aligns teams from various disciplines, such as architecture, engineering, and nursing, to tackle real-world problems like dirty water, mold, and carbon monoxide poisoning. The experience has given students an invaluable professional and personal experience that will serve them better in helping disadvantaged communities.

“Through her leadership, I have seen how a humble, patient approach is necessary to finding effective solutions. I see the value of working with others who do things differently than I do and I am inspired to no longer be afraid of diving into the unknown in order to help others,” said nursing graduate student Lauren Oppizzi.