Union hosts grand opening for new academic facility

This fall, Union College’s two newest programs began the school year in a newly renovated section of the Don Love Building. On Oct. 7, Union held a grand opening for the new facility that now houses the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program and the International Rescue and Relief program. The event on the lawn in front of the new facility and featured comments by Tom Casady, public safety director for the Lincoln Police Department and Susan Epps of the Cornhusker chapter of the American Red Cross.

“These two academic programs are very involved in the Lincoln community in many ways,” said John Wagner, president of Union College. “This new facility will increase the ability to serve our students and to equip them to serve Lincoln and beyond.”

On a small campus where space is a premium, Union’s two newest programs had been forced to use smaller spaces that did not provide adequate facilities for what quickly became two of Union’s largest programs—both usually have 90 to 100 students any given year.

Training health care providers for a growing field

Started in 1998 as a baccalaureate program, physician assistant studies graduated its first master’s level class in 2007. PA shared space with the nursing program in the upper level of Larson Lifestyle Center and also used classrooms elsewhere on campus. “Being in PA school is daunting and the students form quite a cohesive group,” said Michelle Buller, director of the program. “Being together in one building will be wonderful and the improved technology will help them become better clinicians.”

The increased lab space enables students to practice their skills in a more realistic setting. “We have five new clinical areas that can accommodate ten students at a time,” said Buller. “In the past we shared lab space with the nursing program. They were great to work with, but it was cramped and hard to coordinate. I think this move will be good for all of us.”

One of only three PA programs in Nebraska, Union College accepts 30 new students each year into the 33-month program. Forbes Magazine consistently names physician assistant studies as one of the best master’s degrees for jobs in the country, and nearly all Union PAs have found jobs within three months of graduation.

Third year PA students do clinical rotations in many clinics in Lincoln and throughout Nebraska and more than 100 medical professionals in the community provide guest lectures for a variety of classes in the program.

A growing program with unique needs

The International Rescue and Relief program was also in desperate need of additional space. Although the emergency medical and search and rescue elements of the program require storage for a lot of equipment, the program had to make due with a converted day-care center in a small corner on the first floor of Rees Hall, the women’s residence hall.

“One of the most important changes is that we can actually have all our classes in one location,” said Rick Young, director of the IRR program and chair of the Division of Emergency Management and Exercise Science. “This will bring us together as a division and place us closer to the rest of campus. The program has been around for nine years now and this facility symbolizes its proven viability. It will further help legitimize and professionalize the department.”

With a decommissioned ambulance set up in the classroom and technical rope equipment on hand, IRR students will now be able to practice their skills indoors during winter months. “The old facilities were worn out and we had no place to store equipment,” said Young. “Our new offices and classrooms look more professional, and we’ll have everything in one place so we can be ready to deploy in the event of a crisis.”

The International Rescue and Relief program is a unique baccalaureate degree that prepares students for careers in emergency management, public safety, the medical field or project development. It includes training in disaster management, and all students spend a summer in Colorado learning wilderness survival and rescue and a semester in Central America learning jungle survival and medical treatment techniques.

IRR students have also assisted with the immediate response and recovery efforts following a variety of natural disasters including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the tornado outbreak in Alabama in 2011, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“This updated facility will help take two of our newest, yet strongest programs to the next level,” said President Wagner. “And that will lead to a better educational experience for not only students in those programs, but all of campus.”

The renovation brings a visible change to the campus as well. The tile exterior of the facility, formerly occupied by ministry resource supplier AdventSource, has beeen replaced by brick that matches the rest of the Don Love Building, the Ortner Center and the new Krueger Center for Science and Mathematics. The entry to the facility also features a smaller glass arch matching the large glass arch over the atrium.