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UW-Eau Claire nursing, responsible mining initiatives awarded UW System incentive grants

November 6, 2013
linda-young_2 SyversonKent
Dr. Linda Young Dr. Kent Syverson

EAU CLAIRE — Two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire initiatives — one designed to build an educated workforce for the state's natural resource industry and the other to increase the number of nurses in Wisconsin — have received funding through a newly created UW System incentive grant program.

"Through these initiatives, we will help meet workforce needs in two industries that are very important to our state, while also creating new and expanded opportunities for our students," UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said. "I am proud that UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff are leading these innovative projects, which will strengthen development efforts both regionally and throughout Wisconsin."

The UW System will invest $22.5 million over the next two years to support projects aimed at increasing economic growth and building a stronger Wisconsin workforce. Twelve proposals were funded, with two of them coming from UW-Eau Claire.

Led by UW-Eau Claire, the nursing initiative was awarded $3.2 million to increase the number of nursing faculty at four UW System nursing programs, support nursing enrollments and mitigate projections for unprecedented shortages of registered nurses in Wisconsin. UW System schools that are part of the project include Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Oshkosh.

UW-Eau Claire's "Responsible Mining Initiative" received $451,000 in grant monies to focus on workforce development to meet the needs of the emerging mining industry and environmental protection.

UW System nursing initiative

Currently, the shortage of nursing educators in Wisconsin greatly limits the number of students who can be accepted into nursing programs in the state, said Dr. Linda Young, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UW-Eau Claire.

"UW System nursing programs have the leadership, academic programs and curriculum necessary to graduate more highly qualified nurses," Young said. "But a shortage of nursing educators prevents us from enrolling more nursing students in our programs. This collaborative initiative will help us increase the number of registered nurses in Wisconsin by expanding our ability to enroll more nursing students in existing programs."

In 2012-13, 50-80 percent of qualified undergraduate students who applied to nursing schools at the four UW System institutions were denied admission primarily because there was not enough qualified nursing faculty to teach them, Young said.

Demand for nurses is expected to increase in Wisconsin at the same time that many nurses in the state are approaching their retirement years, Young said, adding that the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development predicts that by 2035, Wisconsin will experience a 36 percent shortfall in the available nursing workforce.

"To meet anticipated workforce needs, strategies for increasing the number of nursing faculty need to be dramatic and immediate," Young said.

The newly funded project will encourage new nurses to immediately pursue their doctoral degrees and encourage established nurses to enroll in nursing doctoral programs full time, Young said. Fellowships, loan forgiveness programs and nursing faculty summits are among the strategies that will be used to accomplish the project's goals, she said. Nurses who receive the fellowships and participate in the loan forgiveness program will make three-year teaching commitments to UW nursing schools, which will enable those programs to enroll more nursing students, Young said.

Graduating more nurses will help strengthen the state economy, Young said, noting that 86 percent of nursing graduates continue to live and work in Wisconsin. Ensuring an adequate number of nurses to meet the health care needs of all Wisconsin residents also will help strengthen the state's workforce in all sectors, she said.

Responsible Mining Initiative

Through outreach, education and internships, UW-Eau Claire's Responsible Mining Initiative will provide a comprehensive educational program in economic mineral resources, responsible mining practices and environmental protection.

Modern mining is a highly complex process with many regulations intended to minimize environmental impacts, said Dr. Kent Syverson, professor and chair of the geology department at UW-Eau Claire.

"It is vital that resources are extracted in an environmentally safe and low-impact manner, and responsible mining operations are a major focus in the modern mining and natural resources industry," Syverson said. "Responsible mining requires professionals with backgrounds in a range of science fields including geology, hydrogeology, restorative ecology and regulatory policy, as well as strong communication skills. But a dedicated program that provides the necessary training does not exist in the Upper Midwest."

The new program will give students a comprehensive understanding of modern mining and environmental practices in the mining and natural resources industries, preparing students for a variety of jobs in mining and environmental consulting industries as well as with governmental regulatory agencies such as the Department of the Natural Resources, Syverson said.

Through the newly funded program, Wisconsin high school teachers will be able to take summer classes for credit that focus on geology and environmental issues in the Upper Midwest and on careers in the geosciences. Seminars for high school students also will be offered, giving them hands-on learning experiences that introduce them to geology, natural resources, water resources and geoscience careers in the region.

In addition, the grant will lay the groundwork for a program focusing on economic geology, hydrogeology, restoration ecology, environmental protection and public policy, Syverson said.

"The program will produce creative, scientifically literate graduates who can make a positive difference in the mining, environmental and regulatory industries," Syverson said.

The mining initiative also will provide faculty with time to expand the geology department's paid internship program, providing new opportunities for students to gain experience in the mining and environmental industries, Syverson said.

The UW System Board of Regents Research, Economic Development, and Innovation Committee selected 12 projects — including the two proposed by UW-Eau Claire — for funding through the incentive grant program after reviewing 56 proposals from UW institutions throughout the state.



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