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Nursing students appeal to local legislators

About 10 representatives from Dickinson State University attended a public forum with local state legislators asking for their help in ensuring the nursing program's survival.

(From left to right) Dickinson Reps. Mike Schatz, Vicky Steiner, Mike Lefor and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner spoke at a community forum updating the public on the current legislative session. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
(From left to right) Dickinson Reps. Mike Schatz, Vicky Steiner, Mike Lefor and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner spoke at a community forum updating the public on the current legislative session. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

About 10 representatives from Dickinson State University attended a public forum with local state legislators asking for their help in ensuring the nursing program's survival.

Mary Anne Marsh, the chair of the school's nursing department, addressed the lawmakers at the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce's Coffee with the Legislators, an event that drew about 80 attendees to City Hall Saturday morning. District 37 legislators Sen. Kelly Armstrong and Rep. Luke Simons were unable to attend the event.

Recently, DSU president Thomas Mitzel announced that the school was preparing for potential cuts in state funding. Phase III of this plan includes cutting the nursing department as well as another academic department, which has yet to be named.

"If Phase III had been implemented going into this year, there would have been 146 fewer students at DSU, those are nursing students," Marsh said. "This cut would be pervasive across campus and would last for years."

She asked the legislators for their help "to solicit financial support for DSU to avoid any further hemorrhage and move the department and DSU on into the future."

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Both Majority Caucus Leader Rep. Mike Lefor, R-District 36, and Rep. Mike Schatz, R-District 37, addressed the nursing students in the crowd saying that they were working to ensure the department remained intact. Five nursing students, three nursing faculty members, Dean of Instruction Ken Haught and Mitzel attended the forum.

"I want to assure you that I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that your program stays whole," Schatz said. "We have a shortage of nurses. You're a very important part of our education process, and I doubt whether anything is going to happen. Just feel reassured that we're working very hard. We know what's going on there."

Lefor pointed out that it is still early in the legislative session, so early that some agency departments have not even had their budgets through the appropriation committees yet. On March 10, the legislature will update its revenue projections for the next biennium.

Two nursing students also shared their testimonies regarding the importance of the program.

Melanie Marquardt, a first-year nursing student, said she and her husband moved here for DSU's nursing program and have since bought a home in the community and intend to start a family. She noted that students have an economic impact on the area, one that could be lost if the nursing program were cut.

Emily Wolf, a junior, said she came to DSU five years ago on an athletic scholarship - nursing was not on her horizon. Over time she decided to join the nursing program, eventually becoming the school's current nurse of the year.

"I decided to run for student nurse of the year because I am so proud and honored to be a part of this program," she said. "... This is such a unique program in the sense that these professors put in extra hours-they take our phone calls at 9, 10, 11 at night."

Wolf said her friends in other nursing programs - including the University of Mary, North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota-are jealous she is a part of DSU's nursing program.

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Ultimately, the students at DSU are aware of what is going on, Wolf said.

"You guys are probably going to get a little bit sick of us because you are going to hear from us, you are going to see us at these meetings, we have plans to reach out to other representatives," she said to the lawmakers. "We just want to thank you for everything that you're doing and for putting our minds at ease."

Lefor assured the department that these potential budget cuts are not news to the legislators, who have been working on this for more than a year. The local lawmakers have been meeting with other members of the Legislature, including members of the appropriations committee, throughout the past year. They have been explaining the plight DSU could face depending on how the budget for higher education comes together this biennium.

"Believe me when I say, every legislator that we've talked to does not want this to happen," Lefor said. "So I'm telling you, you're going to go to Dickinson State for nursing next year, OK? I'm going to make that our goal."

Lefor noted that they were able to secure about $3 million in one-time funding for DSU last biennium, and that the legislators think they have some plans in place to gather another round of additional funding for the school.

As a DSU alumnus and as a CHI St. Alexius Health board member, Lefor said he is aware of the nursing shortage.

"We need you. You're valuable. We're going to do all we can for you," he said.

The next Coffee with the Legislators event will take place on Feb. 11.

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DSU junior Emily Wolf spoke to local state lawmakers about the importance of the school's nursing department. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
DSU junior Emily Wolf spoke to local state lawmakers about the importance of the school's nursing department. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

Related Topics: DICKINSON STATE UNIVERSITY
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