Nursing Department History

Winona State University's Nursing Department has evolved and changed throughout the decades. Each decade brought new developments and successes that make the department what it is today.

Planning for the baccalaureate degree in nursing spanned several years and included Winona State College departments offering support courses. Direction for the designing the four-year degree was also received from members of the Winona health community. Legislative approval was secured, funding was allocated, and the program was up and running.

Classes were held on campus. Clinical sites for practice included Community Memorial Hospital, Winona Clinic, Winona County Public Health Nursing Services, and the Rochester State Mental Hospital.

  • 1962: State legislature approval.
  • 1964: Department was housed in Old Maxwell and 2nd floor Phelps Hall.
  • 1964: Program established with interim State Board of Nursing approval and intention to meet criteria for National League for Nursing accreditation.
  • 1968: First graduating class of 16 students from Winona State College.


Health care and the profession of nursing moved in the direction that required more nurses, especially with baccalaureate preparation. Winona State College was strategically placed in the health care corridor to increase the number of graduates to meet the needs of area organizations.

The first nursing major classes were conducted in Rochester in the spring of 1976. Associate degree (two-year degree) and diploma (three-year degree) nurses were admitted for additional nursing education related to the role of the baccalaureate-prepared nurse (RN-BS Option). This content included nursing leadership, nursing research, public and community health, communications.

  • 1970: Application for National League for Nursing accreditation submitted and preliminary approval received.
  • 1975: Rochester campus student attend classes in Graham hockey arena.
  • 1975: Winona State College becomes Winona State University.
  • 1977: Pilot group of RN-BS Option students graduate.
  • 1979: Both campuses have RN-BS Option students.


  • 1980: Prelicensure students were given the option of completing the upper division major in Winona or Rochester.
  • 1982: RN Articulation tract created with Bush Grant and Minnesota legislative funding. Academic credit was given for prior learning. Separate classes were designed to meet the educational and professional practice needs.
  • 1984: Baccalaureate curriculum revision. Curricular strands were depicted as weaving the inter-relatedness of the conceptual framework and the major concepts of Person, Social Systems, Health Nursing, and Coping.
  • 1985: Creation of five colleges at WSU. The Department of Nursing was in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
  • Mid-80s: Planning began for a Master of Science in Nursing. Initial graduate programs included: adult health nursing, nursing administration, nurse educator, and clinical nurse specialist.
  • Mayo Clinic Health System advocates for advanced practice preparation. La Crosse hospital systems endorse concept as well.
  • 1987: First Master’s in Nursing classes offered through a $600,000 Health & Human Services grant; representing the largest amount of grant funding awarded to WSU to date.
  • 1988: Kappa Mu Chapter awarded from Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society in Nursing.
  • Throughout the decade, Rochester classes moved from Graham arena to Northrup Elementary School to Golden Hills Elementary School and finally to the University Center-Rochester (UCR), located on the campus of Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC). 

An exciting decade for change and expansion in the Department! The most dramatic change was the philosophy of nursing and the emphasis on Caring as a central tenet in all programs. “Nursing is caring in the human health experience in an environment of change.” People, Health, and Nursing were the additional core principles that were reflected in all baccalaureate and graduate courses. The faculty fostered a caring climate that extended to faculty, students, and staff.

Care groups were the hallmark of the prelicensure program. Ten students and a faculty member met on a regular basis for the duration of the major. Each semester focused on a different way to care: caring for self, caring for others, caring for the community, caring for global society.

Faculty members disseminated the caring curriculum experience with other nurse professionals through publications and presentations.

  • 1990: First graduating class for the Master’s in Nursing.
  • 1990: Family nurse practitioner track added to the graduate program offerings.
  • 1990: Formal partnerships with Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center provided clinical experiences for prelicensure students from the Winona campus. Expanded learning sites for Master’s students were gained from the relationship.
  • 1992: Stark Hall was completed. The Department of Nursing in Winona occupies the third floor.
  • 1996: Caring curriculum is initiated for prelicensure students. Service learning becomes an integral part of the Department.
  • 1997: WSU becomes a laptop university and the Department of Nursing is an early adopter.
  • 1997: Accreditation.


The Department continues to respond to advances in nursing education, the nursing profession, and health care. Accreditation for all programs was received by the newly created Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. It was a decade of expanding enrollments across the campuses and programs.

In 2002 the Winona campus had 60 juniors and 60 seniors; the Rochester campus had 50 juniors and 50 seniors. The RN-BS Option had 33 newly admitted students and 39 returning students, and the graduate program had 40 incoming students and 72 returning students.

  • 2002: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) awards accreditation status to all programs.
  • 2002: Planning for the Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) began as a consortium of several state universities. This provided an opportunity to share resources and collectively offer faculty professional development opportunities to strengthen teaching at the doctoral level.
  • 2006: Dual admission on the Winona campus results in an admitted class of 50 students to the nursing program every semester, resulting in 200 nursing majors in the nursing curriculum each semester. Rochester campus maintains single admission and class sizes increase to 50 juniors and 50 seniors.
  • 2007: First DNP students admitted.
  • 2008: Purple scrub tops and white pants are the uniform requirements for prelicensure students.
  • 2009: Planning begins for a major curriculum revision for the baccalaureate program.
  • Jamaica Travel Studies created. Partnership with University Hospital of the West Indies Department of Nursing Education provides yearly travels to the island. Learning opportunities related to health care, nursing educations, the political system, and the culture. Several groups of Jamaican students and faculty made reciprocal visits.
  • Skills blitz becomes the buzz word for returning students after summer break. A rotation of refresher nursing skills units gave the students the chance to review past learning before embarking into the practice setting.


Simulation has become a stronger component for all program curricula, used as a means to promote student readiness for clinical experience and provide new methods for teaching psychomotor skills in a safe environment. Critical thinking and decision making are tested throughout the simulation during preparation, experiences, and debriefing. Low and medium fidelity simulators as well as faculty creativity and resourcefulness create real life situations.

Undergraduate students have scenarios for acute care, maternity, pediatrics, and mental and community health. Graduate students use simulation for advanced assessments and observed structural clinical experiences.

  • 2010: First Doctor of Nursing Practice graduating class.
  • 2012 Higher Learning Commission approval of stand-alone DNP program at WSU. Tracks include Family Nurse Practitioner, Adulty/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Adulty/Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist, and Nursing and Organizational Leadership.
  • RN-BS program expands to La Crescent and Austin sites due to an increased demand from health care partners for professional nurses at the baccalaureate level.
  • Online learning expands in all programs: D2L, hybrid offerings, flipped classrooms.
  • 2017: Initial course for Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program offered in response to health care needs.
  • 2018: 50th anniversary of the first graduating class.
  • Enrollments include 200 baccalaureate students in Winona, 100 baccalaureate students in Rochester, 300 RN-BS students, 100 graduate students, and 85 DNP students.