The new department of nursing at Hope College has received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

The college's program began with the spring semester of 2002, and graduated its first class this May. The accreditation, which has been awarded for the maximum, five-year duration available to new programs, became effective in April and will continue through the end of the 2008-09 school year.

"CCNE sets a high standard for baccalaureate nursing programs, and we're extremely pleased to have earned accreditation," said Debra Sietsema, who is an assistant professor of nursing and chairperson of the department. "The CCNE recognition is important for our graduates as they seek jobs or apply to graduate schools, for informing the public of the program's quality, and to obtain continuing approval from the Michigan Board of Nursing."

The commission evaluates program quality on four general standards: mission and governance; institutional commitment and resources; curriculum and teaching-learning practices; and student performance and faculty accomplishments.

Although the college's nursing program is new, the discipline has a long history at Hope. From 1982 through the spring of 2003, the college operated a major jointly with Calvin College of Grand Rapids.

The department of nursing is housed in the college's new science center, which opened at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year. The major, leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, requires 48 credit hours to complete, with students starting in the program as sophomores. The program is structured for 36 students at each class level - sophomore, junior and senior.

In addition to meeting standards of baccalaureate nursing education, the program includes research experience, applications of spiritual care and internships, which are emphases that match traditional strengths at the college and in the community, according to Sietsema.

As is common in the sciences at the college, she noted, all nursing students before they graduate participate in collaborative research, with six of the department's seniors making presentations at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research this year. The students' placements in the community include partnering with area parish nurses to learn simultaneously about the spiritual dimension of care and family health care. Students and faculty also engage in volunteer opportunities, such as Hope-organized, medical mission trips in March to Central America and South America.

In addition, Sietsema said, new initiatives are in the works, including involvement with the college's CrossRoads Project, a program that encourages students to think theologically about vocation; the possibility of summer internships in nursing; and an effort, still in the formative stages, to develop a nurse leader program with Michigan State University, the Veterans Administration and Spectrum Health.

"I think what it says is that we don't view accreditation as meaning that we've 'arrived,'" she said. "We're going to continue to find ways to develop and implement a vision for nursing at Hope College and beyond."