From the World Wide Web to Google, flip phones to the Apple corporation, the last few decades have seen unimaginable changes in technological developments. This thrills the faculty and staff of Mankato’s Rasmussen College. Rather than stick with past methods and traditions, the college hopes to catapult its students into a bright future by being ahead of the times.

What does being forward-thinking look like for the Rasmussen?

“Well, we don’t teach shorthand anymore!” joked Donna Wenkel, Academic Dean of the Mankato campus. Wenkel, who began her career with Rasmussen 35 years ago as a typing and shorthand teacher, shared that one of the college’s most recent innovations was to move the campus from its former location on St. Andrews’ Drive to its current spot at the Madison East Center.

“At first, I think people kind of scratched their heads,” Wenkel remembered. “They were thinking retail space when they thought of Madison East, but when you look at how it’s being used now as a lot of health-care related businesses that are in there, it really fit nicely for us to assume some of that space as well,” she said.

“It is set up in a way that we’re utilizing our space more efficiently,” agreed Mankato’s Campus Director Kathy Sanger. Rasmussen’s campus within Madison East Centr contains faculty and staff offices as well as classrooms and labs for nursing and medical assisting students.

“It’s a great location and convenient for our students to get to,” Sanger said. “We’ve enjoyed it.”

Rasmussen’s Mankato-based classes are primarily offered in online format, with the exception of its popular nursing program. Over half of the college’s 600-plus students are enrolled in Practical Nursing (LPN), Associate Degree Nursing (RN), and Bachelor of Science and Nursing (BSN) programs. These classes normally involve a significant amount of in-person training.

“We’ve had students who do an externship for medical assisting and they go over to Advanced Pain Management, for example, which is down the hall!” Wenkel laughed.

Online emphasis

The main reason for the campus’s switch in locations is due to recent years’ emphasis on online learning. When Rasmussen opened at their previous St. Andrews Drive location, the college’s business, justice studies, science, technology and nursing courses were all taught in physical classrooms. In the decade or so that followed, each of these disciplines except for nursing gradually switched to virtual lessons in order to better accommodate the students.

“We are one of the few schools that meet the students where they are in life,” said Joan Rich, vice president of Rasmussen’s school of nursing. The average age of Rasmussen students hovers around 26, and several scholars are family breadwinners or working parents for whom a typical class schedule isn’t possible or practical.

“We want students to have that flexibility in their schedule, but most of our online classes have that opportunity for what we call live class sessions,” Wenkel said. “We offer it through WebEx, and if students can’t come to that, then we record them so that students can listen to the recording later.”

This approach is meant to ensure that each attendee has access to his or her teacher, as well as camaraderie with the rest of the class. The college also uses a 24/7 technological hotline service based in Chicago.

“They’re the kindest, calmest people,” said Rich of Rasmussen’s technological support professionals. “They help our students, and they help our faculty if there’s any glitches. They can take over your computer and see what’s going on.”

“Our whole entire library system is set up online, and our tutoring service is set up online,” Sanger added. “They (the students) are never left alone, and they don’t do it on their own.”

While the nursing program is the only Rasmussen track to have physical classrooms, nursing students still use a significant amount of technology in their training. Some nursing classes are taught online, and in recent months the college has paired with the American Testing Institute to utilize a virtual simulation clinical course called Real Life.

“They use live patients and there’s a variety of virtual simulation scenarios within the repertoire,” Rich said. “Our students have to make decisions on what they’re going to do next. They get to critically think.”

During the onset of COVID-19, nursing faculty chose Real Life to temporarily replace the students’ on-the-ground clinical studies. The Minnesota Board of Nursing allows schools to use up to 50% of virtual learning in their courses, and Rich is confident that Real Life will be an excellent alternative to hands-on learning.

“It’s the goal of the college that we continue to educate safe, competent nurses,” Rich said, citing a recent study by the National State Board of Nursing that found no significant difference in competency between nurses who had received on-site training only, and those who had an up to 50 percent mix of on-site and virtual simulation learning.

“Their scores are fabulous,” Rich said regarding her students. “You can feel good, Mankatoites!”

Besides Real Life, Rasmussen also offers virtual labs for nursing students, as well as a program called Board Vitals that helps graduates prepare for their board exams. Rasmussen alumni can use Board Vitals for up to six months after their graduation – a feature that may come in handy if testing is delayed by personal schedule conflicts, or even the recent virus outbreak.

Rasmussen’s directors also encourage students to look outside their disciplines and get involved in their community. In the past year, several faculty members and scholars have been active in local causes including Junior Achievement, the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, and Greater Mankato Growth.

“We love the Mankato community; it’s important for us to give back,” said Sanger. “We encourage it. That is one thing that I am super proud of.”

Looking ahead, Rasmussen’s decision-makers anticipate several other groundbreaking changes, most notably the addition of several masters programs to their roster of degrees. In 2021, faculty anticipate a name change from Rasmussen College to Rasmussen University in recognition of the campus’s dedication to serving students in all areas of education.

“We’re meeting the demands of our students,” said Sanger. “I love that. I feel that I’m a part of their dreams and it’s exciting.”

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