All Better

Hartwick’s nursing program – and its community – enjoy transformational year

By Mike Barone


Small-town living is different. People know each other well – for better or for worse. Their generosity exceeds the norm, and they rally together when times get tough. It’s romanticized in holiday movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and in songs like John Mellencamp’s timeless “Small Town,” played at every rural high school football game.

Yet even the staunchest fans of towns and villages can’t escape this reality. They are, by definition, locales of health inequity.

That’s according to the National Academy of Sciences’ 500-page report, “The Future of Nursing, 2020-2030.” It explores the steadily declining healthcare systems many communities are experiencing – caused by the compounded effects of declining populations, financial losses, reduced services and physician recruiting challenges.

It is against this backdrop that Hartwick’s Nursing Program – re-launched as The School of Nursing during this fall’s True-Blue reunion weekend – proudly works, because it knows its importance to its community.

Hartwick’s long-respected nursing education history dates back to 1943, when the U.S. Public Health Service and State Department of Education selected it as one of the first colleges among President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s uniformed nursing reserve. Eight women enrolled in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps program that year. Today, as nursing education at Hartwick celebrates its 80th anniversary, that figure has swelled to 234 nursing majors, following in the footsteps of more than 1,500 accomplished alumni.

Maria Vezina ’73, Ph.D. is among them. She serves New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System as vice president and chief of Nursing Practice, Education, Advanced Practice Nursing Credentialing, and Nursing Labor Relations Partnerships. She’s also been a Hartwick College Trustee since 2018 and has seen first-hand how sought-after its graduates are across the region and beyond.

Maria Vezina '73

“These hospitals love Hartwick’s nursing students because they’re so prepared, Hartwick’s FlightPath principles of ensuring that you’re learning life skills – not just to get through college, but to be a successful and ethical adult – are distinctive. Its high-level engagement with faculty, students and administration honors what higher education should be.”

Maria Vezina ’73, Ph.D.


A big reason for that is because Hartwick nursing majors begin their clinical experience rotations just weeks after they move into their residence halls.

“We go beyond theoretical and go right to practical courses immediately,” said Hartwick Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost Laurel Bongiorno. “Our students start their real-world experience in their first year, first semester.”


That was a huge factor in sophomore Wilfredo Alvarenga’s decision to choose Hartwick over other collegiate nursing programs, along with its small average class sizes.


“It’s really amazing,” said the Long Island native and first-generation college student. “When I talk to other students studying nursing at other colleges, they can’t believe we’re getting clinical experience so quickly. It really makes us stand out.”


The College has also developed a series of strong relationships with hospitals and healthcare systems across Upstate New York, including Syracuse, Utica, and Albany. Still, the deep symbiosis it’s built with providers across the greater Oneonta region is remarkable.

“What’s impressive about Hartwick is, despite its location, it produces so many nurses of such high quality, many of whom stay and serve the community,” added Trustee Georgette “Gigi” Smith ’85, Ph.D., associate provost for Education Innovation & Student Life at the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Nursing.

From experience, Smith recognizes the important and evolving role nurses have within the healthcare system’s hierarchy, especially in rural communities.

“Nurses scan the horizon to see what is coming and what is most prevalent. They have the unique ability to understand and recognize social determinants of health, as well as barriers which may be stopping them from achieving health equity. Often those services are not as optimum [in smaller towns] as they are in urban markets.”

Georgette “Gigi” Smith ’85, Ph.D.


It is in this role of healthcare sentry that Hartwick began two new collaborations in 2023, designed to enhance the quality of care across the region – and the quantity of professionals who call it home.

The first, “One-Hart,” is an articulation agreement with SUNY Oneonta which allows its Pre-Nursing track students to transfer seamlessly into Hartwick’s bachelor of science program after they complete their associate’s degree.

That partnership then went a step further with the launch of Bassett CARES, an innovative workforce development partnership with Bassett Healthcare Network, aimed at retaining new graduates and addressing critical workforce shortages in the region. Bassett CARES (Career Advancement and Retention Experience for Students) will reduce student debt through loan repayment stipends of up to $25,000 per employee for up to 50 Bassett staff members annually. It is open to graduates of Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta with healthcare degrees, as well as disciplines like accounting or computer science which play key roles in Bassett’s success.

Leaders view these new collaborations as simply the next step in the longstanding partnership between Hartwick and the region’s healthcare providers. For example, Hartwick students have received “hands-on” clinical experience at all five Bassett Healthcare Network’s hospitals and numerous outpatient clinics for generations. That knowledge gives them an advantage at the job interview stage.

“The time they spend with us as students, getting to know us and understanding our mission, allows us to build relationships leading to recruitment offers,” says Angela Belmont, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Bassett’s senior vice president and chief nurse executive. “It’s a win-win situation as Hartwick nursing graduates join us at Bassett every year.”

One of its newest additions is Abigail Miller, ’22, an Oneonta native and Bassett Gastrointestinal Lab nurse. Miller loves her hometown and its strong family ties, so she wanted to remain in the area. She chose Hartwick’s intensive three-year degree program, saving her time and money along her path. Still, despite growing up so close to campus, she was pleasantly surprised at how much she didn’t know – and how much she enjoyed her experience.

Abigail Miller '22

“I didn’t realize just how good of a school it was before I started. Everyone cares about your learning, even outside your major. Plus, they offer scholarships specifically to nearby residents to help them earn their degree.”

Abigail Miller ’22

Nursing Major

As intensive as her program was at times, she made sure to get involved in campus life too, which she felt was important because of her local upbringing. She joined the swim team, which helped her feel connected and provided a close group of friends.

Miller’s clinical training at Bassett further assured her that she had made the right decision.

“I did my senior capstone in their ICU [Intensive Care Unit] and I honestly didn’t want to leave,” she recalled. “I really like the hospital all around. Everyone there feels like family.”

Trustee Smith sees these new collaborations as aligning perfectly with the National Academy of Sciences’ goal of seamless academic progression.

“They [NAS] believe that nurses must be lifelong learners, and that’s ingrained in Hartwick’s mission,” Smith attested. “That alignment is so important for our students. It gives them a real advantage.”

All this follows another transformational change for the industry earlier this year, when the New York State Legislature allowed colleges like Hartwick to use simulation training for up to one-third of nursing student clinical experience requirements. This change was long overdue, according to Assistant Professor of Nursing Melody Best ’84, Ph.D., who knows better than most.

“After graduating from Hartwick, I joined the Air Force,” said Best, who has overseen Hartwick’s state-of-the-art Clark Nursing Simulation Lab since she rejoined her alma mater as a faculty member in 2018. “The military has been doing simulation for eons! They practice, they drill…healthcare is finally catching up to that. They’re recognizing the advantages simulation offers.”

Best is not just sharing her bias. She cites decade-old academic research which separated nursing cohorts who had gone through simulation plus clinical training, compared to cohorts with only clinical experiences. The study found that those who had simulation work outperformed those with none.

It’s easy to see why.

“As a student in a clinical setting, if your patient has a problem and deteriorates, you’re usually asked to leave the room,” Best explained. “Sometimes you’re lucky and can stay in the room to observe, but most of the time you’re not experiencing those critical scenarios, physically.”

Hartwick’s “Sim Lab” creates those scenarios for students so they’re better prepared when presented with those real-life circumstances upon entering the workforce.

Hartwick College nursing students in Sim Lab running cardiac simulation on mannnequin
Hartwick College Nursing student in Sim Lab with mannnequin
Hartwick College Nursing students in Sim Lab with faculty
Laurel Bongiorno, Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty

“Our mannequins have strokes and heart attacks. One gives birth. Our students receive very interesting and valuable experiences, including urgent scenarios to which they respond.”

Laurel Bongiorno, Ph.D.

Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost

The passage of the new state bill wasn’t just a satisfactory moment for Best; it was a teachable one.

“I made sure to take our students to Albany to lobby for this bill, so they gained that experience as well,” she advised. “I learned when I was a student here, Hartwick graduates don’t sit on the sidelines. We’re expected to move the profession along.”

Hartwick College nursing students and faculty with NYS Senator Peter Oberacker

Nursing’s importance was never more evident than during the pandemic; yet ironically, it was the pandemic – which robbed the profession of so many who either lost their lives while caring for patients or left it due to the burnout it caused – that pushed this technology to the forefront.

“It helped us keep our students on track for graduation, which was vital to fueling the workforce,” Best explained. “They weren’t allowed to be in hospitals, so this gave us the chance to innovate and design new teaching scenarios to help them experience many common cases they were missing onsite, as well as some unusual ones.”

It was, in fact, one of the pandemic’s silver linings, and as significant as its impact was nationally, the ramifications were even greater in small markets.

“In rural communities such as ours, we experience even greater disparities,” Belmont added. “Our collaboration with Hartwick has been essential to maintaining the pipeline for nurses in our area.”

Yet, the vital importance of Hartwick’s nursing educators in modern times and the World War II era – and the parallels they possess – are not lost on its leaders.

“Since that first nursing class in 1943, the art, science and technology involved in the education of professional nurses has evolved significantly,” said Department Chair and Clinical Associate Professor Pat Grust, Ph.D., RN, CLNC. “We have adapted throughout the years to maintain a high level of success and are very excited to address these ongoing challenges as we continue the Hartwick legacy.”

That includes a mindset of embracing the Otsego County community – never apologizing for it. View photos of Hartwick’s 80-year Nursing Program.

“We don’t have a great rural healthcare system; we have a great healthcare system which serves a rural area,” Bongiorno advised. “It’s what we teach our students, and that’s the attitude they bring to our region’s employers.”

Vezina acknowledged all this and more as she reflected on her time on Oyaron Hill with classmates during True Blue Weekend. Most of all, she values the complete education she received.

“As we reminisced, we really appreciated the strong STEM background we were provided, as well as the leadership traits our professors developed within us and the ability to care for and to relate to people,” Vezina said. “Nursing is all about relationships: with the patients and families you serve, along with your colleagues and team. How fortunate we were to have been given that foundation at Hartwick!”

U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps


1943 U.S. Cadet Nurses at Hartwick College

In 1943 Hartwick became one of the first colleges in New York to participate in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, created to address an urgent need for nurses during the Second World War.

U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps ad
U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps enlistment ad
Miss Edith M. Lacey, Hartwick College's first director, and later as an Associate Professor of Nursing and Dean of the School of Nursing

Hartwick’s Nursing program began and grew under the leadership of Miss Edith M. Lacey, who served as its first director, and later as an Associate Professor of Nursing and Dean of the School of Nursing.

8 nursing students enrolled at Hartwick College in 1943

Hartwick’s Nursing program started with a class of eight students, who entered Hartwick on July 12, 1943.

1943 Hartwick College Nursing Program Brochure
Hartwick College nursing candlelight ceremony

Once students completed pre-clinical studies, a candlelight ceremony was held in the chapel at which time they were awarded a plain white cap on which HC was embroidered in Hartwick blue.

Hartwick College nursing plain white cap on which HC was embroidered in Hartwick blue
Rome Hospital and Murphy Memorial Hospital

In March of 1944 Hartwick College signed contracts with the Rome and Murphy Memorial Hospital and the Elizabeth A. Horton Memorial Hospital to host clinical programs for Nursing students.

Aurelia Osborne Fox Memorial Hospital

Later in 1944, the Aurelia Osborne Fox Memorial Hospital was added as a clinical site. By October of 1944 there were 95 student nurses enrolled in Hartwick’s program, including 38 assigned to clinical service in the hospitals and 57 students in the College.

1945 Hartwick College nursing lab

In February of 1945 Hartwick celebrated the dedication of its new Nursing Arts and Dietetics laboratories, erected by the Federal Works Agency.

Hartwick College nursing student Akiyo Hatekedo

In February of 1945 Nursing student Akiyo Hatekedo delivered a talk to the Student Christian Association, describing her family’s experience being moved from their home in California to an internment camp in Arizona. She was capped in the Spring of that year.

Hartwick College nursing student Ann Levchak

In September of 1946 the first graduation ceremony of the School of Nursing took place. One of the graduates was Miss Ann Levchak, of Middletown, NY, who worked as a Relief Nurse at Elizabeth A. Horton Memorial Hospital.

Cadet Nurses, Nursing Club, Hartwick Nurse Association


U.S. Cadet Nurse Uniform, 1946

Cadet Nurse’s uniform belonging to Ann Levchak, class of 1946.

Nursing Club, 1950

In 1950 the Hartwick Nurse Association was created, with the Nursing Club continuing as part of that organization. In June of 1951 their constitution was adopted and the first officers elected.

News clipping about Terry Geraghty, Hartwick College nursing student

In 1948 Terry Geraghty, a Nursing student and senior, was elected by an overwhelming majority to be the first “Campus Sweetheart” and preside over Hartwick’s annual Homecoming Day activities.

Hartwick College nursing lab, 1948

Even the early Nursing program had an emphasis on liberal arts education. The 1948 Hartwick Catalog lists pre-clinical requirements for students pursuing a B.S. in Nursing, including courses in English, History, Physical Education, Psychology, Religion and Sociology.

Hartwick College nursing lab, 1949

In 1949 Hartwick’s Nursing program was classified in Group One of a survey conducted by the American Journal of Nursing, which ranked the school among the top 25 percent of the 1,152 basic nursing schools in the country.

Hartwick College nursing program 10th anniversary booklet, 1953

In 1953 Hartwick College celebrated the tenth anniversary of its Nursing program. After the war, the School of Nursing’s focus shifted to the local community and recruitment was aimed at enrolling students interested in the health problems of people living in small towns and on farms. A grant from the Kellogg Foundation helped the College to weather the transition from the 3-year Cadet program to offering only the baccalaureate degree program. In 1954 the School of Nursing received a $5,000 grant from the Clark Foundation.

Hartwick College nursing student Kyung Kim arrived from Seoul, Korea, 1955

In 1955, international student He Kyung Kim arrived at Hartwick from Seoul, Korea to study Nursing.

Hartwick College Nursing Pin, 1958

Nursing students receive a pin upon their graduation. The 1958 pin was given to a Nursing graduate and still refers to the program as a separate school. The pin bears the earlier College seal depicting John Christopher Hartwick handing a bible to a Native American man.

Hartwick College Nursing Brochure, 1959

In 1959, to meet accreditation standards, Hartwick’s School of Nursing became the Department of Nursing under the Division of Physical Arts & Sciences. What had been a hospital-based program now came under the college’s control and students were supervised by faculty rather than hospital personnel.

Hartwick College Nursing students decorating Christmas Tree, 1960

In 1960, President Binder announced that a $5,000 gift from the Charles Frueauff Foundation would be used to strengthen the Nursing program, with particular emphasis on adding library books and increasing liberal arts content in the Nursing curriculum, per the Middle States recommendations of the previous year.

Hartwick College nursing student Sharon Davidson, 1963

In 1963, Sharon Davidson, a sophomore from Norwich, NY, was named Hartwick’s Outstanding Student Nurse after being judged in the areas of poise, leadership, academic standing, contributions to the community, and the field of nursing.

Hartwick College Candle Service for Nursing Students, 1964

In 1964 a prior Nursing program tradition, the Candlelight Service, was reinstated on April 5th. Sponsored by the seniors, the sophomore nursing students participated in the candle lighting and concluded by reciting the Nightingale Pledge, an oath of dedication and service.

Hartwick College nursing students in family health course

In the 1960s, Nursing students took a course called Family Health Nursing that taught the role of the professional nurse in family-centered maternity care with an emphasis on positive health principles.

Hartwick College Association of Student Nurses (HCASN) members, 1968

In 1968 the Hartwick College Association of Students of Nursing sponsored a variety of programs including lectures on socialized medicine, the Army Nursing Corps, and a panel discussion of senior nursing majors on their experiences in Binghamton.

Nursing Baccalaureate Degree & Liberal Arts Content in Nursing Curriculum


Hartwick College O'Connor Chair Lecture Program, 1973

Now in its 50th year, the A. Lindsay and Olive B. O’Connor Chair of Nursing was created in 1973 “to bring prominent scholars in the field of nursing to Hartwick College and to make lectures by such scholars available to registered nurse practitioners throughout the area.”

Hartwick College professor of nursing Mary Sees in The Bahamas- Transcultural Nursing, 1974

In February of 1974 student nurses traveled to Eleuthra Island in the Bahamas to participate in a health study. They were accompanied by Mary C. Sees, who served as Nursing Department Chair from 1967 to 1980.

Hartwick College Nursing Pin, 1975

The 1975 pin was given to a Hartwick College Nursing graduate. The pin bears the earlier College seal depicting John Christopher Hartwick handing a bible to a Native American man.

Hartwick College Nursing Brochure, 1979

Hartwick’s 1970s Admissions brochure for prospective Nursing students described the program as “providing opportunities to free the individual to think independently, to serve society, and to act with enlightenment and imagination.”

Hartwick College Association of Student Nurses at Pine Lake, 1974

In the 1970s Hartwick College hosted continuing education programs for nurses at its Pine Lake Campus. The 10-day workshop held in June of 1974 was “designed to introduce the nurse practitioner to the problem-oriented nursing process with emphasis on the physical assessment skills.” Tuition was $100.

Hartwick College nursing student in ethics class, 1980

In the 1980s the Nursing curriculum included a course in Biomedical Ethics, described as “a critical study of major problem areas in the biomedical field including abortion, behavior control, euthanasia, genetics, informed consent, and allocation of health care resources.”

Hartwick College nursing professor Perrie Saxton, 1983, talking with a student

In 1983, plans to expand the Nursing program at Hartwick were announced by Professor Edna “Perrie” Saxton, Nursing Department Chair. The goal of the RN Mobility Program was to provide area registered nurses with a wider range of options for pursuing the baccalaureate degree in nursing.

Hartwick College nursing professor Perrie Saxton, upon her retirement in 1992

Professor Saxton retired in 1992 after serving as Chair of the Nursing Department for 12 years. During her tenure the Nursing Department acquired its own recruiter (the only department to have one), established a consortium to address the shortage of nurses in rural NY counties, and founded a health clinic for Oneonta’s seniors at Nadar Towers.

Hartwick College Nursing 50th Anniversary Program, 1993

In 1993 Hartwick celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Nursing program. A retrospective exhibit
was held in the Yager Museum, including artifacts loaned by the New York State Nurses Foundation. Documents, photos and medical equipment dating from the days of Florence Nightingale’s medical service in the Crimean War were on display, in addition to artifacts from the College Archives.

Hartwick College Susan Marusic Shearer '47

In 1996, the Hartwick community lost Susan Marusic Shearer. She was a 1947 graduate of the Nursing program who had a distinguished career including decades of service to the College, beginning as a
campus nurse and going on to direct our Student Health Services.

Hartwick College President Richard A. Detweiler speaking upon the College's Bicentennial about the Cadet Nurses Corps, 1997

In 1997, the plaque outside of Perrella Health Center was given by friends and family of Sue Shearer. It is dedicated to the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps students and faculty of Hartwick by President Richard A. Detweiler.

Nursing Skills Lab, Hospital Suite Simulation Unit, Partnerships


Hartwick College nursing students in Jamaica- Transcultural Nursing, 2001

In the late 1990s baccalaureate programs in Nursing began to migrate from the National League for Nursing (NLN) to the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accreditation as the desired credential. In 1998 Hartwick received preliminary approval from CCNE and in May of 2003 the Nursing program received full CCNE accreditation for ten years.

In 2001, Nursing students in their third year traveled to Jamaica during J Term.


Hartwick College new Johnstone Science Center, Department of Nursing, 2001

In May of 2001, the Department of Nursing moved to the newly renovated Science Complex, with offices, labs and classrooms occupying the fourth floor. The facility was designed to promote greater interaction and collaboration between the Departments of Nursing, Chemistry and Biotechnology, and to encourage a “student-as-scientist” investigatory teaching approach.

Hartwick College nursing alumni at Willard State Hospital, 2004

In 2004, Nursing alumni from the classes of ‘60 and ‘62 visited an exhibit in Albany titled “Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from the Willard State Hospital Attic.” Some attendees had a special interest in the exhibit, having obtained their psychiatric training at Willard State Hospital during the late 1950s.

Hartwick College nursing students and faculty at farm visit- Rural Health Nursing, 2007

In January of 2007, students studied Rural Health Nursing, a course designed to introduce them to the challenges rural residents face in obtaining healthcare. The were introduced to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) which addresses specific health needs of farming populations.

Harriet Babcock, Hartwick College nursing alumna

In 2009 Hartwick lost a longtime friend of the Department of Nursing, Harriet Babcock. She was a member of the first Cadet Nurse Corps class at Hartwick and was the first nurse to be “capped.” An early advocate of continuing education for women, Harriet established a Hartwick nursing scholarship awarded annually to a non-traditional senior transfer or RN student pursuing a baccalaureate degree.

Hartwick College Nursing Alumni Reunion Class of 1962, 2009

The Nursing Class of 1962 has held reunions every year since their graduation. Pictured here is their 47th reunion that took place August of 2009.

Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich with nursing alumni at Lacy Dedication, 2012

In 2012 the plaque dedicated to Dean Edith M. Lacey was installed next to the Nursing classrooms in Johnstone Science Center. The dedication was a highlight of Homecoming Weekend for the nursing alumnae, some of whom spoke at the event.

NYS Senator and Hartwick College alumnus with nursing students, 2013

In 2013 Nursing students met with State Senator Jim Seward and Assemblyman Bill Magee to discuss
funding for higher education, safe staffing, and the Affordable Care Act.

Hartwick College nursing students attend NSNA Conference, 2014

In 2014 the Hartwick College Association of Student Nurses became recognized as a chapter of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA). The chapter’s president and vice president traveled to the NSNA Annual Convention that year, where they met with nursing students from programs across the country.

Hartwick College Nursing Lab, Johnstone Science Center, 2017

In 2017, a $250,000 grant from the Clark Foundation enabled the College to expand the Nursing lab space in Johnstone Science Center.

Hartwick College Nursing Simulation Lab, Smith Hall, 2018

In 2018 the Clark Foundation made its fourth grant in support of Hartwick’s Nursing program since 2011, this time in the amount of $300,000. The award was used to create a state-of-the-art Hospital Suite Simulation Unit on campus with 11 beds and high-tech manikins that enabled faculty to creatively supplement the students’ clinical experiences. On October 5, 2018, Hartwick College celebrated the 75th anniversary of its Nursing program with a daylong symposium addressing critical issues in nursing and healthcare.

Hartwick College nursing student with faculty member in birthing simulation lab, 2019
Hartwick College announcement of nursing Heroes Award scholarship, 2022

When Hartwick was remote in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, Hartwick’s nursing faculty improvised by using cameras and microphones that allowed senior nursing students to virtually direct care in the simulations, with the professors implementing their directions. This contributed to the students’ graduating on time and with a 92.6 percent pass rate on the NYCLEX exams. In January of 2022, the College introduced a new scholarship, the Hartwick Heroes Award, which provides a minimum of $140,000 toward the tuition of all incoming Nursing students, including those enrolled in the Three-Year Degree Program.

Hartwick College President Darren Reisberg with SUNY President to sign One-Hart nursing partnership agreement, 2023

In March of 2022, the College announced that it had received approval from the New York Department of Education to offer two new graduate programs: a Master’s in Nursing Education (MSN) and a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in Nursing Education. Both programs were designed to be taken online and have a focus on education and leadership, preparing graduates to deliver and oversee the education of nursing students and practicing nurses.

In September of 2023 Hartwick announced One-Hart Nursing, a new partnership that allows Pre-Nursing Advising Track students at SUNY Oneonta to transfer seamlessly into Hartwick’s Nursing B.S. program after completing their first two years at SUNY Oneonta.

Nursing program images and content from the Paul F. Cooper, Jr. Archives at Hartwick College.

November 30, 2023
From The Wick Magazine, Wick Mag Fall 2023

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