June 9, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 23

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First nine nurses receive degrees from collaborative Del Rio program


Dr. Janet Allan (left), dean of the School of Nursing, and Dr. Frank Abbott, dean of Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College (right), celebrate with the first graduates of the distance education degree program offered in Del Rio. They are (left to right) Rolando Lira, Yvonne Jimenez, Imelda Garza, José Hernandez, Linda Earwood,
Kathy Fletcher, Rosie Renteria, Stephanie Lewis and Mary Catherine Faz.

A distance education program that enables licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses to earn their bachelor's degrees—while living and working in the Del Rio area—came to fruition May 27 with the graduation of the program's first class. The nine nurses, whose career experience ranges from three to 25 years, now hold Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees from the Health Science Center.

The School of Nursing offers the degree program working together with Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College.

"This raises the ceiling for these nurses," said Dr. Janet Allan, dean. "Before, they had little opportunity for career growth without leaving Del Rio. I know that some of these pioneer first graduates have set a further educational goal: entering our Master of Science in Nursing program."

The new graduates are Mary Catherine Faz, Kathy Fletcher, Yvonne Jimenez, Stephanie Lewis, Rolando Lira and Rosie Renteria, all from Del Rio; Linda Earwood, Uvalde; Imelda Garza, Crystal City; and José Hernandez, Eagle Pass.

Del Rio, the seat of Val Verde County, is 156 miles west of San Antonio on U.S. Highway 90 along the Texas-Mexico border. The nurses, who made only three or four course-related trips to San Antonio over the two-year study period, participated in the School of Nursing educational offerings through an electronic classroom equipped with two-way video and audio transmission capability. School of Nursing faculty traveled frequently to Del Rio.

Pete Gallego, District 74 state representative from Alpine, and Dr. Roberto Cuellar, president of the Val Verde County Medical Society, were instrumental in encouraging development of the program. Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio also provided excellent support.

"This is a very important program for our region, which is desperately medically underserved," said Dr. Frank Abbott, dean of Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College. "Hospitals have had to recruit nurses outside our area, but now they have a new source. This is a positive and critical addition to our region."

"Registered nurses are needed along the border," agreed program graduate Yvonne Jimenez of Del Rio. She is a member of the nursing staff at Val Verde Regional Medical Center. "Most of the RNs in Del Rio are from the base (Laughlin Air Force Base) and will not stay here long term. There are few homegrown nurses in the area."

The Del Rio bachelor's degree program is called the "flexible process track" because it enables working nurses to complete courses on a part-time basis and does not duplicate their previous nursing studies. The flex track is designed for students who have at least 60 hours of college credit and certification as LVNs or RNs. The Del Rio students enjoyed full Internet access to the Health Science Center's Briscoe Library.

The May 27 graduation continued the success story of Rolando Lira of Del Rio. The son of Mexican immigrant farm workers, he moved with his family between Del Rio and Ohio during the picking seasons of his childhood. This summer, he is returning to Ohio to be a nurse to the migrant families there, including his parents.

An RN who has worked eight years in the nursing field, Lira teaches in the LVN program at Southwest Texas Junior College's Del Rio branch. He and UTHSC faculty member Laurie Singel co-authored a scholarly paper, soon to be published in the American Journal of Nursing, on educating schoolchildren about asthma. Lira, the father of a child with asthma, will be one of 100 nurses featured in the Journal's 100th anniversary issue.

"He personifies what we were trying to achieve with the Del Rio group," Singel said. "We wanted to take geographically isolated nurses and teach them the fundamentals of professional nursing, so that they could bring these principles into their current positions and influence others. One of these principles is patient education."