80 Years of Science Education At Newman University


The 32 young women who made up the first class of Sacred Heart Junior College in 1933 followed a curriculum that included English, history, mathematics, religion, Latin, and botany.

Since that inaugural fall semester, most every student who has earned a degree from the institution that ultimately became Newman University has followed a similar curriculum, and spent at least some time in a botany or other science class.

For many, science and health sciences education has been the key to successful and rewarding careers as nurses, medical technologists, physicians and a multitude of other professions relating to science and health care.

‘First-Class Apparatus’

Science and health science education at Newman University has historically been guided by the needs of students and the community.

Through its first 19 years of existence, the college offered botany, biology, and later chemistry classes designed to give students seeking a 60-hour associate’s degree a basis in the liberal arts and sciences. Students could then go on to upper division work at another institution or receive an elementary school teaching certificate.

Students in the first class of the junior college performed studies in a laboratory inside Sacred Heart Hall. Facilities were expanded when a biological science building was completed in 1935. The building, designed by Sister Aquinas Stieferman and built for $1,000, included one large classroom and three small offices. A newspaper article from 1935 about the new facilities notes that, “No expense has been spared to equip the science laboratories with permanent furniture and first-class apparatus adequate for the courses which are offered.”

In addition to botany, biology and chemistry, the college in its early years offered vocational and pre-professional studies, including programs in pre-nursing. One of the most successful early programs was medical technology, which was offered the first year the college opened and continued for many years.

The program attracted many students because it provided an opportunity for financial security: In the early 1950s, a lab technician could make $350 a month – a good salary when you consider that tuition to Sacred Heart College in 1954 was $200 a year.

Two Key Individuals

Other science and health care related programs were developed as the college slowly grew, in most part to meet the needs of the times. In fall 1941, the college offered classes in first aid and bacteriology for nurses, and in 1943 added a nursing program in response to the demand for nurses during World War II.

The program ran from 1943 to 1948, first with the help of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, a government program that provided grants to schools to facilitate training of nurses to serve in the armed forces and private health agencies. After the war, the program was offered in conjunction with the Training School of Wichita Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital, and the Training School of St. Mary’s Hospital in Enid, Okla. In 1949, nursing was offered only by special arrangement. Shortly thereafter, the program was discontinued.

Through the 1950s, Sacred Heart College expanded its offerings in science and health care education to include courses in parasitology, nutrition and microbiology. In the 1960s and 1970s, science and health care related programs grew more rapidly, in large part because of two key individuals.

The first, Margaret Knoeber, ASC, Ph.D., greatly expanded the study of chemistry. Knoeber, a 1949 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, earned a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences in 1961 from Sacred Heart College. After studying at Creighton University and earning a doctorate in chemistry at Notre Dame University, Knoeber came back to Sacred Heart College in 1967 and began teaching chemistry. Within a year, she created the Chemistry Department at Sacred Heart and launched a four-year chemistry degree.

“We began the major, set up the requirements and hired faculty,” said Knoeber, who continued teaching full-time until 1978 and part-time for several years after that. “There were bumps and bruises along the way, but now Newman has such a strong, good department.”

Knoeber excelled as an instructor. She had the ability to make a complex subject such as organic chemistry understandable, and worked hard for her students. Knoeber also initiated the Pre-Med Committee, which has helped many students go on to medical schools. She later helped launch the Pre- Professional Advisory Committee.

The second individual who has made a lasting impact on science education at Newman is Professor of Biology Surendra Singh, Ph.D. Singh arrived at Sacred Heart College in 1969, and over the ensuing 45 years has played a major role in the growth of the Pre-Med program, the Biology Department, and other science- and health science-related programs.

Singh has also been very influential in guiding Newman graduates to medical schools, and highly successful in developing programs that meet the needs of the science and health care communities, including his unique programs for high school students. (See full story on Singh, page 16).

Nursing Comes Into Its Own

In the early 1970s, cytotechnology and naturopathy were introduced at Newman, and in the late 1970s a bachelor’s program in nuclear medicine technology was added. The college also revived a program in the 1970s that has since become highly popular and widely respected – nursing.

In addition to the pre-nursing and Cadet Nurse training offered in the 1930s and 1940s, the college had launched a bachelor of nursing degree in 1968, but discontinued the program in 1970. At that time, the only actual “School of Nursing” in the area was a diploma program operated by St. Francis Hospital (now part of the Via Christi system).

Through the 1970s, nursing programs nationwide increasingly moved from hospital-based diploma programs to collegiate- based degree programs. When the St. Francis School of Nursing recognized the need to transfer its program to a collegiate setting, Newman came into consideration in part because of Wichita businesswoman and philanthropist Marjorie “Marj” Chance.

Chance was a member of the Lay Advisory Board of St. Francis Hospital and was the first laywoman member of the Board of Directors of Kansas Newman College. She played a key role in connecting St. Francis with Newman, and the college took on the nursing program in 1979 (Read more about Chance at http://mag.newmanu.edu/spring2011-honorary-degree).

Led by Joan Felts, R.N., Ph.D., who had been curriculum coordinator and instructor of nursing at St. Francis, Newman set up a “2+2” system – two years of training for an associate degree in nursing, and two additional years for a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN). The first associate’s degrees were awarded in 1981, followed by the first BSN degrees in 1984.

As Does Allied Health

In the 1980s and 1990s, Newman continued to establish itself as a leading institution for medical training. In 1980, the college offered bachelor’s programs in nursing, pre-med, medical technology, nurse anesthesia and nuclear medicine technology. At its 50th Anniversary in 1983, the college approved a new bachelor’s degree program in health science, which later became health care administration.

The undergraduate nurse anesthesia program was phased out in the late 1980s, but a graduate-level program was introduced in 1999 that continues to the present. The program, one of only 112 in the nation, has become one of the most competitive programs Newman offers.

In 1990, Newman established off-campus nursing programs at community colleges in Great Bend, Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal and Hutchinson, Kan. Newman also took on the nursing program from St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City when the college closed in 1992.

Under the direction and guidance of Singh and Felts, Newman also established the first sonography program in Kansas in 1992. The program, initially an associate degree program, later became a bachelor’s degree program, and in 2011 the name was changed to Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Also in 1992, Newman developed a bachelor’s degree program in occupational therapy at the request of St. Joseph Hospital officials, after Wichita State University turned down the hospital’s request. St. Joseph Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Wesley Hospital in Wichita all invested in start-up costs for the Newman program, which ran until 2006. Newman now operates an associate’s degree occupational therapy assistant program, which began in January 2007.

In 1995, the radiologic technology associate’s degree program that had been launched at St. Joseph Hospital in 1944, and similar programs operated by St. Francis and Wesley, transferred to Newman when Singh showed hospital officials the economic advantages of consolidating the programs into one.

Another of Newman’s associate degree allied health programs was established in 1996, when the respiratory care program at WSU closed and was transferred to Newman.

Impressive Stats

As nursing and allied health programs attracted more students, the need for larger and better facilities with up-to-date equipment grew. The “Renaissance 2000” capital campaign raised funds to build Eck Hall, completed in 1995, which continues to house most of the nursing and allied health programs.

Since that time, the Newman School of Nursing and Allied Health has grown at a rapid pace to meet the region’s need for highly trained health care professionals. Newman graduates are well- respected and sought-after employees in the health care workforce, and the university has become a top choice for students in the health sciences fields.

A look at a few statistics shows why.

  • Over the past five years, the pass rate for Newman University nursing graduates taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) has ranged from 95 percent to 98 percent – well above state and national averages. For 2013 and 2012 graduates, it was 100 percent.
  • Over the past five years, the certification exam pass rate of Newman nurse anesthesia graduates has been 99.95 percent.
  • The licensure pass rates of Newman radiologic technology, respiratory care and sonography 2012 graduates were 100 percent.
  • In December 2013, 100 percent of fall nursing graduates had secured a job before finishing their final semester.

The Division of Science and Mathematics at Newman has also grown in size and stature in recent years. Science and math majors have a high rate of acceptance into graduate and professional schools. The pre-med program has been phenomenally successful: Since 1969, 90 percent of Newman pre-med graduates who applied to medical schools were accepted. Over the past 10 years, 96 percent were accepted.

Newman also ranks third in the state, behind only Kansas and Kansas State Universities, in the number of students selected for the University of Kansas Medical School Scholars in Primary Care program, a highly competitive early admission program. In addition, the University of Kansas School of Medicine – Wichita selected Newman to teach its first-year medical students human anatomy and to facilitate small group sessions in the basic sciences, a partnership that will be in its fourth year in Fall 2014.


And More to Come

Over the past 80 years, much has changed in the worlds of science, medicine, nursing, and related fields. Through its ongoing commitment to meeting the needs of the region for science and health sciences education, Newman has changed with them. Now, the university is poised to take major steps forward in the coming decade through improved programs, better teaching aids, and expanded facilities.

When the Adorers of the Blood of Christ set out to create a college 80 years ago, they did so with determination, the ability to adapt to changing demands, and a commitment to quality education that was second to none.

The past 80 years of science and health sciences education at Newman University is a testament to their success.

All indications suggest that the next 80 will be, as well.

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