WDT Whitewood satellite learning center is just what the doctor ordered

The satellite learning center for Western Dakota Tech’s Licensed Practical Nursing program is housed in Whitewood’s Hale Hall at 1016 Meade Street. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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WHITEWOOD — The January introduction of Western Dakota Technical College’s (WDT) satellite learning center for its licensed practical nurse (LPN) program was just what the doctor ordered, as a dozen students took advantage of the program’s pilot semester.

“There is a real need in our community and surrounding communities for nurses. That’s nothing new. We know that,” said WDT Nursing Program Director Christi Keffeler. “What we found was that some of our students and some of our potential students were driving long distances, and we thought, ‘Well, why not try to move the program to make it a little easier for students who are traveling?’ It actually benefits them and it benefits us, as well. We’re pretty full here at the Rapid City campus and we needed to expand.”

Keffeler said that by opening up the Whitewood campus, it helped the students go to school a little closer to home.

“And it allowed us to enroll additional students,” she said.

When WDT officials originally began conversations about opening up a satellite learning center in the Northern Hills, Keffeler thought maybe they would end up with eight in the first cohort.

“Actually, we ended up with 12 students,” she said. “And that was the capacity we could take. I could go up to 16 if I had to, but 12 was a better number to start … So far, it’s going very well.”

Keffeler said nursing, in general, is a popular profession.

“Once you get that license, you can do anything with it. And we need nurses. Nurses are always going to have jobs, and I think the nursing program itself is popular,” she said. “And it makes it more attractive for those who have to commute and travel. They want to go to school, but commuting is a hardship for them to travel all that way. And sometimes in the wintertime, that travel can be pretty dangerous.”

Keffeler attributed the location and the nursing program, in general, to the initial success of the satellite learning center.

“Just the nursing program in general, people just want to be nurses,” she said. “It’s a profession that you’re always going to have employment, you’re always going to have a job, and it’s one of those professions that you could work your way up the ladder pretty easily if that’s what you want to do.”

The program that has been instituted in Whitewood is the LPN program.

“It’s an additional site,” Keffeler said. “So the exact curriculum that we use in Rapid City is being used at the additional site in Whitewood. So, at the end of that program, if you graduate successfully and pass your boards, you will have your practical nursing license.”

Keffeler said that going forward, as long as WDT officials can find sites to hold classes, they’ll have students, due to the profession’s popularity.

“In our eyes, the sky’s the limit,” she said. “I think we want to expand. We have the capacity and the technology to expand. So I think that that’s probably in our future.”

The RN (Registered Nurse) program will soon see expansion, as well.

“Starting this fall (2020), we doubled our enrollment. We started with 16 students, and then we enrolled 24, and next academic year we will enroll 48,” she said. “So that one is growing, as well.”

WDT officials haven’t added an additional site for Registered Nursing just yet, but that is a possibility.

The Whitewood campus will remain part of the WDT mix for the near future.

“We like Whitewood. The students like being in Whitewood. It’s kind of central to some of the Northern Hills communities,” Keffeler said. “So, it’s very possible that we stay there.”

WDT is currently renting Hale Hall to hold its LPN classes in Whitewood with plans to continue offering courses there this fall.

“Western Dakota Technical (WDT) College is grateful to the mayor and city council of Whitewood for partnering with WDT in this way,” said WDT President Dr. Ann Bolman. “The community and city employees have been so welcoming of our staff and students. We are looking for opportunities to expand program offerings in upcoming semesters.”

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