Move to Lake Nona

Graduate students listen intently as Dr. Josie Weiss teaches the Primary Care Pediatrics course. The course is for nurse practitioner students and is part of the DNP program.

Brenda Argueta

A new home for the College of Nursing has directors of its graduate programs hopeful for new alliances and excited for new research opportunities.

As part of a new Academic Health Sciences Center that aims to promote growth in research, education, patient care and community engagement, the College of Nursing was announced as one college to make the move to UCF's Lake Nona campus as soon as 2020.

Concerns for some have been the distance from the main campus for undergraduate students, but graduate nursing programs, either hybrid or completely online, are expected to see significant improvements in research and interdisciplinary relationships.

Dr. Donna Neff, the associate dean of research and director of the college's Ph.D. program, is looking forward to this transition in terms of the depth of research her students will be conducting.

“The focus of research now is not single-person ideas,” Neff said. “It has to be mixed groups of people who share each other’s ideas, contradict each other’s ideas and bring strengths, everybody’s strengths, to a project.”

The program was set up as a hybrid program when Neff first arrived at UCF, with fewer faculty able to mentor students.

“We just didn’t have enough ranked faculty,” Neff said. “But now we do.”

Students in the Ph.D. program are mentored by faculty as they navigate their own research on topics that have not been researched before.

“You have to have faculty able to mentor them, and we’re building our research faculty. It’s grown so much,” Neff said. “This is my fifth year here, and the program itself is really growing here.”

Dr. Christopher Blackwell, the director of the adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner program, also believes the move could aid in the research aspect of graduate programs.

“There are a lot of faculty here who I think would really like to partner with medicine,” Blackwell said. “It’s a lot easier if I’m working on a research project to just walk down the hall. All those things come into consideration.”

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program starts off as a hybrid program, with both online and face-to-face classes, before transitioning into a fully online program once a student decides on a specific academic track. Students can go into either adult gerontology acute care, adult gerontology primary care or family.

The Ph.D. program, in contrast, is in its fourth year of being completely online after transitioning from a hybrid format.

Online platforms for graduate programs have been more appealing because of the flexibility it offers, which is why UCF has been introducing more online programs within the college.

“If the market demands we teach a primarily online program where people can be flexible, then we have to do that,” Blackwell said. “We’ve realized that for the last several years that if we don’t do that, we’ll die.”

Angela Keith, a first-year Ph.D. student, was attracted by the online format and the faculty behind the program.

“UCF is on the map. People don’t realize it is a school to be reckoned with,” Keith said. “They really put forth the quality focus.”

The fully-online Ph.D. program was announced in 2015 as the first and only of its kind in Florida. It is now ranked No. 66 out of 100 in the best online graduate nursing programs by U.S. News and World Report.

The DNP program that Blackwell heads and the Ph.D. program Neff runs are still fairly new to the online platform and, as nationally-ranked graduate programs, they see more potential for growth in Lake Nona even while being hybrid or fully online.

“If you forage relationships with colleagues, then you can rely on one another’s expertise,” Blackwell said. “I think the hope is that once we’re all housed down there together, then more of those relationships can flourish.” 

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