Great Falls College MSU: Bringing College to Students Wherever They Are

Teresa Rivenes
Member Spotlight

Great Falls College MSU, located in rural big sky Montana, has been working hard to bring unique educational opportunities and skills to students across Montana and the nation. According to Dr. Heidi Pasek, Chief Academic Officer, "This is a changing world, and we need to adapt to the needs of our students using all of the resources at our disposal." Great Falls College MSU has demonstrated adaptation through three truly unique opportunities—the SIM Hospital, NANSLO remote science lab, and SWAMMEI program.

Simulated (SIM) Hospital

Great Falls College MSU is extremely proud of its nursing and healthcare programs. In fact, Great Falls College MSU students have a 100 percent pass rate on national exams such as the NCLEX-PN (National Council of Licensing Exams-Practical Nurse). At least a small part of this success is due to the wonderful technology and real world experience that Great Falls College MSU students are able to access. The school's pride and joy is the simulated hospital, where students practice skills in a simulated working environment. The SIM hospital is Montana's only fully functioning simulated hospital set up to show the journey a patient (programmable manikin) can take all the way from the mobile or stationary ambulance, to the emergency room, surgery suite, intensive care suite, imaging suite, therapy suite, and, then, to home health care. Faculty can program the environment, and manikins, for a wide variety of scenarios and students get to practice hands-on skills in a medical setting all before working with actual patients in clinical experiences. All scenarios are computer aided and may be recorded for post scenario reflection and processing. This project was funded through a grant and with the assistance of generous hospitals in the local community, making it a true partnership.    

North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO)

Great Falls College MSU is home to one of only three online science labs in North America (British Columbia, Colorado, and Great Falls). The Great Falls NANSLO node is expected to come online this fall and will be revolutionary in nature. NANSLO is part of an international network of science labs that uses remote, web based technologies to allow students the opportunity to perform real science experiments, with actual lab equipment they control, remotely. Students use VoIP software and video to control lab equipment in real time. Being able to manipulate the equipment distinguishes the remote labs from conventional simulations. Voice and text options will allow students to work collaboratively from wherever they are. STEM degrees and allied health programs are more needed than ever, but it can be difficult to give rural online students experience with the equipment utilized in the field. The NANSLO lab changes all of that. For the 50 percent of Great Falls College MSU students who are taking online classes at any one time, this means a competitive edge in a demanding market. More importantly, by giving students real world skills in a high tech environment, it prepares them for employment in these kinds of industries.

Strengthening Workforce Alignment in Montana's Manufacturing and Energy Industries (SWAMMEI)

The Strengthening Workforce Alignment in Montana's Manufacturing and Energy Industries (SWAMMEI) collaboration is a $25 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Round III grant. The grant is led by Great Falls College MSU with 12 other colleges in the state serving as co-grantees. The grant is designed to serve dispersed and under-employed populations utilizing the best faculty and best curriculum delivered to wherever the student is located. Great Falls College MSU will be taking the lead on the welding portion of the grant. Students will take classes online and will then have the hands-on portions delivered to their local school by faculty. This means that a student 300 miles away can take classes in welding online, after which the traveling lab will come to the students' local school to deliver a hands-on experience, even though welding may not be offered at the local college. Likewise, Great Falls College MSU students will be able to earn a Diesel Tech certificate through a partner institution since Great Falls College MSU does not offer this certification. This is just one unique way that schools across rural Montana are sharing programs to give students a wide variety of options with limited resources, and Great Falls College MSU is proud to be part of this effort.

These are just some of the great ways that Great Falls College MSU has accessed technology and is reaching more students, with more real life application, than ever before. In the works are opportunities for online students in healthcare fields to access the remote NANSLO microscopes to view actual pathogens. Students at Great Falls College MSU are learning, practicing, and understanding the actual items, regardless of their location. In the end, Great Falls College MSU students leave well prepared for transfer to a four-year institution or a career in trade or healthcare industries. Rural, yes. Outdated, never.