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Breaking fresh ground

They broke ground last week on the first expansion of the Gulf Franklin campus in 22 years.

The administrators, board of directors and instructors, and the state representative, on a sunny Thursday afternoon, each took a shovel and in unison joined in the flinging off first dirt for what is going to be a nursing simulation center, and just across the way, a modular building to house components of a pilot boot camp for unmanned aerial systems.

With the help of $2.2 million from Triumph Golf Coast, and another $1 million match, Gulf Coast State College plans to have by the spring for nursing a modular building bustling with hospital beds, with mannequins being treated behind curtains, an obstetrical newborn simulation room, and a classroom for instruction.

They’re doing it for students like Heather Kemper.

She graduated from Franklin County High School in 2010, an honors student, and headed off to Florida State University, to a dorm on one of the state’s giant campuses, in Tallahassee.

”Being from a small school, when you move away, it may work for some, with a class of 200 to 300 people and you can function,” said Kemper, now married, last name Hunter.

“In all honesty, it didn’t work for me that way,” she said. “I came back kind of defeated. The Gulf-Franklin campus is individualized, supportive in a way a large college may not be able to be.”

One of those who joined in the ground breaking, health science professor Debra Brzuska, who coordinates the nursing program at the Gulf County campus, taught Kemper, and followed her through earning her practical nursing degree, then her RN and then her bachelor of science, and after that offered her a chance to teach, first part-time and now -full time.

She’s now close to earning a master’s degree, intent on a specialty as a family nurse practitioner.

“I did everything at the Gulf Franklin Center,” said Hunter. “It’s small, and Miss B, she will take you and build you up and make you believe in yourself.

“I see it in a lot of students,” she said. “I left FSU with no degree; I see a lot of them had the same stories. They came back, with no degree, still defeated. They get pushed and it’s hard, but they feel the support of the staff here.”

Whether they are right out of high school, or returning with a different bachelors degree to study nursing, Hunter has encountered a variety of fellow students, many now among her pupils.

“They’re committed to the practical nursing program. It’s so fast-paced that they learn very carefully, and quickly, that if they want it they have to commit to it,” she said. “It encompasses your whole life for a year.

“Some are kids right out of high school. some have bachelors degrees in other areas, from age 18 to in their 60s coming into this program,” Hunter said. “I’ve seen all of them be successful.

“You see them graduate. I remember one year that I thought ‘You guys are smarter than me.’ You see that progress, to where they’re fully functional capable nurses,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

With classes twice a week, and the rest with clinicals, Hunter is excited at the possibilities to be presented at the new simulation center, and credits what’s coming to campus to Brzuska’s vision, which now has eight medium to high-fidelity patient simulators, which electronically mimic real-life situations.

“The body is amazing, I just like to talk about it,” she said. “I feel like nursing becomes who you are.

“I like the process. You don’t just take a disease, and say this is the medication for it, here’s the tests. We teach compassion and empathy and every stage to know,” Hunter said, as she prepared to teach a class on hospice care and the dying process to her nursing students.

The intention of the expanded campus is to boost the enrollment of students in the practical nursing, and the APN to ADN (associate degree in nursing) programs, as well as the certified nursing assistant (CNA) program, which was suspended during the pandemic but is set to resume.

Creation of the Nursing Simulation Center (NSC) at Gulf-Franklin is so as to be able to perform clinical training on site. “Historically, the barrier to expanding the nursing programs … has been a shortage of clinical sites,” reads the Triumph application.

The center will allow the practical nursing program to offer two start dates a year, rather than one, and double the enrollment potential from 36 to 72 each year. The center will permit CNA skills training to be offered twice weekly, decreasing the time to complete the program from 15 to eight weeks. The shortened CNA program could then be offered at least three times per year, increasing enrollment from the usual maximum of 12 students to 36.

The nursing bridge program, now offered on weekends, now has a maximum of 18 students enrolled each semester. With the center it could accept 22 students each semester, increasing enrollment from 84 to 152 students per year.

“Over the five-year scope of this request, the total increase in nursing students would be 340 students,” reads the application. Based on a placement rate of 90 percent, over the five-year scope of the project, 306 new nurses would be employed in the local communities served by the GFC.

“The availability of 306 new nurses in the area would have a significant impact on the nursing shortage in the local areas and a significant fiscal impact on local economies,” reads the application. “The center would also be available to health providers, such as Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, Weems Memorial Hospital, Cross Shores Care Center, and other health care centers used to train new hires and test skill competency levels.”

Hunter says nurses in the area have several options once they have completed their training.

“There’s a wide array of possibilities Gulf and Franklin counties, and beyond,” she said, ticking off such areas as doctors offices, skilled nursing facilities, dialysis centers, home health, and hospice.

Unmanned aerial system building planned

The Nov. 19 groundbreaking was a celebration of the immense contribution that Gulf-Franklin makes on behalf of an educated workforce in the two counties.

After an introduction from Dr. John Holdnak, president of Gulf Coast State College, the socially distanced, largely masked audience heard words of excitement, encouragement and gratitude from State Rep. Jason Shoaf, Jim McKnight, who chairs the Gulf Franklin board of directors, and Al McCambry, director of the Gulf-Franklin Campus.

The three men then joined with staffers, private sector backers, and members of the board of directors to turn dirt in two symbolic gestures, first for the nursing expansion and then on behalf of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Pilot Boot Camp for Exiting Military, a $4 million project being funded by about $2.3 million from Triumph, and another $1.7 million in matching funds.

That boot camp is a nine-week program designed to assist exiting military personnel in surrounding counties to become certified and qualified as remote pilots of unmanned aerial systems including visual line of sight and beyond visual line of sight in aircraft greater than 20 pounds.

Students can earn eight certifications in such areas as Remote Piloting; Small UAS Safety, Visual Line of Sight Systems Operations; Advanced Unmanned Safety and System Operations and Professional Remote Operator. The boot camp is designed to assist exiting military personnel to participate in a fast-paced instructional program that will lead to jobs as remote unmanned aerial systems pilots.

The hybrid format combining online, face-to-face and hands-on training, provided at Gulf-Franklin and the Panama City campus. The boot camp is designed to provide students with a career pathway which enables a student to exit at specified points in the training with the skills and certifications needed to become employed in specific occupations.

Students wishing to pursue the Unmanned Systems Technology Operations associate of science degree from Gulf Coast will be given credit for boot camp certifications. Boot camp students are forecast to have a 90 percent placement rate within one year of completing the program. Companies such as Amazon, Google, Textron, Boeing and Verizon are forecast to hire about 100,000 remote pilots by 2025 with salaries starting at $55,000 and increasing to $130,000 with additional experience. The national average salary for experienced remote pilots is $83,662.

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Breaking fresh ground

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

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