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Deborah Olson headshot over U H W O campus

A $250,000 boost to the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu from a grateful alumna will strengthen its pre-nursing pathway, providing for state-of-the-art equipment and more faculty.

The pre-nursing pathway was designed to address the nursing shortage in the state of Hawaiʻi, specifically the westside of Oʻahu, and aims to develop and prepare leaders from the region who are interested in improving the health and wellness of their community through a career in nursing.

“It just hits a lot of things for me. I was brought up in an environment where education was huge. As an adult, seeing things, I have strong feelings about public education and access to education being more universal,” said donor Deborah Olson. “Public health, or any kind of healthcare, is so important right now. And it’s not available enough, especially outside of metro areas. So I thought that was terrific.”

Pivotal UH West Oʻahu

Olson points to earning her degree in history from UH West Oʻahu in the 1970s as a pivotal moment in her life.

As one of the first graduates of the campus (then West Oʻahu College), it marked the moment where she fulfilled her parents’ desire for her to earn her degree.

“I took a great deal of pride in paying my tuition, going to UH West Oʻahu and finishing my degree,” Olson said. “I grew up in an era, and it’s a little different now, but you were really pushed to have a college degree. That was the way you made it. My mother grew up on a farm and my father grew up in a small town, and they met at the University of South Dakota. College provided opportunities for people like my parents to see what was available outside their rural and small towns; to see the larger world.”

She acknowledged and valued the campus’ approach to increasing access to higher education especially in light of her situation then as a military dependent who was a few credits shy of receiving her degree when she moved to Hawaiʻi. Her fondest memories include the camaraderie developed during courses with Professors Ned Shultz and Dan Boylan in temporary classrooms located in Newtown Square Office Building in Pearl City.

High-impact $250,000

Olson’s gift will address the pre-nursing program’s priority needs such as an adult male mannequin simulator, software, gurney/bed, anatomical models, portable electrocardiographs, single-use electrodes for electrocardiographs, wet spirometers and disposable mouthpieces, and will allow the program to increase the number of faculty.

“As with any new program, there are start-up costs involved. From space build outs that require renovations, to the purchasing of the most up-to-date equipment, and training supplies to ensure the simulation lab looks as close to a hospital room setting as possible,” said Nicole Akana, coordinator of the Kumu Ola healthcare careers opportunity program. “Therefore, this amazing gift will allow us to reconfigure the existing Simulation Lab and make the necessary upgrades to match our partners at the Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing at UH Mānoa. These upgrades will allow students to be trained using state-of-the-art equipment, and having the familiarity of using the same mannequins, equipment, supplies and workflow also creates a seamless learning environment.”

The pre-nursing pathway program fosters a holistic approach through incorporating Native Hawaiian values and principles, as well as place-based and ʻāina (land)-based learning. Public high school students may also explore UH West Oʻahu’s pre-nursing pathway by completing a course (HLTH 123) through Early College.

—By Leila Wai Shimokawa

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