Penn College at Wellsboro recently moved into a new home at 22 Walnut St., Wellsboro.

Room to Grow

New facility provides room to grow for Northern Tier

by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/magazine editor. Photos by Larry D. Kauffman

Published July 29, 2019

In March, Penn College at Wellsboro moved into a new home, only steps from the health care facilities where many who attend classes in the building will gain clinical experiences and, eventually, employment.

When the Wellsboro Area School District and the college’s administrators joined in the early 1980s to expand higher education in the area, a program to educate future licensed practical nurses was the first offering. Since 1983, the program has been educating students and providing skilled employees to the region.

“I’m a single mom of three,” said practical nursing student Rena Brown. “I worked for 22 years as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and decided it was time to advance. Being a one-year program, it fit into my schedule.”

Brown and her classmates began the Practical Nursing Program in February at its former site in the Wellsboro Area High School, where, since 2012, the college leased space for a classroom and a learning lab. The school district also provided office space in the high school and in its administration building.

“We have a great working relationship with the Wellsboro Area School District,” said Jason P. Zielewicz, the college’s director of workforce development at Wellsboro, noting that the district graciously provided a place, even though it had limited space to spare.

Jo Miller, coordinator of practical nursing, teaches a course in one of four classrooms at the facility.

But the generosity of another area organization has allowed the college to move Penn College at Wellsboro into a Walnut Street building that had most recently been used by UPMC Susquehanna Home Care & Hospice. UPMC Susquehanna transferred the 8,400-square-foot facility to the college for $1, contingent upon the college using the building to expand its Practical Nursing Program in Wellsboro.

Pennsylvania is experiencing the second-largest shortage of licensed practical nurses nationwide, with the impact hitting rural communities
the hardest.

“We are pleased to be part of the solution,” said Davie Jane Gilmour, Penn College president, calling UPMC Susquehanna’s gift “more than a building. It is a partnership that influences lives for the better.”

A nursing lab is one of the building’s two learning laboratories.

The demand for the program’s graduates is high.

“Most students have jobs before graduating,” Zielewicz said. 

Many go on to work in long-term care facilities, including at UPMC Susquehanna Soldiers + Sailors in Tioga County and UPMC Cole or Sweden Valley Manor in Potter County. There’s also been a trend toward graduates entering medical/surgical and emergency room nursing, and some are moving into home health care.  

“The partnership between UPMC Susquehanna and Pennsylvania College of Technology in Wellsboro is an investment in the future of health care in Wellsboro and across the region,” said Steve Johnson, president of UPMC Susquehanna. “Nursing students are getting quality hands-on training and a practical education they can put to work locally right after completing their programs.”

“This is a win, win, win: the health care industry wins by addressing the workforce shortage, PCT wins by receiving a needed home for its Wellsboro base, and the region wins by having these skilled graduates become an integral part of our community,” Johnson added.

Alex W. Borzok, an instructor for the program, reviews anatomy terms with students in a second-floor lounge.

Practical nursing students call their new space beautiful and high tech. By the time they graduate, they will have completed over 1,500 hours of classroom and clinical instruction and be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN, the national licensing exam for practical nurses.  

The building’s first floor includes a learning laboratory, two classrooms, a 28-seat computer lab (up from 18 in the prior facility), staff offices and meeting space.

The second floor includes a student lounge, library/study space, a nursing lab and two classrooms.

The expanded space allows the college to increase the capacity of the Practical Nursing Program from 18 to 24 students initially, with room for further expansion. It also gives the college room to begin a second cohort in the fall, adjusting the program’s 12-month, full-time schedule. Traditionally, the course has run January to December, which is inconvenient for new high school graduates.

Classes for the Penn College at Wellsboro Practical Nursing Program are simulcast to students taking the course at the Potter County Education Council building in Coudersport, who receive clinical experiences in Potter County health care facilities.

The new facility also provides space for other programs. Penn College at Wellsboro is one of several locations for a hybrid emergency medical technician course, designed to help ease the burden of training for local fire departments, EMS services and hospitals. Lectures are offered by streaming video, and hands-on learning takes place at the new facility, as well as at sites in Lycoming and Union counties.

Penn College at Wellsboro also offers customized courses to business and industry. Specialized training for the natural gas industry is also available.

Penn College and UPMC Susquehanna have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. An estimated 1,000 graduates are employed throughout UPMC organizations.

UPMC Susquehanna is a leading provider of clinical sites and internships for students in the School of Nursing & Health Sciences at Penn College. It partners with the college for emergency-response exercises and provides guest lecturers throughout the academic year. UPMC professionals share their expertise on more than 20 different program advisory committees. The health system is the sole health care and health insurance sponsor for Penn College Athletics and offers athletic training services and equipment to student-athletes. A synthetic-turf athletic field being installed on campus will bear the name "UPMC Field," courtesy of a commitment by the organization.