Family, friends and faculty welcomed the first class to graduate with bachelor's degrees from the pre-licensure nursing program at the University of South Carolina Beaufort to the profession in a symbolic ceremony Wednesday.
Twenty-seven students received pins -- a tradition meant to show the honor of the profession -- at the university's Performing Arts Center in Beaufort. The pins are worn as part of nurses' uniforms to identify their alma mater. The USCB version was designed by this year's graduates.
"In creating that pin you also have created tradition here at USC-Beaufort," Nursing Department chairwoman Rose Kearney-Nunnery told the students.
Maggie Nyoro was one of the new nurses recognized Wednesday.
A native of Kenya, she first came to the United States ten years ago to work in the hospitality industry. But while working as an accountant in a hotel, Nyoro discovered a passion for helping others she thought suited her to different work.
"It's not easy to obtain a nursing degree in Africa, as there are very few nursing schools," she said. "Many people go to India to get low-cost accounting and business degrees, but nursing programs are generally not that accessible."
Nyoro said she is lucky to have found a program with faculty who are caring and committed to their students' success. After she takes her board exam, she hopes get a job at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, where she completed some of her coursework.
She eventually wants to return to Africa to use her skills there.
"I am going to give back in any way that I can, wherever I am," she said. "I'm confident. The USCB faculty has prepared me well."
USCB began the nursing program to address a shortage of baccalaureate nurses in the area.
In 2005, only 27 percent of the area's nurses had bachelor's degrees in nursing, according to the university. That number was 43 percent nationally.
Chancellor Jane Upshaw said the need was critical because of the many retirees who live here and because of the area's expected population growth in Beaufort and Jasper counties. A study demonstrated the Lowcountry had several students interested in obtaining a four-year degree in nursing, and it showed regional healthcare professionals were willing to help and hire the students after graduation.
"We could not ignore USCB's mission, which says we will respond to regional needs," said Upshaw, who campaigned to start the program and solicited private donations from community organizations and individuals to build a nursing facility on the Hilton Head Gateway Campus.
The university has developed a two-track program to award bachelor's degrees in nursing:
"From this program will come the hospital and care facility managers and the master's- and Ph.D.-prepared nurses who will be the nursing leaders and who will assure the future advancement in quality and affordability of health care in the region," Upshaw said. "This program has opened the doors for local citizens to enter the nursing field and progress to leadership positions."
There are now 106 nursing students enrolled at USCB, according to the university.
More than 100 others are pursuing pre-requisite requirements and preparing to apply to the program.
USCB has the only baccalaureate nursing program in the county. The Technical College of the Lowcountry offers a two-year associate degree in nursing and a practical-nursing diploma.