Celebrating fifty years of its Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program, on November 18, 2022, Sampson Community College (SCC) hosted a golden anniversary reception in honor of their nursing program reaching the significant milestone in September 2022. The event brought together current and former directors, instructors, and students; family and friends of those who were significant to the program’s development; faculty and staff; and others who wanted to participate in the celebration of the College’s major achievement.

Before becoming SCC’s beloved and accredited ADN curriculum, the nursing program began as a Practical Nursing (PN) program under the joint direction of Sampson County Memorial Hospital (Sampson Regional Medical Center) and Sampson Technical Institute (Sampson Community College). In 1972, after serving students for six years, the PN program evolved into SCC’s current ADN program after receiving a National Institute of Health Grant for $108,000. Previously located at Sampson County’s Coharie Tribal Center (formerly Sampson Technical Institute), the ADN pathway allows students to obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing upon completion, a key difference between the PN and ADN programs.

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Students in SCC’s PN program in 1968.

During the commemorative event, both remarks and reflections were given by Dr. Bill Starling, SCC President; Lakeya Howard, senior nursing student at SCC; Wanda Capps, former Vice President of Academic Affairs, Division Chair of Health Programs, Department Chair of Nursing, and Associate Degree Nursing instructor; Dr. Veronica Stevens, Division Chair of Health Programs; and Mark Lawson, graduate of the ADN program. The speakers honored the pioneers and history of the ADN program while celebrating the new generation of nurses that SCC is producing, with 43 graduating from the ADN program in 2022.

One of the featured moments of the day was a panel discussion led by Lisa Turlington, Dean of Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation. She encouraged the four panelists with connections to the ADN program: Robin Palmer, Mary Brown, Dan Gurley, and Robin Bradshaw to share some fond memories about its history and early influential leaders with the audience in attendance. Though many individuals’ names came to mind, in their discussion, they decided to focus on the recognition of Mrs. Sallie Gayle Reynolds, a trailblazer and the first director of the ADN program at SCC.

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An early graduating class of the ADN program.

Educated at Duke University, Reynolds was truly the backbone of the ADN program in its early years—someone who was “larger than life,” according to Mary Brown, a lifelong advocate for healthcare and education, SCC Foundation Director, catalyst of SCC’s Boykin Family Heritage Endowment, former member of the Sampson County Board of Education, and successor of Gayle as director of the ADN program.

Brown recalled, “Sallie Gayle was a great nurse and leader. She allowed us to be flexible in our individual skills, and I thought that was fair of her– that she could allow us to lead, guide, and direct the students for their good. We were in the cafeteria one morning when she asked me to take over the program. She said, ‘Ms. Brown I’m planning to retire and I’m going to recommend that you replace me.’ And of course, tears flowed. I replied, ‘Mrs. Reynolds you think that I can fill your shoes?’ Sallie Gayle was very fair, loved the students, and she wanted them to be great. We remember her with great honor.”

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Pictured in 1973, Sallie Gayle Reynolds, first director of the ADN program.

Robin Palmer, great-niece to Sallie Gayle, also shared her best memories of her dear great-aunt during the ceremony. With a background and family rooted in healthcare, Palmer focused her career on community wellness, working at Sampson Regional Medical Center for twenty years while also serving as a SCC Foundation director. As a little child, she remembered coming to work at SCC with her mother, former nursing instructor, and interacting with Gayle who “had such high standards for herself and her students, even down to the way they dressed.”

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Seen in 1986, Mary Brown, the second director of the ADN program at SCC.

Palmer explained, “I went to work with my mom, and I can still remember the joy, the pride, and just having the warmest and best feeling. The uniforms, the starched caps, white hose no runs, white shoes no scuffs. Aunt Sallie Gayle was serious about every single part of being a nurse. She made my mom want to be a nurse because of the pride she took it in and how she presented it. Everyone in here has been impacted and influenced by that desire and image she portrayed of what nursing should be like. I think Sallie Gayle launched the program and instilled the desire and passion. This program provides that core structure for healthcare in this county. You all are the glue and the heart and the sole of healthcare. You all are carrying on the legacy of Sallie Gayle.”

Sallie Gayle also holds a special place in the heart of Dan Gurley, husband to Cindy Gurley, a dedicated instructor and eventual director of the early ADN program, and namesake of the Lucinda P. Gurley Nursing Scholarship Fund at SCC. In 1980, Gurley urged his wife to apply for an instructor position at SCC, even though she had no experience teaching, only shift work in L&D nursing at the time. But Gayle took a chance on her, and with the guidance of Gayle and mentorship of Brown, Mrs. Gurley became an outstanding leader in nursing at SCC until her retirement in 2007.

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Pictured is Grady Broadwell, nursing instructor for 18 years and namesake of the Angels of Mercy Nursing Scholarship Fun at SCC.

Dan Gurley voiced, “Fortunately, I think Mrs. Sallie Gayle had the ability to see things in people that they might not even know about themselves. I think she saw something in Cindy and she was willing to take a chance on her. Over the years, I soon discovered, and so did Cindy, that she had a gift for teaching. She was talented and had a natural God-given gift for teaching. Not only did that translate to nursing, but she also taught things like Lamaze, bible study, and Sunday school teacher at her church. I give Sallie Gayle, and Mary Brown as well, credit for that. Cindy loved Mary Brown– she was a mentor to her for years. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what Mary did for Cindy, and how she helped her grow in her ability to teach and in her relationship with students.”

Mrs. Gurley heroically battled cancer for nine years before passing away in 2009. But even within her final days, Gurley said he still saw the impact his wife left on the nursing program because of Gayle and Brown, with two of her former students serving as hospice nurses to her.

“I can’t tell you what that means to me, and I know what it meant to Cindy. She was so grateful for that. She stayed connected to her former students and colleagues until close to the end. She loved this College, the people she worked with, and she loved the students. She tried her dead level best to make sure that as many of them as possible could succeed. I am so grateful for this program and all it’s meant to our community and my family.”

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More influential leaders of the ADN program: (From L) Mary Brown, Wanda Capps, Lucinda Gurley, Dianne Hudson, Lisa Smith, and Veronica Stevens

Coming to SCC in 1988, Wanda Capps, former Vice President of Academic Affairs, Division Chair of Health Programs, Department Chair of Nursing, and Associate Degree Nursing instructor, also shared about the numerous, significant nursing program milestones she witnessed during her time at the College until 2020– such as the ADN program’s national accreditation in 2012.

Other notable accomplishments Capps recalled were the program’s high passage rates, the relationships they developed with students, and the program’s partnership with Sampson Regional Medical Center, which resulted in the Sampson Simulation Center. During that time, the majority of the College’s nursing faculty were also graduates of SCC’s ADN program—another fact Capps was incredibly proud of.

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(From L) Dan Gurley, Robin Palmer, Robin Bradshaw, and Mary Brown are interviewed by Lisa Turlington in a time of remembrance during the nursing event.

She mentioned, “If I had to think about the most heartful reflection about the program it is the same thing that most of you have already said: the impact that this program has had on students and their lives and the impact this program has on our community. The passion that we have for the students, the College, and the community is one of the things that has made it so successful, and I can sit back and wait for greater things to happen.”

With an amazing team of nursing instructors, administrative staff, and directors, SCC’s Associate Degree Nursing curriculum, now led by Dr. Veronica Stevens, Division Chair of Health Programs, provides knowledge, skills, and strategies to integrate safety and quality into nursing care, to practice in a dynamic environment, and to meet individual needs which impact health, quality of life, and achievement of potential. Course work includes and builds upon the domains of healthcare, nursing practice, and the holistic individual. Content emphasizes the nurse as a member of the interprofessional team providing safe, individualized care while employing evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and informatics. Graduates of this program are eligible to apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Employment opportunities are vast within the global health care system and may include positions within acute, chronic, extended, industrial, and community health care facilities.

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Wanda Capps (far left) was one of the presenters for the day and was able to catch up with old friends and colleagues afterwards.

In a final quote, Lakeya Howard, a current, senior nursing student in the ADN program at SCC, shed light on the students’ point of view and spoke for all her fellow classmates by truly encapsulating the vast impact the College’s nursing program and instructors, former and current, have had on their educations and careers over the years—an impact they will feel for years to come.

Howard concluded, “I am proud to be the recipient of such a rich legacy of nursing excellence. SCC’s Associate Degree Nursing program takes pride in producing quality nurses, even in this time with the pandemic. The education I am receiving is adequately preparing me for the next level of my career by instilling the confidence, professionalism, and critical thinking skills required to be a successful nurse. It is an honor to be a part of something that is bigger than myself and has such a positive impact on the community and truly makes me feel that I can begin here and go anywhere.”

Sampson CC is exceedingly proud to have offered an Associate Degree Nursing program, now nationally accredited, to students for the past fifty years. The College is thankful to the program’s early pioneers and their contributions that paved the way for a successful, decades-long nursing program. SCC also extends its gratitude to its recent directors and instructors who continue to honor the legacies and histories of those who came before them. Sampson CC is dedicated to continuing to provide students with a beloved, accredited nursing curriculum that prepares them for successful careers within the healthcare field.

For more information about the Associate Degree Nursing program or how to enroll, visit www.sampsoncc.edu/associate-degree-nursing or contact healthprograms@sampsoncc.edu.

The Associate Degree and Practical Nursing programs at Sampson Community College located in Clinton, NC are accredited by the: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). 3390 Peachtree Road NE, Suite 1400 Atlanta, GA 30326. (404) 975-5000. Website: www.acenursing.org

The most recent accreditation decision made by the ACEN Board of Commissioners for the Associate Degree and Practical Nursing programs is Continuing Accreditation.

The Associate Degree and Practical Nursing programs are given full approval by the North Carolina Board of Nursing (NCBON), 4516 Lake Boone Trail, Raleigh, NC 27607. Phone: 919-782-3211; Website: www.ncbon.com

About Sampson Community College

Sampson Community College is a member of the North Carolina Community College System, located in Clinton, NC in Sampson County. The college offers many programs to include two-year degrees, college transfer, continuing education and workforce development options, and early college education.