Fall commencement at Kentucky State University will be a special day for its over 100 graduates, but it’s also a special day in institution and Historically Black College and University (HBCU) history.

Kentucky State will confer doctoral degrees for the first time in the institution’s 131-year history Saturday, Dec. 16, as the first graduating class of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students cross the stage.

“To strengthen its place in history, Kentucky State University has the distinct honor of being the first HBCU to offer the DNP,” Dr. Yolanda M. Powell-Young, chair and professor of the School of Nursing.

Powell-Young said the formation of the DNP program at Kentucky State was in response to reports from leading health advocacy organizations such as the Institute of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Nurses Association. Those reports justified the need for highly educated, practice-based nurses with the knowledge to successfully traverse the health care landscape, Powell-Young said.

“As a result, DNP programs prepare nurses who are qualified to practice within distinct roles or specialties that require expertise, advanced knowledge and mastery in one area of nursing practice,” Powell-Young said.

The uniqueness of Kentucky State’s DNP program, Powell-Young said, is that it’s founded on the specialty of adult-gerontology primary care.

“It is well-established that the nation is aging,” Powell-Young said. “In 2050, the population age 65 and over is estimated to be 84 million, almost double the population estimate of 43 million in 2012.”

The Kentucky State DNP program educates nurses at the doctoral level with the competence to address the needs of adult-gerontology patients with complex acute and/or chronic health conditions from an evidence-based perspective, she said.

Six DNP students will graduate Dec. 16: Tamara L. Crawford-Fields, LaFran Courtney Hawkins, Gwendolyn D. Steward Jeffery, Jennifer Michelle Walker, Michelle M. Wilcox and LaWanda Maritza Wood. There are currently 16 DNP students across all cohorts at Kentucky State, according to Powell-Young. Up to 24 students may be accepted in each admissions cohort.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of this historical moment,” Wood said. “The last three years have been an amazing journey. Reflecting on the past, I have gained a greater understanding of nursing and endless possibilities. I have been exposed to new opportunities and built new relationships I hope will continue to grow.”

“Words cannot express how I feel right now,” Walker said. “I am thankful to God, Kentucky State, the graduate faculty at Kentucky State, my mentors, my preceptors and my family.”

“It feels wonderful to be a part of history as a member of the first DNP graduating class,” Hawkins said. “I know my mother would be proud of me if she could see me.”

The School of Nursing is celebrating its 50-year anniversary, as well.

“Fifty years ago, the School of Nursing was among the first to admit and graduate African-American nurses in Kentucky,” Powell-Young said.

An associate degree of nursing was the only offering, Powell-Young said, and Gloria Blyden was the lone African-American graduate from the first class of 10 students admitted in the fall of 1967.

Powell-Young referenced an interview with Blyden in a 1994 Kentucky State publication.

Blyden credited the Kentucky State nursing department for meeting her professional goals throughout her long and storied career.

“Similar to my predecessor visionaries, I look forward to a future where the School of Nursing is distinguished as a model for inspiration, excellence and innovation in the arena of nursing with the promise of many more firsts to come,” Powell-Young said.

For more information about the School of Nursing, visit kysu.edu, email schoolofnursing@kysu.edu or call (502) 597-6900.