Upward Arc for St. Vincent's College in Bridgeport Continues With New Fortin Learning Center

Among Connecticut colleges—and in a nation where the jobs picture remains challenging—the locus of higher learning with the state’s most compelling narrative may be St. Vincent’s College in Bridgeport.

Founded in 1905, St. Vincent’s offers associate in science degrees in nursing, radiography, medical assisting and general studies, as well as two online bachelor degrees, the RN to BSN Completion and a bachelor of science in radiologic sciences. Through its continuing educations department, the college also offers a wide range of certificate programs leading to immediate employment in the healthcare field.

In pursuing that mission, the college is actively growing and has seen its enrollment—students mainly come from Bridgeport and Fairfield and New Haven counties—increase by 95 percent in the last five years, college President and CEO Dr. Martha K. Shouldis, Ed.D., said in phone interview.

In an article the summer 2013 St. Vincent’s College Alumni Report, Shouldis said the college’s 21st Annual Commencement “was a 'momentous occasion’ because it represented the largest graduating class in St. Vincent’s College history and the first time the college conferred baccalaureate degrees. Fifteen students were presented Bachelors of Science degrees in Nursing and in Radiography, while 123 students earned Associate of Science degrees in Nursing, Radiography and General Studies.

“Speaking to 138 graduates and nearly 1,000 people that  gathered to honor them at the Arnold Bernhard Arts & Humanities Center of the University of Bridgeport, Dr. Shouldis told the graduates that their degree ‘will change your life forever and the lives of those you care for, but your days of learning are not over,’” the story said.

In her own message in that alumni publication, Shouldis looked back on the school year that had just ended and said, in part, “We began the year with approval to offer our second bachelor degree completion program, Radiologic Sciences; achieved record enrollments; received grants and pledges totaling $2.8 million toward the renovation of a new facility, the third floor of 2660 Main Street; underwent the site visit for the reaccreditation of the associate degree nursing program and the initial accreditation of the RN-BSN program by a national nursing accrediting body, NLNAC; and completed the year with a record number of 125 graduates. The graduation of our first fifteen Bachelor of Science degree students in Nursing and Radiologic Sciences in May topped off the year and was a true watershed event in the history of the College.”

Another watershed will be formally marked tomorrow (Sept. 21), with the blessing and dedication of The Virginia O’Brien Fortin Learning Center at 2660 Main St., scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. and include Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, State Sen. Andres Ayala, St. Vincent’s leaders and friends, supporters and students of the college that is a subsidiary of St. Vincent’s Medical Center and a member of Ascension Health.

The “keys” to the new 15,000-square-foot facility were turned over to Shouldis at the beginning of August and the center went live with the beginning of classes for the current semester at the end of August.

“It still smells brand new,” Shouldis said of the extension of the primary college campus building at 2800 Main Street. The new center provides a student-focused learning environment with state of the art technology, a release said, explaining that the project was made possible through a $1.8 million grant from the stateDepartment of Economic and Community Development and philanthropic support from Virginia O’Brien Fortin of Easton and other individual benefactors.

Fortin, who is a bit shy about her philanthropy, according to Shouldis, is no stranger to providing significant support to the St. Vincent’s community. The Virginia O’Brien Fortin Chapel on campus is named for her, in just one among other examples of her gifts, which also include sponsoring some scholarships for students.

“She has been a big supporter of St. Vincent’s Health Services, which includes the college,” Shouldis said of Fortin. “She’s just a lovely lady who knows there are people who are hurting, people who need comfort, and students who need to be educated.”

A significant percentage of those students are older than traditional college age, and are returning to school after a hiatus. They come to St. Vincent’s and leave with good jobs in the healthcare field.

With the completion and dedication of the Virginia O’Brien Fortin Learning Center, the resources, and prospects, for those students just got even brighter.

“This is an exciting event for St. Vincent’s and the community,” said Ayala, in the release, who helped to obtain the state grant. “The expansion of St. Vincent’s College will not only bring an additional 200 to 400 students over the next few years but also more jobs to the local area.”

Mayor Finch said, “St. Vincent’s has produced thousands of healthcare providers for more than 100 years. I am honored to play a part in the celebration and I congratulate the College on this expansion, which will allow St. Vincent’s to continue its commitment to care for the community.”

The new center adds important new teaching, learning and gathering spaces for students and faculty, the release said, explaining that the college now has the much needed space to meet its ongoing commitment to serve the area healthcare community by preparing the next generation of nurses and allied health professionals and meeting the challenge to educate for the new roles emerging in the changing healthcare delivery environment.

And St. Vincent’s College’s “Help Us Grow” campaign will continue as the college seeks to further expand its programs and facilities.

For more information on St. Vincent’s College, see the college's website or call 1-800-873-1013.

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