Story and photo by Van Mitchell. Staff Writer
Nelda Fister, M.S., R.N. was born into nursing, and she continues that path today at age 80, as Assistant Professor for the Department of Nursing at the University of Central Oklahoma.
She is serving in her 48th year of teaching at UCO, where she works with 150-170 students each semester.
“I always wanted to be in nursing,” she said. “I grew up on a farm and there were a lot of good doctors/farm families/role models that helped me look at that road.”
Fister was the only member of her family to go to college. She graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1965.
“College was never not going to be an option,” she said. “Neither of my parents completed high school. My mother quit school when her mother died so she could stay home and care for her younger siblings. My father served in World War I, and was preparing to prepare for duty for World War II, when he was notified, the war had ended. Following my parents’ marriage, they settled in the Oklahoma Panhandle and began a hard life of farming during the Depression. It was important to them that their daughter receive a good education, as they believed it would bring opportunities they did not have. They (parents) were going to make it work and they did.”
Fister said her parents’ faith helped shape her desire to help others.
“My parents’ belief in God guided their life, and I learned at an early age that the development of a strong value system, and caring for others was important,” she said. “I was very lucky to have a stable home that provided positive guidance as I navigated the developmental tasks of childhood.”
Prior to beginning her teaching career, she was pediatric supervisor at Wesley Hospital in Oklahoma City. She joined UCO after several years on the faculty at Oklahoma Baptist University.
“I have seen a lot of changes,” she said. “I have worked under six presidents at UCO, and have (taught) thousands of students.”
Fister serves on multiple committees as well as the UCO Faculty Senate.
Her focus on the importance of community involvement was pronounced through helping establish pediatric triage following the April 19, 1995 Alfred P. Murrah bombing.
She has served as Mace Bearer for UCO Commencement Ceremonies, and has multiple honors including the first Excellence in Education Award for Sigma Theta Tau Beta-Delta-Chapter-At-Large. She received the Neely Annual Excellence in Teaching Award in 2019.
The first nursing class from the nursing department at the University of Central Oklahoma graduated in 1972. Since that time, more than 3,500 graduate nurses have entered the workforce.
Students interested in earning a nursing degree from the University of Central Oklahoma now have multiple options for their education. Students may obtain their BS through the Traditional Track Bachelor of Science in Nursing, the Fast Track B.S. in Nursing and the Online R.N. to B.S. track. UCO also offers a two-year Master of Science in Nursing degree.
Fister said success in and out of the classroom requires hard work and dedication.
“Success in the nursing program and later in the profession requires a high degree of responsibility,” she said. “Success in the professional domain is the final outcome of this education. “My goal has been to provide students with an intentional direction to develop study methods that will ensure success as they expand their knowledge base, think critically about concepts, and apply knowledge in a variety of settings. I want them (nursing students) to grow academically, but I also want them to grow professionally.”
Fister’s care for her students reached a new peak this year with the implantation of a “worry envelope” that is posted on a bulletin board outside of her office.
She said it allows students to write down their worries in private.
“They write down their concerns, and if they want me to, I will pray for them,” she said.
Fister said she isn’t sure if this will be her last year teaching at UCO, but adds she has plenty of outside interests including cooking and sewing that would keep her busy.
“I think I am making a difference,” she said. “I keep saying this is going to be my last year, and then I have students send me a note that says you made such a difference. That is what keeps me here. This place has been so much a part of my life. I don’t know what I am going to do, but I have a lot of interests, so I will be okay.”