The art and science of nursing: Avera, DWU announce sponsorship program to address staffing shortages – Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — The need for new nurses remains strong, and Dakota Wesleyan University and Avera Health took a new step Tuesday to meet that need, announcing a new sponsorship program that will help local nursing students with school expenses and the local health care provider will help to keep its facilities occupied.

“This is a great day to truly reaffirm our unwavering, long-term partnership with Avera Health and even closer to home, Avera Queen of Peace. I am pleased to announce that we have partnered with this important member of the Mitchell community and larger regions to fund the educational costs of students enrolled in the Dakota Wesleyan University Nursing program,” said Dan Kittle, President from Dakota Wesleyan University.

This program is the Avera Achieve Sponsorship Program, which will provide select Dakota Wesleyan nursing students with $20,000 in educational funds for their junior and senior years as long as they successfully complete their studies and commit to three years after graduation as a nurses to work at Avera.

Nurses remain in high demand throughout South Dakota and across the country. Nursing training centers continue to see high demand for their students, including Dakota Wesleyan, Kittle said. He found that 100% of the school’s nursing students find employment upon graduation.

The nursing program has about 166 nursing students between its Mitchell campus and Sioux Falls, Kittle said.

“The sponsorship invests in the education of Dakota Wesleyan University students because we know these students will serve critical health care needs in communities throughout South Dakota,” Kittle said.

Doug Ekeren, regional president and CEO of Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton and Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell, commended the partnership between Dakota Wesleyan and Avera Health, noting that the two organizations align in their commitment to excellence and complement education.


Several students from Dakota Wesleyan University’s nursing program were present during the announcement of the Avera Achieve Sponsorship Program on Tuesday, September 20, 2022.

Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“Nursing is both an art and a science. It is a personal calling to change lives for the better. So we’re excited for these students to explore all the potential avenues that Avera has to offer,” said Ekeren. “Education, particularly nursing education, is fundamental to Avera’s mission. The Avera Mission was founded by brave sisters who came to Dakota Territory in the 1880’s. Their primary mission was education, a mission that evolved into healthcare as they faced the needs, particularly diphtheria and flu epidemics, of the time.”

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Graduates from Dakota Wesleyan are a familiar sight in the halls of Avera facilities, Ekeren said.

“Avera is proud to employ many Dakota Wesleyan alumni. They have contributed a lot to our health ministry and we look forward to continuing to do so,” said Ekeren.

The first six students approved for the sponsorship were present at a news conference at Dakota Wesleyan University on Tuesday and will be among the graduates to work for Avera when they graduate from the program. The $20,000 in support from Avera will help them achieve their goals, they said.

Tessa Kilber from Ipswich said being able to help with education funding and the chance to work for a system like Avera is a great opportunity.

“It makes a big difference. It just gives me security about my finances and also about my future after graduation,” Kilber said. “And I wanted a job in Mitchell, so that’s perfect for me.”

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Mitchell’s Jasmine Salcido-Santos said receiving the sponsorship will help her on the path to achieving her own career goals.

“It gives me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams,” said Salcido-Santos.

The first group of six beneficiaries is Salcido-Santos; Kilber; Rapid City’s Nora Nelson; Elizabeth Ortiz, of Sturgis; Connor Tapia of tea; and Alexis Tilton of Mitchell.


Dakota Wesleyan University President Daniel Kittle speaks during a press conference hosted by Dakota Wesleyan University and Avera Health on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 at the School of Business, Innovation and Leadership. The two organizations announced the establishment of the Avera Achieve Sponsorship Program, which will support Dakota Wesleyan nursing students with $20,000 in educational funds for their junior and senior years as long as they graduate and commit to three years as a registered nurse Avera to work after high school.

Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Penny Tilton, chair of nursing at Dakota Wesleyan, said the program will make a real difference in the lives of students working to complete their education by studying under faculty and gaining hands-on experience by entering the workforce at a reputable employer.

“A grant of this magnitude will really make sense for the students in our department. Every day, our faculty members work to encourage our students to learn that nursing is both a profession and a calling,” Tilton said. “These six people I have the privilege of knowing will be a tremendous credit to the Avera organizations and their communities, family and friends.”

Kittle also commended Theresa Kriese, executive vice president of Dakota Wesleyan University, who served as the university’s interim president before Kittle was hired in late 2021, as one of the program’s first leaders. It was great to see the program finally take off after almost a year of planning and preparation.

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“It’s wonderful. We’re very excited about the opportunities for our students,” said Kriese. “We see Avera as a true partner, so this is a great way to support the community and this partnership.”

Ekeren said that providing support to nursing students at Dakota Wesleyan will benefit the students, Avera Health and the quality of healthcare throughout the community and beyond.

“I think it’s a great way to meet our student labor needs, help them with the cost of their education, and give them a little clarity about their career path once they graduate. Then it’s up to you to work together to take the next step in your career,” said Ekeren. “Students from Dakota Wesleyan spend a lot of time with their clinics with us, so we get to know them and they get to know us, so there’s that benefit. Certainly every healthcare graduate that comes out today and enters the job market helps all of us in this region because without a workforce we have no access to healthcare.”

Both of these organizations, both of us, understand that communities grow stronger when we invest in people, which is emblematic of this program.

Dan Kittle, President of Dakota Wesleyan University

Kittle agreed that Dakota Wesleyan and Avera work well together, in part due to common elements of their respective missions. He referred to Ekeren’s view of the importance of education and the importance of supporting and enriching the community through that education.

Supporting the next generation of nurses can only help improve the quality of life in Mitchell and beyond, he said, and when that happens everyone wins.

“I’ve been thinking about the mission of the university and the mission of Avera, and where they meet, where they overlap, and it’s all about the betterment of people and communities,” said Kittle. “These two organizations, both of us, understand that communities grow stronger when we invest in people, which is emblematic of this program.”

For more information on Dakota Wesleyan University’s nursing program, visit For more information about Avera Health, visit

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