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UW Online MS Nursing Program Sees Record Number of Winter Graduates

woman in scrubs
Ruth Simmons, a 2022 Master of Science in Nursing graduate, is a surgery supervisor at Memorial Community Health Inc. in Aurora, Neb. Simmons, of Central City, Neb., entered UW’s online MS nursing program as a 2016 graduate of UW’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. (Ruth Simmons Photo)

The online Master of Science program in the University of Wyoming’s Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing celebrated graduating 25 students at UW’s winter commencement ceremony Dec. 10.

The number of graduates is impressive and record-breaking in several ways, especially considering the impact of the COVID pandemic, which hurt enrollment across higher education, including online courses.

Pre-pandemic enrollment in the MS nursing program typically hovered around 10-15 students. Janet Willhaus, assistant dean for academic affairs, associate professor and MS program director, notes additional changes to the program since her arrival in 2020 that have contributed to the record number of graduates.

“The MS program of study is for nurses who desire to become nurse educators or nurse leaders in any academic or health-related setting,” Willhaus says. “The two curricular pathways woven into the main course of study offer an excellent option of part-time study for working nurses.”

Preparing nurses as nurse educators has taken on a critical role since the pandemic, which added many levels of protocol in the medical workplace. Nurse educators help nursing students better prepare and understand how to meet unexpected and unforeseen challenges in health care. Additionally, there is a nationwide shortage of nurse educators, which complicates preparing new nurses for the workplace.

Tara Trottier, of Casper, is a flight nurse with Wyoming Life Flight. Her experience will be impactful in teaching other students about challenges in the field of nursing.

“I'm proud to call Wyoming home and get my degree from the University of Wyoming,” says Trottier, who was raised in Glenrock and Wright. “Being a flight nurse has been my dream job since I was young.” 


Ruth Simmons, of Central City, Neb., also appreciates how her degree in nursing education has equipped her with a deeper understanding of the role of a nurse in a rural community.

“I live in rural Nebraska and work as a surgery supervisor in a critical-access hospital,” Simmons says. “This program’s flexible online format made it possible for me to remotely obtain my MSN degree while also navigating the pandemic, a promotion to a leadership position in nursing and applying to a doctoral program.

“The nursing education track was instrumental in guiding me toward a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a successful nurse leader in a rural community. I now have the knowledge to educate student nurses and clinical nurses with an individualized evidence-based curriculum.”

The same can be noted for nursing graduates seeking to become leaders in their career roles. These graduates are equipped to move into administrative roles in their workplaces and can better explore ways to improve medical workplace environments -- so nurses can focus on professional self-care and avoid burnout while delivering top-notch care for their patients.

Anastasia Baker, of Casper, received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in 2011 and is now a graduate of the nursing online MS program leadership track. She credits the program with challenging her abilities and giving her a stronger understanding of the nursing profession.

woman with a helicopter in the background
Tara Trottier, of Casper, works as a flight nurse for Wyoming Life Flight. She recently graduated from UW’s online MS nursing program. (Tara Trottier Photo)

“This program was wonderful. For me, it was important to be in an accredited program, have the ability to do semester classes and be online,” Baker says. “The program has challenged my abilities for the better and built a stronger understanding of the nursing profession and what it means to be a good leader. I am truly thankful for the teaching staff through my time in the program.”

In addition to being an excellent choice for registered nurses with a BSN degree, the online MS program in the UW School of Nursing offers the incentive of an alumni tuition rate for graduates of the school.

For more information about the online MS program, visit

Currently, 20 of the 25 newly graduated online MS program students call Wyoming home. The graduates are listed here by hometown:

Carpenter -- Christy Wilson, nurse leader. 

Casper -- Anastasia Baker, nurse leader, and Tara Trottier, nurse educator.

Castle Rock, Colo. -- Rachel Eberstein, nurse educator.

Central City, Neb. -- Ruth Simmons, nurse educator.

Cheyenne -- Dayna Johnson, nurse educator; Abbey Muniz, nurse leader; Kathleen O’Donnell, nurse leader; Marie Parker, nurse educator; Amanda Pontillo, nurse educator; and Fawn Tafoya, nurse leader.

Clinton, Mich. -- Heather Beaman, nurse educator.

Gillette -- Misti Braun, nurse leader, and Audrey Dodson, nurse educator.

Green River -- Jessica Robidoux, nurse educator.

Jackson -- Jennifer Langevin, nurse educator.

Laramie -- Ivan Olson, nurse educator, and Cheryl Rodgers, nurse educator.

Morrisville, Pa. -- Garrett Kramer, nurse leader.

Rock Springs -- Kim Keslar (Ranta), nurse educator; Jamie Lovato, nurse educator; Rori Pedri, nurse educator; and Amy Wiig, nurse educator.

Sheridan -- Cassandra Mullins, nurse leader.

Windsor, Colo. -- Danielle Kennedy, nurse educator.

About the UW College of Health Sciences

UW’s College of Health Sciences trains health and wellness professionals and researchers in a wide variety of disciplines, including medicine, nursing, pharmacy, communication disorders, social work, kinesiology, community and public health, and disability studies.

The college also oversees residency and fellowship programs in Casper and Cheyenne, as well as operating primary care and speech/hearing clinics in Laramie, Casper and Cheyenne.

With more than 1,600 undergraduate, graduate and professional students, the college is dedicated to training the health and wellness workforce of Wyoming and conducting high-quality research and community engagement, with a particular focus on rural and frontier populations.



Contact Us

Institutional Communications
Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-2929

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