NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— For the first time ever, Southern University at New Orleans will offer a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, and classes begin this fall.

According to Executive VP of the Southern University system and Chancellor of SUNO, Dr. James H. Ammons Jr., “There is a critical shortage of diverse nurses and SUNO, as a historically Black institution, is now positioned to produce the people for the healthcare industry.”

In addition to the department ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, the university also announced that Dr. Kelly Smith would lead the program–a post she’s served up until now in the interim.

Simulation lab at Southern University at New Orleans Department of Nursing (WGNO-TV)

Smith said, “It is my, I felt, my purpose, passion giving back to the profession of nursing. My duty to step up and participate in making this a reality.”

The department will be housed in SUNO’s Natural Sciences Building and the facility includes patient simulators, simulation labs, a community clinic, and offices.

The COVID-19 crisis was a flashpoint of highlighting healthcare needs, but also motivation to produce more healthcare workers of color to serve those communities.

“What happens when you have a nurse in the community or a nurse in your family is it changes the health outcomes for that whole family. It changes the health outcomes for that community, that neighborhood that that nurse lives in and that’s why this school is important,” said CJ Marbley, COO/VP, New Orleans East Hospital.