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A team of faculty and staff at Eastern Kentucky University has earned a 2019 Blackboard Catalyst Award in Teaching and Learning for the exemplary design, quality and performance of the EKU Online Rural Health Family Nurse Practitioner Program.

The award-winning team includes Dr. Margaret Zoellers, Dr. Alison Connell, Dr. Angela Wood, Dr. Brenda Caudill, and Chris Daniel, an instructional designer with the EKU Office of eCampus Learning, and will be honored at BbWorld 2019 in Austin, Texas. 

The letter of notification from Blackboard states: “The significant achievement (was) accomplished with your innovative use of Blackboard solutions. You join a select group of people from around the world whose participation has been recognized as a significant and exemplary contribution to the Blackboard community.” Blackboard provides international clients a digital learning environment for educational institutions as well as government and business entities.

Specifically, the award recognizes those who have adopted flexible, distance and online delivery, including mobile technologies, to positively impact the educational experience. Winners of the award will have demonstrated innovative use of the Blackboard platforms, increasing flexibility, furthering learner and instructor effectiveness and efficiency. Examples that demonstrate such achievements can include, but are not limited to:

  • cultivating and sustaining collaboration
  • creation of informal and social learning environments
  • student-focused strategies related to recruitment, enrollment, retention and outreach
  • ability to efficiently connect students and faculty through activities such as academic advising and tutoring
  • greater access to quality education
  • creating a classroom that is accessible anywhere
  • consistent course design

Blackboard Catalyst Award winners in the Teaching and Learning category the past two years have included the Mayo Clinic, University of Mississippi, Regents University of London, Boston University and Wichita State University, among other notable institutions.

EKU’s MSN Family Nurse Practitioner Program, which is offered 100 percent online, is nationally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and is aimed at improving access to primary care nationwide, specifically in rural and underserved areas. Students in the 47-credit-hour program can study any time, from anywhere. No campus visits are required.

Graduates of the program complete 750 direct patient care hours, the last 300 of which are an internship comprising a synthesis of all courses. Graduates are educated and clinically competent to meet primary care health care needs of patients across the lifespan. Since 2015, U.S. News & World Report has recognized EKU for having one of the best online graduate nursing programs in the country.

“Delivering online learning presents unique challenges, but ultimately must equal that of a face-to-face program,” FNP Program Coordinator Dr. Margaret Zoellers said. “We have highly qualified faculty who are 100 percent committed to student success. Through innovative teaching and learning strategies, we have developed an outstanding program while offering an exceptionally high level of student-faculty and peer-to-peer interaction and engagement.”

The program, established at EKU in 1995, has produced approximately 575 family nurse practitioners. Current enrollment is 187 students. The program transitioned to 100 percent online in 2013 and boasts a 100 percent pass rate on the family nurse practitioner national certification exam and a 98 percent graduation rate. One-hundred percent of May 2019 graduates responding indicated they were satisfied with their educational program.

One graduate of the program, Johanna Coursey, speaking at a College of Health Sciences commencement, said she had never previously taken an online course. “I had no idea what to expect,” she said. “I was convinced there was no way that I could learn without an instructor in front of the classroom.”

Her fears were soon eased.

“I was wrong. My professors understood that life was already chaotic,” she said. “Communications were encouraging, and responses were quite helpful. Doors are open to me now that had never been opened to me.”

To view the entire Coursey video, visit

Consistently recognized as having some of the nation’s best online degree programs, EKU strives to make quality education accessible to everyone. EKU is an accredited, brick-and-mortar institution that has offered online degree programs since 2006. Today, more than 40 options are available in a variety of fields. For more information, call 859-622-9951 or visit