New nursing school named for continuing education leader

Thousands of Wisconsin nurses have enjoyed updating their professional knowledge, as a result of the work of Signe Skott Cooper. In the future, thousands upon thousands of nursing students will start their careers in a campus building named for her.

A Wisconsin leader in nursing continuing education, including the use of early distance education technology, Cooper will be recognized when UW-Madison names the new School of Nursing building in her honor.

In 1955, Cooper joined the faculty of the Extension Division (later known as UW Extension) and held a joint appointment in the School of Nursing. For two years, she was the only nurse faculty member in extension and was literally a ‘one woman department’, developing and offering credit courses in ward management and teaching for nurses across Wisconsin.

Cooper was involved in a number of innovative programs, including the development of extension courses in death and dying, and care of the elderly –areas that were not added to university nursing curricula until years later.

In 1966, Cooper developed one of the first distance-delivered courses at Wisconsin, broadcasting lectures from the Madison campus to more than 600 nurses at 24 “listening posts” across Wisconsin. This program was later expanded through the Educational Telephone Network to reach all 72 counties and 170 listening locations.

Cooper was a leader in professional nursing throughout her career. She wrote two nursing textbooks and edited three. She received numerous awards, including the Pioneer Award from the Adult Education Assn., the American Nurses’ Assn. Honorary Recognition Award for her leadership in continuing nursing education, and election to the American Academy of Nursing.

In 2000, Cooper –a UW-Madison graduate — was inducted into the American Nurses Assn. Hall of Fame. In 2003, Cooper was named a “Living Legend” by the American Academy of Nursing.

Following the death of her sister Hilda in 2000, Cooper pledged her own estate and that of her sister to the UW Foundation to support the construction of a new facility for the School of Nursing.

Her gift, the largest individual gift received in the school’s campaign, combines with lead gifts from the UW Hospital and Clinic, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Rennebohm Foundation, to total $8.2 million, nearly half of the $17.4 million in private support for the facility.

The building’s groundbreaking is set for April.