"There's no limit to what we can do with the space,” says Maris Braddock, coordinator of the new Learning Lab that now occupies a former second-floor classroom in Martin Hall, home of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Braddock not only directs the new high-tech lab; she designed, equipped and oversaw the project from its inception to its rollout last fall.

“What a great job she did in helping the project come to fruition,” said Bill Vandergriff, who toured the lab last November.

In fact, because Braddock was so efficient in the configuration of space and purchase of equipment, there were funds remaining once she finished. Nursing will be able to use the funds to add 12 practice bays on the third floor of Martin, expanding the teaching impact of the matching gift.

The new second-floor lab provides six bays with high-fidelity simulators that have all the qualities of human beings. The lab “not only helps prepare students for specific clinical situations they may not have experienced otherwise, but it also helps enhance their understanding of basic clinical skills and critical nursing actions,” said Dean Tammie McCoy. “Students are amazed with the technology. The scenarios help prepare them for real-world situations.”

Additionally, the lab is completely mobile and transformable. “Because everything is on wheels, it allows us to configure the space to meet the learning needs of the students and the instructor and prevents us from having an unusable space as technology changes,” added Braddock.

The Learning Lab, with a vast array of equipment that students will encounter in hospitals, was made possible by a $250,000 challenge grant by Jo-Ann and Bill Vandergriff, long-time supporters of the nursing program. It was matched by an equal amount from the Bower Foundation of Ridgeland. Jo-Ann is a 1990 graduate of The W’s nurse practitioner master’s program.

“The W instilled a sense of strength, purpose and determination in my career,” she said. “I might not have had all the skills and tools that I needed, but I knew my learning was just beginning, and I knew how to seek the information. It has been a lifelong journey of learning.”

“We have personally benefited from a good education,” said Bill Vandergriff. “Our motivation to give comes from our own personal experiences and family backgrounds. As part of our philosophy, we really like matching funds. We like the synergistic effect that matching can have on projects and donors. We encourage others who have been professionally and financially blessed to look for ways to contribute to the future of Mississippi.”

Now, the Vandergriffs are able to see the tangible outcome of their generous contribution. In the new lab, a central control room equipped with an intercom system and webcams for faculty observation and real-time feedback is flanked on either side by three high-tech bays, all configurable to meet teaching needs:


Furnished with a birthing hospital bed, the bay has a simulated pregnant mom who has contractions, and students may deliver a baby. Observed by faculty members from the control room, students may experience various scenarios ranging from a high-risk delivery to a non-pregnant female due to the versatility of the simulator. Each bay has a mobile equipment cabinet that includes headwall systems with oxygen and vacuum suction, patient monitors with a built-in defibrillator, IV poles, hand sanitizer stations and sharps containers, among others.


The bay includes a radiant warmer, incubator, crib and two newborn simulators with a range of options. There is a 24-week premature baby, two newborns that can have seizures, and a 1-year old infant. Babies cry and move, have heartbeats and other vital signs and provide real-life experiences.


Simulators in this bay, with two children mannequins, are fully interactive, as are all in the new lab. They have the ability to breathe, make heart and lung sounds and a variety of vital sounds.

On the other side of the control room, an additional three bays provide opportunities to address issues related to adult or younger patients.


Providing the experience of a real ICU or ER, this bay’s supply carts, crash carts and a ventilator, among others, teach students to respond to high-risk and critical situations.


Likewise, simulators and equipment in this bay give students the experience of a real-life hospital setting, exposing them to the unique needs of surgical situations.


With a stretcher chair that can be a bed or an exam chair, this bay provides students a point of care system, said McCoy.

Each side of the control room has a nursing station that serves the lab by providing rolling supply bins, work table, pediatric and adult crash carts, multi-access venipuncture arm model, three workstations on wheels for our nursing students, and an automated medication dispensing station. The lab also provides laptops not only for the instructors in the control room, but for the students to utilize for electronic health record practice.

Simulators in the lab can be configured to different ethnicities, body types and age, said Braddock. “The simulators are very versatile. Depending on the need and the demonstration, they can be old, young, male or female. There are skins that zip on and off.”

She added that the simulators have the ability to sit up independently so that students can listen to audible heart and lung sounds from the back. “We haven’t had this before.”

“This lab has allowed our students to have six more practice spaces, often providing in-depth training they couldn’t otherwise get,” said McCoy. “We can supplement this with clinicals, and if clinical slots are limited, the lab allows students to be on track with their peers.”

It was a wonderful day when the lab opened, she said. “It is rewarding to know the impact of the Vandergriff gift and to see the benefits for our students and the opportunities to improve patient outcomes.”

The Vandergriffs are equally happy to see the positive impact their gift is having. “There is always a shortage of nurses, but COVID has only enhanced and highlighted the growing need for quality healthcare. We want to ensure that as many students as possible have access to nursing education and ensure a steady supply to the workforce.”

They also strongly believe in the quality of The W’s nursing program. “The lab is only one part of the reason The W is named one of the top three nursing schools in America,” said Bill Vandergriff. “Think about that as an achievement in Mississippi: a small school in Columbus would receive national recognition as a premier nursing school.”

He added, “No wonder we want to be part of the action; everyone should want to be part of the action at The W. We encourage everyone to contribute to one of the many scholarships at The W, including the Jo-Ann Vandergriff Scholarship, established in 2015.”

“It is gifts like those from the Vandergriffs that are giving The W a brighter future for our students, and, in the process, a brighter future for our state,” said Andrea Stevens, executive director of development and alumni relations. “We so appreciate their support and the difference they are making.” To make a gift to The W, visit longblueline.muw.edu or call 662-329-7148.