McKendree University Receives Prestigious Grant to Aid in Vaccine Confidence Messaging, Address Health Misinformation in Rural Areas

(LEBANON, Ill., March 9, 2022) – McKendree University’s Division of Nursing is one of only ten institutions of higher learning in the nation to have recently been awarded a $70,000 grant to participate in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s (AACN) latest campaign. AACN will be using their-recently awarded $1 million in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch their new initiative, Building COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Among Nurses and in Communities, which will tackle health misinformation while bolstering confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines. As part of this project, AACN awarded funding to 10 schools of nursing nationwide to launch these targeted campaigns. McKendree’s Division of Nursing will begin implementing this new strategy this spring.

With strong partnerships, including the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN) and the Southern Illinois Public Health Consortium, which is comprised of 38 health departments in central and southern Illinois, McKendree will be focusing their messaging in particular on rural areas. The University has also teamed up with four community colleges to implement this strategy, including Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill., Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) in Belleville, Ill., Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, Ill., and John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill.

“We are so proud and fortunate to have been chosen for this opportunity and to have such strong partnerships to help us build vaccine confidence within central and southern Illinois,” said Dr. Janice Albers, assistant professor and director of MSN programs at McKendree University. “This is also a huge benefit to our students because they will gain valuable experience through some of these partnerships in our nursing programs. It’s truly a win-win situation.”

All four nursing programs at McKendree, including their RN to BSN program, MSN program, DNP program and MHA program, will be participating in this new implementation with a two-fold plan. First, the Division of Nursing will help the Southern Illinois Public Health Consortium to develop a customizable social media toolkit, which can be outfitted to the needs of various rural areas. This toolkit will provide a consistent message about vaccine confidence to targeted areas in the hopes of eliminating misinformation.

Secondly, students in the nursing programs at McKendree and in the four partnered community colleges will benefit through learning via two virtual escape rooms, in which they will learn about vaccine confidence, answer questions and gain a certificate upon successful completion.

“Virtual escape rooms are a different means of learning,” said Dr. Richelle Rennegarbe, chair of McKendree’s Division of Nursing program. “We’ve had a great deal of success with virtual escape rooms, and they’re just a fun way for everyone to learn.”

In addition to their strong, longstanding community partners and the innovation of using virtual escape rooms as a way to learn, McKendree also offers a population health program within their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

“For today’s nursing leaders, healthcare is so much more than providing quality care. It’s about educating those in their communities and working together with public health organizations to prevent disease in the first place,” Dr. Rennegarbe said. “Our population health track blends courses in education and leadership to transform nurses and health administrators into people who can shape the future of healthcare.”

In addition, the Division of Nursing was recently awarded with a $750,000 endowment scholarship - the Diana Joyce Doros Scholarship. This scholarship focuses on population health and can be awarded to MSN students in the population health track and BSN students who don’t have tuition reimbursement and who work in community settings.

For more information about this new initiative, the Division of Nursing’s many programs or the new scholarship, please contact Student Services Specialist Carol Fairlie at