Text by KIM HILL
Photo by BEA CORBIN
Ann (Steele) Eckhardt ’03 says her decision to return to Illinois Wesleyan as a professor reflects the strong connection all of the nursing faculty feel to the University “and our belief in the quality of the education we are providing.”
Eckhardt (shown above, far right) is one of four IWU alumnae who serve on the nursing faculty. The others are (from left) Susan (Winkler) Swanlund ’80, Vickie (Noltkamper) Folse ’86 and Brenda (Deckert) Lessen ’89.
The youngest of the group, Eckhardt recalls completing an honors research project her senior year of college under Swanlund, who joined the faculty in 1995. “All of my professors at IWU encouraged me to pursue graduate education,” says Eckhardt.
Folse, director of the School of Nursing, says a major goal of the program is to prepare nursing majors for graduate study and future academic careers. That goal is especially vital in light of the nation’s growing need for qualified faculty to prepare the next generation of nurses. A recent report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing states: “Faculty shortages at nursing schools across the country are limiting student capacity at a time when the need for nurses continues to grow.”
All full-time IWU nursing faculty have earned doctorates; it is an elite group, given that less than one percent of all nurses have doctoral degrees. Eckhardt says as a student she was impressed by her professors’ educational achievements as well as their clinical experiences, which factored into her own choice to work after graduation as a nurse prior to obtaining her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Eckhardt adds that current students likely feel a specific connection to the alumni faculty “because they recognize that we’ve been in their shoes. The chairs in Stevenson 103 might have been orange and yellow (when the alumni faculty were students), but we spent time in their seats. We all believe strongly in IWU and want to ensure we are sending our students to successful futures.”