PhD Student Beverly Waller Receives Selective Minority Nurse Faculty Scholar Award

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Beverly Waller photo - PhD Student, University of Michigan School of Nursing

Like many Doctoral nursing students, Beverly Waller is deeply engaged in the process of developing a post-educational career path for herself. Unlike the vast majority, however, she is one of only five recipients of this year’s Minority Nurse Faculty Scholar award, presented by Johnson & Johnson in collaboration with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Originally launched to address the shortage of nursing faculty and to enhance diversity among nurse educators, this highly selective award program “provides financial support to graduate nursing students from minority backgrounds who agree to teach in a school of nursing after graduation” (AACN website). In submitting her application to join the community of only 38 total recipients since the award’s inception in 2007, Waller says she wasn’t sure how optimistic to feel: “I didn’t realize that only five people would be selected, but I guess that would have made me even more nervous.”

Waller clearly showed something that caught the application reviewers’ attention. In addition to submitting three letters of recommendation, Waller also authored a goals statement where she explained what she wanted to accomplish in the fields of nursing education and research. “I think they saw that I want to join the field [of teaching] and stay in the field,” says Waller explaining that, though the award requires only a one-year commitment to teaching for each year of the award, she is it for the long-haul. With various Graduate Student Instructor and Teaching Assistant positions under her belt already, she has the experience to know what she’s committing to and the basic starting skills to develop herself into an extraordinary educator.

Her mentor, Dr. Huey-Ming Tzeng (Associate Director – Department of Nursing, University of Michigan-Flint), says Waller has a “caring attitude” and a “willingness to learn and share” which are attributes that will make her a strong teacher; but it wasn’t always the case that Waller aspired to join a School of Nursing faculty. “When I was a Bachelor prepared nurse, teaching was never in my mind,” she says. It was in the transition to her Master’s program where she discovered her interest in the field, realizing that teaching was about joining and participating in “an environment of educators.” She explains, “All of a sudden teaching wasn’t this boring thing where you lecture a group of students. Instead, there were creative ways of transferring knowledge.” And this includes technology, a teaching tool that Waller actively embraces. For instance, in discussing her ideal classroom setting, she mentions the audience response system currently in use by the U-M School of Nursing; using individual handheld devices – called “clickers” – students can respond instantaneously to a question posed by the instructor. The results can then be displayed on a screen for the entire class to see. This type of online, almost blog-like classroom “makes class interactive, more interesting.”

Waller’s fierce commitment to comprehensive and excellent nursing education transcends the boundaries of individual classrooms in that she has a vision for nurses’ increased role in more general, public health education and policy. Waller sees nurses as the primary healthcare providers who function on the ground, alongside patients on a day-to-day basis. As a result of sheer numbers and experience, to her, it seems like nurses could have a more profound impact on public health and healthcare policy at the national level. From her point of view which is one largely based on a preventative treatment mentality, she’d like to see more health promotion and risk reduction programs incorporated into mainstream medicine: “The problem is that people don’t come in when they’re not sick, especially if it’s not covered by their insurance. So, it’s a logistical issue.” The solution, Waller suggests, is that when the public realizes that this type of preventative treatment can actually head-off or even reverse certain illnesses, it is more likely to become incorporated into healthcare policy, making the intersection of education and advocacy of prime importance.

In sum, Waller says that she is proud of her accomplishment and excited about the opportunities to develop herself as a nursing educator that the award presents. She also acknowledges the role the University of Michigan School of Nursing played in her receiving the scholarship: “[The selection committee] looks for students who are in an environment that will help them succeed and they believe the U-M School of Nursing is equipped with the faculty and resources for me to learn what I’m supposed to.” Her mentor Dr. Tzeng concurs, saying, “As an alumna from the PhD program at the U-M School of Nursing, I think the [School] offers an excellent Doctoral program to prepare a future nurse faculty/teacher.” The School of Nursing looks forward to continuing its support of stellar Doctoral students like Beverly Waller and heartily congratulates her on her accomplishment.