Alumni / January 2017

Lighting a Fire

From the Hill to the Classroom

with a Love for Learning


Whether it’s coaching doctoral students on how to critically appraise research findings, teaching middle school students about the vast profession of nursing, working in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains or understanding how to best teach a student as an individual, Mount Mercy University’s nursing alumni took the skills they gained during their time on the Hill and used them to make the world a better place.

The university develops passionate learners and equips them to succeed in whatever career they choose. Often, careers take a turn down an unexpected path, but Mount Mercy alumni share two essential characteristics: academic excellence and compassion.

We’ve asked four nursing alumni to share their stories of moving from clinical practice to academia, and what we learned only reinforced what we were sure we already knew—Mount Mercy nurses are always prepared for the future.


[photo] Dr. Elizabeth Schlenk

Dr. Elizabeth Schlenk ’75
Associate Professor
University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dr. Elizabeth Schlenk ’75 found a passion for teaching when she was in clinical practice. Now an associate professor of nursing at the University of Pittsburgh, Schlenk teaches graduate courses in nursing research and mentors doctoral students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Ph.D. programs.

“It is rewarding to share one’s knowledge and skills with eager students who want to improve patient and population health outcomes,” she said. “Teaching students how to critically appraise research and apply evidence in nursing practice is an important component in the nursing curriculum.”

Schlenk is involved in research related to adherence to chronic disorder regimens with a particular focus on adherence to physical activity regimens. She credits Mount Mercy with providing her an excellent liberal arts education and the critical thinking and leadership skills that have proven crucial in faculty life.

“When I was a student, Sister James Marie Donahue was chair of the Department of Nursing,” she said. “Her leadership was instrumental in developing a strong baccalaureate program that prepared me well for professional nursing practice and graduate school later.”

The wide range of education and exposure to different subjects and teaching styles left its mark on Schlenk.

“I learned the importance of effective teaching and good mentorship while at Mount Mercy, and I use those strategies with my own students and advisees today.”



[photo] Dr. Doreen Mingo

Dr. Doreen Mingo ’95
Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Office of Diversity Services
Allen College
Waterloo, Iowa

As associate professor and coordinator of the office of diversity services for Allen College in Waterloo, Iowa, Dr. Doreen Mingo ’95 takes great pride in being the force that reaches out to students to ensure their success.

“I love being around college students,” she said. “I try to share my experiences with on-campus groups that have been historically under­represented, which include both males and minorities. I try to be the one who keeps them motivated and engaged, and prevents them from feeling isolated, the one who assists them in building relationships with peers.”

Much of her job involves expanding Allen’s pipeline programs aimed at bringing more students to nursing and other health care careers and program development. Mingo has a special fondness for teaching middle and high-school aged students about the extraordinary world of nursing and helping them see themselves as future nurses.

“So often we find that kids don’t have a realistic idea of what nurses do,” she said. “They see the role as a more subservient one, rather than autonomous and independent, so they don’t tend to choose nursing.”

To combat this perception, Mingo was instrumental in creating programs that encourage these students to explore nursing as a profession. Her favorite is an intensive summer nurse camp, where high school students spend six weeks learning about the profession. In five years since the program began, over 200 students have graduated and the program bolsters an impressive 94 percent retention rate.

“In my profession of teaching undergraduate and graduate nursing students and encouraging young people to be future nurses, I feel like I am where God intended me to be, doing what I’m called to do,” she said.



[photo] Jean Graham

Jean Graham ’80
Director of Nursing and Allied Health Programs
Faulkner State Community College
Foley, Alabama

As director of nursing and allied health programs for Faulkner State Community College at campuses in Fairhope and Bay Minette, Alabama, Jean Graham ’80 isn’t afraid of a challenge.

She discovered shortly after graduation that her road would be one less traveled. After a short stint at the University of Minnesota Hospital, Graham moved into mission work. She spent two years working in a hospital in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains.

“It was probably the best two years of my life,” she said. “The Southeast Appalachian is coal mining country, so it’s a totally different environment.”

Leaning on what she learned in Kentucky, Graham spent nine years working in an operating room before moving to pediatrics. She went on to launch a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center at the University of South Alabama before finally landing at Faulkner State in 2000. Graham has since launched the school’s surgical technology, practical nursing Associates Degree, EMT/paramedic and veterinary technology programs.

The drive for excellence and passion for service taught at Mount Mercy is reflected in Graham’s career. One constant has been her willingness to meet people where they are and provide them the services they need—whether in the classroom, operating room or exam room.

“Nursing students are choosing a field that gives them so many opportunities. It is just a great field to go into because there are so many different avenues and roads they can follow.”


[photo] Dr. Susan O'Conner-Von

Dr. Susan O’Conner-Von ’76
Associate Professor
University of Minnesota School of Nursing
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dr. Susan O’Conner-Von ’76 always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Inspired by an Irish-Catholic mother who taught in a one-room school house, O’Conner-Von learned at an early age to value education and to respect each person’s learning process.

The lessons of compassion she learned as a child carried through to her studies at Mount Mercy, but that only became apparent to her after she graduated and began teaching. “One thing I learned very well at Mount Mercy was to view each patient holistically, not to consider them only in terms of their disease or condition,” she said.

In practice, O’Conner-Von found a love for teaching patients and families, which led her to mentor students and new nurses. After a manager suggested teaching, O’Conner-Von began her journey to become a nurse educator.

Today, as associate professor of nursing at the University of Minnesota, O’Conner-Von often reflects on what she learned at Mount Mercy and relies heavily on lessons from her mother.

“Her advice was always simple,” O’Conner-Von said. “It was ‘role model the love of learning,’ no matter what subject you’re teaching. Always show enthusiasm for the subject and how it is relevant to each learner’s life.”

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