October 2011 cover SCAN"St. Catherine University St. Catherine University
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Core Contributors

By Nancy Crotti

Toné Blechert:
Mission Driven

What were your goals as you progressed through the ranks, particularly in the College for Applied and Continuing Learning? I'm drawn into the places where I can best serve the mission. Our founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, were reaching out to women more than100 years ago, and we still do. Forty percent of those in our associate programs are students of color, and many are immigrants.

Our admission policies aim to attract excellent students who may not have had an opportunity to demonstrate their capacity. Our fully integrated, developmental curriculum helps students reach their potential. Working experiences are meant to empower students for employment and help them see the need for further education.

How have the liberal arts played a role in the education of students in two-year programs? It's easy in a two-year program to over-teach the technical and professional knowledge and leave behind the liberal arts. We never have done that. We believe those courses contribute to people's ability to think and behave in ways that will take them forward not just in their work but in their family life and other opportunities, too.

How has being a Katie informed your work at the University? The University's leadership statement says that every graduate should evoke hope. I see the two-year associate and certificate programs as very hope-producing. Students are able to see themselves as college material — often for the first time — and many earn higher degrees. Hope inspires them not only to take care of the patients but to take care of themselves.

Why was the formation of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health important? St. Catherine has been thought of as a nursing school for so long — but that is not what we are. Nor are we a medical school. Our model is built on interprofessional team-building and holistic approaches to healing and prevention.

I see us carrying on the Sisters' philosophy, building unity for the sake of health and well-being. We're putting all of our knowledge and skills together to be most helpful to our patients.

What has been your greatest triumph? I'm very proud that we attract such a diverse student population. I also believe in giving people more than one chance. It's hard for students in some of our rigorous programs who speak two or three languages other than English. Authentic evaluation is about seeing how the student manages in the workplace and watching her competency grow.

How have you attempted to fulfill the University's Catholic mission? My particular work since 2005 has been with Amata Miller, IHM, on the steering committee of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity, which works to demonstrate our mission internally and externally.

How has your training in occupational therapy shaped you as an educator and administrator? Occupational therapy is about human performance, identifying the primary problems and solving them. When I see a student in trouble, I imagine how this person might perform more effectively, and I use the skills and knowledge that I learned in occupational therapy to help her do that.

It's been said you can keep four balls in the air and know which ones are glass and which are rubber. How do you do that? I worked with mentors who knew my limitations and didn't give me too many balls at first. I am grateful to the people who taught me how to manage the balls.

Alice Swan:
Nurse Leader

How have the liberal arts played a role in the education of your students? The liberal arts have always provided additional, rich perspectives for students, so that when they become nurses, they understand themselves and other people better.

Why are Katie nurses better prepared than their peers? That has to do with the mission of St. Catherine that every nursing faculty member upholds: the commitment to Catholic social teaching, social justice and the dignity of the human person.

What was the impetus for consolidating all the healthcare programs into the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health in September 2007? Research at the national level has been talking about interprofessional learning and competencies. The integration of our nearly three dozen healthcare programs are a way for us to really understand one another — to look at how we can partner to provide better education — but it’s also what our service partners expect.

What has been your greatest challenge here? There was a lot of change during my tenure. We brought up the master's program, and we started the Doctorate of Nursing Practice program and the post-baccalaureate certificate program. The faculty came together and produced the results. It was not at all about me.

How has your work positioned students for the future? The Interprofessional Clinical Scholar program at North Memorial Medical Center in Robinsdale is an example. Faculty, students and staff nurses are examining the evidence about how to treat patient pain from related disciplines, learning it and appraising it. Every time I go there, I am witnessing this collaboration about the future.

People describe you as an optimist. How have you kept this attitude throughout your career? One thing I have control over is how I choose to view things. So the half-full cup is always more life-giving to me than the half-empty one.

What is your hope for the future of nursing? It's that we keep our eye on the people we serve, that we bring our knowledge, dedication and sense of dignity to them and make sure that everybody has access to quality care. Recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of nurses is important, no matter where they come in. That's why our continuum of nursing degrees is so important.

Do you see yourself as more of a nurse, a teacher or a leader? Being a nurse is my core. I ascribe to the philosophy of nursing that uses the word leader as a mnemonic. L is for liberal arts, E is ethics, A is access, D is diversity, the other E is excellence and R is relationships. It works if you're a nurse, in a classroom or an administrator.

What are your retirement plans? I’ve been so responsible; I'm going to take a year of being irresponsible and see if I can tolerate it. But I have gifts to share. I'd like to say, "Where might I have learning of a different kind?" I just want to have a chance to explore things.

What has it meant to devote your career to St. Catherine? A mission-centered place is life-giving. It's really contributed to my learning. I'm leaving with very positive feelings and gratitude.

 

St. Kate's Q&A

Toné Blechert '67, MA'93 began her career at St. Kate's as a teaching assistant 41 years ago. Nearly four decades have passed since Alice Swan, who holds a doctorate in nursing science, started as a part-time faculty member.

Both Blechert and Swan have risen through the administrative ranks to key leadership posts. Each was chosen as one of the prestigious Centennial 100 in 2005, a group of 100 individuals who had the most significant impact on the development and success of the University during its first century.

Blechert is retiring as associate dean of health professions and two-year programs and executive director of the College for Applied and Continuing Learning. She was born at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis, across the street from the St. Catherine campus she helped foster and lead.

Swan grew up a farm girl in tiny Starbuck, Minnesota — where an ecumenical service meant a gathering of the town's 10 Lutheran congregations. Having served many teaching and leadership roles, she leaves the University as associate dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.

As they retire from the institution where they had untold influence, Blechert and Swan vow to remain connected in some way.