Valerie Howard, who will begin serving as the new dean of the UNC School of Nursing on Aug. 1, will focus on learning more about the nursing school as she prepares to educate the future nurses of North Carolina.
Howard will replace Peggy Wilmoth, who has served as interim dean since January. Wilmoth stepped in for Nena Peragallo Montano, who served in the position since 2017.
Howard is coming from Duke University's nursing school, where she served as vice dean for academic affairs and as a clinical professor.
“I think I'm most excited about really joining UNC and the Carolina community and working with the people,” Howard said.
Paula Tanabe, the vice dean for research at the Duke University School of Nursing said she worked closely with Howard during Howard’s time at Duke.
"She's warm, she's very positive, she's very enthusiastic," Tanabe said. “She is an expert in her field and just very, very engaging.”
Before working at Duke, Howard worked as the director of simulation and dean at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. While there, she founded the Regional Research and Innovation in Simulation Education Center, which she said was a nursing simulation center.
According to Suzie Kardong-Edgren, building the simulation program at the university was a large undertaking. Kardong-Edgren said she worked with Howard at Robert Morris University – as well as the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning.
She was also the president of INACSL and currently leads the Future of Nursing North Carolina Action Coalition.
“She is a consummate professional,” Kardong-Edgren said.
Marion Broome, a Ruby F. Wilson professor of nursing and former dean at the Duke University School of Nursing said that she hired Howard because she brought a lot of experience in academic administration and is a well-known leader in simulation education.
Howard said she will look to gain a thorough understanding of the ongoing initiatives at the UNC School of Nursing before she begins in her role.
“The first thing I want to do is to learn more about the school of nursing and the people that are there,” Howard said. “And then through that process, we will focus on working together to strengthen nursing education, nursing science, nursing practice.”
Howard said one of the challenges she will face is educating future nurses despite a nursing and nursing faculty shortage.
“That to me is a challenge that we’ll definitely look at together,” Howard said. “But before I make any change or even think about change, I need to understand where the school is right now."
Howard said she is excited to focus on the mission of preparing North Carolina nurses at all levels, which translates to better health outcomes for North Carolinians.
Howard also added that singing, playing the piano and flute and participating in musical theater have always been a part of her life. She said that it is even useful with nursing education.
"The use of simulation to enhance learning outcomes aligns well with the theater 'practice makes perfect' and recreating realistic environments to allow safe practice for our students can reduce medical errors in the clinical setting," Howard said.
Howard said music is a great stress reliever for her and brings her joy.
"And I can be found playing Broadway show tunes and holiday carols in my office throughout the year," Howard said in an email.
Kardong-Edgren added that Howard's talents as an actress and singer provide her with unique skills as a dean of a nursing school.
“That acting ability and training really does stand her in good stead as a dean,” Kardong-Edgren said.
Kardong-Edgren said she remembered Howard making videos for INACSL and having them play out-of-the-box thinking games in meetings.
“When you can make strategic planning fun for a school of nursing, that is a special gift,” Kardong-Edgren said.
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