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Popping a cork for a dean's departure

When Mary Champagne became dean of the School of Nursing in 1991, she had her work cut out for her.

The school was marked by empty offices, a dwindling faculty, a defunct bachelor's degree and disaffected alumni. There were no external research funds, and the master's program offered only three majors. A national ranking was but a pipe dream.

Today, the school is poised to take its place among the top 20 nursing schools in the nation. Once too small to fill its 10,000-square-foot facility on Duke's North Campus, the school has now spread to five sites across campus and awaits construction of a new $16.8 million structure that will reunite it under one roof.

"Simply stated, Mary Champagne resurrected the Duke School of Nursing," said Nancy Short, assistant dean of special projects at the School of Nursing.

Champagne announced last May that she would not seek another term as the nursing school's dean. She and outgoing CEO and Chancellor of Duke University Health System Ralph Snyderman agreed that Champagne would stay on as dean until her successor was named by a new chancellor, the appointment of whom is expected to be announced later this month.

As the most senior dean at the University, Champagne has seen a lot of change, not least of all in her own domain. For instance, she oversaw the creation of the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2002, bringing a bachelor's degree back to the school for the first time since 1984.

President Nan Keohane said the creation of the accelerated BSN program helped restore alumni's faith in the school.

"When [Champagne] came to the office in the early '90s, the alumni were disaffected because of the decision to close the undergraduate program that many of them had enjoyed," Keohane said. "Now, the nursing school alums are among those most proud of Duke and of their school because of the new visibility of the School around the country, the exciting new programs she has launched in distance learning and aging and, especially, the new accelerated BSN."

Since Champagne became dean, the School of Nursing has also established a number of connections with its neighbors throughout Durham and North Carolina.

Duncan Yaggy, chief planning officer for DUHS, worked with Champagne to create a distance-based curriculum that would train nurse practitioners from rural areas with health care shortages. Would-be nurses from these areas could not necessarily afford a couple of years away from home to get a nursing degree on campus.

Yaggy said he was initially discouraged by Champagne's reception of the distance-based education idea because she pointed out that none of her faculty members would have enough time to work on it. "I got up to go because it seemed that we were not able to move forward," he said. "But she said, 'But I'll do it,' and sure enough she did. And with the dean taking the lead, others can be persuaded to follow and contribute."

Champagne noted the School of Nursing now also has funding to educate geriatric, neonatal and pediatric nurse practitioners for rural areas.

Champagne has worked to improve health care closer to home as well, co-founding the Division of Community Health, a joint division of the School of Nursing and the Department of Community and Family Medicine. The division seeks to build a bridge between Duke and the communities it serves through clinical services, educational programs and applied research.

The Division of Community Health is behind a diverse array of programs, including one that brings dental care to children in the public school system and one that delivers care to elderly residents of Durham's high-rise subsidized housing. The division is also behind such initiatives as the Durham Community Health Network, Latino Access to Coordinated Healthcare and a number of school-based clinics throughout Durham.

"Mary was one of a very small group of Duke faculty who came together about 10 years ago, convinced that Duke could and should partner with local community organizations to improve the health of the Durham community," said Lloyd Michener, chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine.

Michener credited Champagne with adding "a considerable degree of rigor and discipline to our plans" and with helping the rest of the Medical Center accept and support proposals regarding community outreach initiatives.

Much of Champagne's deanship was also dedicated to rebuilding the School of Nursing from the inside out. Since she took over in 1991, the school has gone from offering three to 13 majors within its Master of Science in Nursing program, and is now on the verge of creating a doctoral program.

Two of the School of Nursing's programs--the Gerontological Nursing and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesia program--are ranked in the top 10 in the nation in nursing schools, and the school itself is rising in the rankings in both research and overall ranking.

"Dean Champagne has grown the School of Nursing from almost nothing to a vibrant, research- and teaching-intensive school that is making its mark nationally," said Ruth Anderson, associate professor at the School of Nursing.

With the growth of the school came the growth of the faculty--from five in 1991 to 38 today. Champagne said she was particularly proud of her faculty because it reflected the measure of excellence she hoped to attain in all aspects as dean.

"Something you know when you take the job, but that you really come to understand when you are dean, is that the most important things at any school are the faculty and students," Champagne said. "If you have a wonderful faculty, you can do wonderful things and recruit wonderful students."

Many at the School of Nursing said the growth of the school over the last decade has been nothing short of remarkable.

"I arrived at the School of Nursing in 1996. There were empty offices and plenty of storage rooms," said Linda Goodwin, director of the Center for Instructional Technology and Distance Learning at the nursing school. "In my eight years at Duke, I have seen [Champagne's] leadership produce incredible growth that is reflected, now, in a space crisis."

A current lack of funds is delaying the groundbreaking on a new facility that would ease the space crunch and bring the School of Nursing under one roof once again. The Board of Trustees approved plans for the building in 2002.

"[Champagne] is a low-key, thoughtful, but smart and dedicated leader, who gets things done without making waves--at least until she needs to make them in order to ensure that her high priority projects, like the new building, are given the appropriate prominence on campus," Keohane said.

Champagne's tenure has seen the School of Nursing rise from a place of obscurity within the University to one of respectability and collaboration. Before Champagne took the reins, the nursing school was at risk of being closed down completely, due in part to a lack of interconnectedness with the rest of the University, said Susan Yaggy, chief of the Division of Community Health.

"Dean Champagne's leadership in interdisciplinary collaborations like the Institute for Care at the End of Life has helped bring the School of Nursing much more fully into the life of the rest of the University and make it a real player on campus," Keohane said.

Michener noted that Champagne was instrumental in establishing a number of innovative and interdisciplinary educational programs like the Program in Clinical Leadership, which draws on the Fuqua School of Business, the Sanford Institute of Public Policy and the schools of nursing, medicine and law.

Kevin Sowers, COO of Duke Hospital, noted that Champagne has helped forge a stronger link between the nursing school and the Medical Center.

"It was under her leadership that the School of Nursing... partnered with the Medical Center academic department to create a positive relationship to support programs such as the nurse anesthesists and the nurse practitioner programs," he said.

Those who have worked with Champagne note that, despite her mammoth accomplishments as dean, she maintains her ability to connect with people on a personal level.

Eileen Welch, associate dean for external affairs at the School of Nursing said Champagne is a very effective fundraiser because she is "believable."

"She presents her case with the strongest possible data, and it's in a believable fashion," Welch said. "So there's nothing crazy, no smoke and mirrors--it's all real. Therefore there's trust and authenticity.... She's a relationship builder."

Though most who have worked with Champagne said they are sad to see her leave her post as dean, some admitted that they were glad she was stepping down.

"I draw comfort from the fact that her retirement as dean means she'll have more time to spend with us on further collaborations," Duncan Yaggy said. "She has spent an enormous amount of time over the last couple of years on the road raising money, and has said a number of times that she looks forward to the opportunity to work more actively with us when she returns as a faculty member. I'm going to take her word on that."

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