The Retiring “Dr. G”

Apr 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Features

By Bill Cook

When Dr. Lucille Gambardella first interviewed for a teaching position at Wesley College in 1984, she thought she might give the school three to five years before moving on. Twenty-eight years later, the woman students and colleagues affectionately call “Dr. G” is still here, if only for a short time more.

The former assistant professor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (1984-1995) and the current chair of the Department of Nursing and director of graduate programs in nursing (1995-2012) is retiring at the end of the summer to devote more time to her family, with a daughter getting married, and to her consulting business.

Dr. Gambardella, circa 2012

Gambardella says what’s kept her here so long is one of the things she’ll miss the most about Wesley College: that sense of family among students and faculty. “I think I always knew Wesley was a special place,” she says. “I loved the fact that you always knew who your students were. You knew the other faculty. I’ve made a lot of great friends here over the years, and that’ll be one of the difficult things about leaving.”

Gambardella leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Since being elected to her current post, Gambardella has seen the number of nursing students more than double, from 100 in 1995 to about 245 today. Meantime, the number of full- and part-time professors in that span has also increased, from 20 to about 32.

As the student body and faculty have grown during Gambardella’s time here as chair, so has the nursing school’s reputation, within the state and nationwide. A 2011 U.S. News & World Report survey rated Wesley College as having the top graduate nursing program in Delaware and the 50th best in the United States. “We were shocked when we saw that but also very pleased,” Gambardella says. “But we work very hard to meet the needs of the adult learner and that’s what came out, I think, in that survey.”

That leads to what Gambardella believes is her greatest achievement at Wesley College: the initiation of the nursing school’s Master’s Program in 1995. At the time, the RN to MSN bridge program, which allows working nurses to earn their advanced degree without making them repeat undergraduate classes, was a very new concept. It meant a student could receive a graduate degree in just three years instead of the more typical five or six.

It was a bold move, but Gambardella convinced the faculty and administration that it was the right move. From day one, the program has become a niche for Wesley in a state with several quality options for nursing students. “We were just blown away by the model and how appropriate it would be for the nursing world here in Delaware,” she says. “It cut out all the repetition and really focused on the needs of the adult learner. And I think that’s probably one of the most exciting things that happened here as a department was to be able to provide that option.”

Even though Gambardella has spent most of her time at Wesley working in the nursing department’s basement home in Dulaney Hall, her presence has been felt throughout the campus. Paul Olsen, an associate professor of mathematics, has known Gambardella for nearly 30 years. He says there is a lot he and others in and out of the nursing program will miss about her. “Her cooperation, her easy-going nature,” he says. “Her desire to seek good in everybody. She’s a genuine person.”

Awards and accolades are nice, but Gambardella says she’d prefer to be judged by the accomplishments of the vast number of successful Wesley nursing graduates practicing all over the country. “I could give you three pages of stuff that graduates are doing out there,” she says. “The wonderful positions that they have found, or things they’re doing in research. To me, that is the best reward I can see.”

Gambardella also prides herself on the quality of the Wesley nursing student. Her goal as a teacher and administrator has been to instill in the students and faculty a strong sense of integrity, a commitment to the profession, and a desire to work with people. “Nursing isn’t a job, it’s a passion,” she says. “It’s part of who you are as a person. And you want the student to be sure that they have that passion, that intensity for what it is they’re coming into. And it’s interesting because if they don’t have it they don’t normally last here, or anywhere else for that matter.”

As the nursing program transitions into a new era, Gambardella says there are many reasons to be excited. One is the decision to elect her successor, Dr. Robert Contino, whom Gambardella says will do a “fabulous job.” But perhaps the biggest reason, she says, is the College’s unique opportunity to move the nursing department in a different direction – literally – about four blocks south of the main campus.

Thanks to the acquisition of the J. Allen Frear Building from the federal government – at no cost to the College – the nursing school will soon have a new home. Located at the corner of North and New streets, just a block-and-a-half from Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital, the 36,000-square foot facility will house the entire nursing school, including new classrooms, offices and state-of-the-art laboratories.

Dr. Gambardella, circa 1989

That’s quite an upgrade, Gambardella says, over the cozy 5,500-square-foot Dulaney Hall. “Space on campus has been an issue for a long time,” she says. “We are tight. So [President] Johnston’s option to really go after that building was outstanding. And because of its proximity to Bayhealth we will be able to do more in partnership with them. It’s a super opportunity, it really is.”

Even with a new building and a new leader, Gambardella expects one thing to remain the same at Wesley College long after she is gone. “It’s the fact that the student feels comfortable enough and not intimidated by faculty to reach out to them if they need something,” she says. “That’s the kind of environment that’s here. And I think that’s really what kept me here. It’s been a great 28 years.”

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