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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