The Retiring “Dr. G”

Apr 30th, 2012 | By admin | 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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