Photo page header


Coming Full Circle

Faculty member, alumna Lori Edwards focuses on giving back to people in need

Lori Edwards stands with her students

From The Ichabod - Winter 2018

Shortly after her ninth birthday, Lori Edwards became a part of the Kansas foster care program. Edwards’ mother had spent the previous six years following her father to eight different zip codes, with Edwards and her three sisters in tow, before he was incarcerated for a federal crime. Lacking the family support, education and financial resources she needed, the weight and responsibility of caring for four children took its toll on her mother, and she became depressed and self-medicated with alcohol. Edwards did her best to help with her sisters and care for her mother, but eventually social services placed the children in foster care. She and her siblings were separated and shuffled from one home to another, until she was adopted by a loving foster family when she was 14 years old.

Edwards’ new parents, Jim and Beverly VanNoy, settled in Topeka a few years later after her father retired from the military. She graduated from Topeka High School and decided to attend Washburn University to obtain a degree in gerontology. She had formed a close relationship with her adopted grandmother and one day hoped to work in long-term care with seniors. An advisor suggested a nursing degree would suit her well.

“I chose Washburn and the profession of nursing for many reasons, but mainly because both have a longstanding history of working with people who need ‘a leg up’ in life,” said Edwards, bsn ’88, dnp '17. “Also, Washburn has been my longest standing zip code. After many years of moving around, it was nice to stay close to home.”

As the first of her family to graduate college, Edwards didn’t just stop there. She went on to obtain a masters in nursing from the University of Kansas and then returned to Washburn as a member of the faculty. In May 2017, she accomplished another goal by receiving her doctorate in nursing practice from Washburn. Washburn’s DNP program appealed to Edwards because it is the only program in the United States to offer students 12 hours toward a master of business administration degree as part of the curriculum.

Lori Edwards teachingToday, Edwards is teaching in all three nursing programs at Washburn — the undergraduate, clinical nurse leader and DNP programs. She continues to reside in Topeka, Kansas, with her husband, Joel, bsn '15, and three sons: Jacob, Jordan, aa '15, and James, and a daughter-in-law Jamie, b ed '13.

“I’ve had some amazing opportunities over the years at Washburn,” said Edwards. “I’ve had the privilege to journey to Costa Rica and Guatemala with six different groups of students to assist with health care for migrant workers. In Guatemala this past summer, our Washburn nursing team joined by Topeka South Rotarians were able to provide health screenings for more than 900 Mayan community members in one week.”

While the work they’ve done in Costa Rica and Guatemala has been highly impactful, some of the most amazing work is being done in Topeka. In the fall of 2017, Edwards was part of a team who helped to open the Pine Ridge Family Health Center – a primary care clinic serving the Pine Ridge community, Topeka’s oldest and largest public housing development.

Edwards will be volunteering in the clinic as a nurse practitioner.

“The opening of the Pine Ridge Family Health Center is a team effort, and I am just a small part of that team,” said Edwards. “But for me, moving from poverty and chaos, watching my birth mom struggle, to a life of support and stability. Now I have the ability to give back, and it feels like I’ve come full circle.”

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483