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First Among Equals

Professor merged life experiences into work with students, community

Patricia Joyce

From The Ichabod - Spring 2018

When Patricia Joyce, bsn ’77, looked around her classes as a Washburn University student, she didn’t see anyone who resembled her, either in appearance or circumstances.

As the university’s first African-American nursing graduate, Joyce was a pioneer from the moment she chose her major. She’s embraced that role ever since, never in an attempt to be the first, but rather to pave the way for those who follow.

Joyce’s 24-year tenure as an assistant professor at Washburn will come to an end when she retires this summer, but the real story is all the beginnings she helped create along the way.

A Treasured Connection

The School of Nursing didn’t exist when Joyce came to campus – it was still just a newly created department with classes scattered around campus. She was in the program’s second graduating class and had two sisters at Washburn, but often felt alone in her educational pursuits.

“It would’ve been nice to have another familiar face,” Joyce said. “Being at a predominantly white university, yes, it did have its challenges. But even with challenges, you create opportunities. So I probably had some opportunities I wouldn’t have seen if I was someplace else.”

The Kansas City, Kansas, native joined the Black Student Union to help ease her feelings of isolation, and created unexpected connections, particularly with the man who would become her husband.

Patricia, who was introduced to Terry Joyce, ba ’76 bba ’86, by her sister, viewed him first as a competitor in a heated race for the BSU treasurer position.

“He was kind of arrogant,” she said. “But my sister reassured me he was good guy and that I should give him a chance, and I did.”

Terry lost the treasurer race, but made the most of his chance with Patricia. The couple got married in 1976 in her junior year, and she still jokes about the relationship’s rocky start — and the election results. Finding someone to confide in made all the difference to Joyce in college, and in the two dozen years since her return as an assistant professor, she’s filled that need for students enrolled in the classes she helped pilot.

“They see there’s someone who has gone through what they’re going through,” she said. “I think it makes it easier, if a black nursing student sees a black instructor, to say, ‘This is possible.’”

Leading by Example

When Monica Scheibmeir became dean of the School of Nursing in 2009, it was clear the impact Joyce had, even if she wasn’t vocal about the importance of her efforts.

“In faculty meetings, we have a lot who are first to provide an opinion,” Scheibmeir said. “Lots of times, Patricia, being so polite, is last to speak. I like to say, ‘The extrovert has the first answer, and the introvert has the right answer.’”

There are more than 300 students in the Washburn School of Nursing, and Scheibmeir said up to 14 percent are minorities each year.

“She has been a beacon of diversity for our students,” Scheibmeir said. “Patricia has represented to them what it means to be a minority and what it means to be a nurse.”

Joyce’s pursuit of equality extended beyond the educational setting when she founded the Topeka Black Nurses Association in 2015.

The local chapter’s goal is to work with African-American nurses and community-based organizations to provide services for underserved populations. Members attend and sponsor health fairs and programs throughout northeast Kansas to bring exposure to groups that can’t afford quality care.

“Because of the health disparities that exist, especially with people of color, we try to address those issues,” Joyce said.

Her most important endeavor remains the students who may one day carry on her efforts.

Wisdom to Share

At Washburn, Joyce initiated an active and thriving peer-to-peer mentoring program for nursing students. She also created the Community of Caring Club to introduce children in elementary and middle school to nursing as a possible career option.

“Those are some of the things I’d say I’m most proud of,” she said. “That community piece and just promoting the profession of nursing to individuals who wouldn’t have considered it.”

Joyce’s constant efforts to improve her surroundings have made her an asset to Washburn and the community, and are what stand out most to those who witnessed her impact firsthand.

“She has wisdom to share but yet is so humble about it,” Scheibmeir said. “She’s patient with others, when sometimes others aren’t. It’s just an amazing skill. She’s a silent warrior.”

The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions


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