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Honored to Teach

Waugh guided and mentored many through nursing honors program

Jeannette Wood, her son and her teacher, Shirley Waugh pose at a playground

Shirley Waugh, msn ’09 (right), retired associate professor, led the School of Nursing honors program and helped students like Jeanette Wood (left) make a difference with their projects. Wood presented research about how inclusive parks help children with mobility devices like her son, Danny Wood (front), have improved physical and mental health. Photo by Jeremy Wangler

From The Ichabod - Spring 2022
By Jeremy Wangler

Entering college later in your life can be a daunting experience. Whether to change careers or earn an advanced degree, leaving what you already created and starting anew can be a bold step. Having mentors along the way can make a big difference.

Shirley Waugh, msn ’09, has been providing mentorship to students as an associate professor in the School of Nursing and director of the nursing honors program. Retiring this May, Waugh taught at Washburn for 13 years. Her story of returning to nursing and advancing her education should be an inspiration to anyone, especially nontraditional nursing students.

Waugh worked as a registered nurse as a young adult in the Kansas City area before moving to Topeka where she was a stay-at-home parent while her husband worked as a physician. As their kids grew up, she wanted to return to nursing, get a master’s degree and teach. A postcard advertising Washburn's new master of nursing program led her to enroll.

“I didn't have PowerPoint or Word. When I first left the workplace, we didn't have computers,” she said. “All of a sudden, I'm an older student who's expected to have all this technology. Multiple times I thought, I can't do this, but I just dug my claws in and thought, I'm not going to quit. You're going to have to fail me, but I'm not going to quit.”

She persisted, graduated and became an adjunct instructor at Washburn in 2009. She also continued her education, earned a doctorate in nursing and became a tenure-track associate professor. One of her new roles was directing the nursing honors program where she saw students do amazing projects.

“Working with exceptional, high-achieving students is really rewarding,” she said.

One such nursing student selected for the honors program was Jeanette Wood, who will graduate with her bachelor’s degree this May. She’s a nontraditional student who went back to school after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. One of her children uses a wheelchair, and her honors project was to bring attention to the need for inclusive playgrounds.

“I talked about the importance of inclusive playgrounds, not just accessible playgrounds,” Wood said. “In Topeka, we do have playgrounds where children with mobility devices can go and play, but they're very segregated. I used evidence-based research to show what's been done in other communities and how it can improve physical and mental health and reduce social injustices, prejudice and racism.”

Wood presented her research to the Shawnee County commissioners and explained how Hughes Park is the first park in Topeka to have an inclusive playground – equipment used together by children with and without disabilities. She is committed to helping convert more parks in the future.

Wood will become a perioperative nurse in the surgery department at Stormont Vail after she graduates. Like Waugh, she experienced doubt throughout her education, but Waugh’s guidance helped along the way.

“There's this battle in your mind. It’s scary,” Wood said. “The main thing is getting over feeling like I didn't belong. I remember how important it was to me the first time I heard, ‘You belong here.’ Shirley had such a neat way of edifying, encouraging and inspiring, and at the same time, challenging and driving me to do better.”

Steve Golden, ba ’06, bsn ’18, also did an honors project as he completed his nursing degree. As a male wanting to work in labor and delivery, he experienced discrimination and bias – mostly from staff members. His project focused on those experiences.

“When I started to look into the research on it, it actually seemed like a really viable topic for me, as well as a good opportunity for me to write something that would help other male nurses who felt like they wanted to practice in labor and delivery,” Golden said.

A labor and delivery nursing journal published his article and made it the cover story, and he said he’s heard from men who were encouraged by his writing.

“I had the resources to take on something like that and the support from Shirley in the process,” Golden said. “It's a real talent for a teacher like her to make a student feel good about their work and still challenge them to do more.”

Golden worked in labor and delivery as a registered nurse for a year and is now a nurse in the heart and vascular center at the University of Kansas St. Francis Campus in Topeka. As Waugh settles into retirement, she’ll continue to take pride in the compassionate nurses she helped train.

“I see former students thriving, doing 10 things at once in a really high-skilled area and knowing what a difference they're making and what an important job they're doing,” Waugh said. “I see them so confident, compassionate and skilled as nurses.”

The Ichabod Fall 2022 magazine cover

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


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