Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Judith Hertz
Judith Hertz

Donna Plonczynski
Donna Plonczynski

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

December 5, 2006

State honors two NIU nursing professors
in move to recognize, retain well-qualified teachers

DeKalb — Two professors from the Northern Illinois University School of Nursing are among the first class of the state’s new Nurse Educator Fellowship Program, thanks to a vote this morning by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Judith Hertz and Donna Plonczynski each will receive $10,000. They and 13 colleagues from across the state are expected to collaborate with the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Center for Nursing, assist in reviewing nomination materials for future fellows and participate in conferences.

The program is meant to ensure the retention of well-qualified nursing educators. Illinois, like other states, is suffering from a critical lack of nurses and nursing educators.

“Gov. Blagojevich is promoting an appreciation of nursing education,” said Brigid Lusk, chair of the NIU School of Nursing, part of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “There’s such a nursing faculty shortage, and we need nurses so badly.”

She is elated, but not surprised, by the school’s success.

“We have an excellent, committed, caring faculty,” she said. “Naturally, being a large school, I thought we might have a decent chance of getting one fellow. When I learned we had two, it was absolutely delightful.”

“We are excited and delighted that we have two fellows,” said Shirley Richmond, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “Our school has outstanding faculty members, and this does add some significance to the quality of the program we offer. It certainly will help us to retain those faculty and to continue producing wonderful graduates.”

Lusk describes the professors as “each outstanding in her own way.”

“Judi Hertz is an outstanding scholar and a successful grant writer, but more than that, she’s very, very committed to getting students into her research activities along with her. She has taken her students to conferences. She has worked closely with her research assistants, published with them and brought them in to guest-lecture,” Lusk said.

“Donna Plonczynski is one of our advanced-practice nurse faculty, which means she is very involved with keeping her practice up, as she has to be, but she’s also the sort of faculty member who really helps you out when you have a teaching assignment you suddenly can’t fill,” she added. “Donna just picked up a very heavy, very difficult online course in addition to her other coursework. She was concerned about the students.”

Hertz, who joined NIU in 2000, said she is honored for the recognition of “what I view as basically doing my job.”

“Given the shortage of nurses and, in particular, nursing educators, this is a good way of demonstrating that the state Board of Higher Education values nursing education. That value statement is important,” Hertz said, “and might do some good in attracting other persons who are qualified in faculty positions.”

She became a nursing educator “after I took a research position with an association. I found out that teaching was really my love, and I missed it greatly when I was not doing it.”

“There’s something rewarding about feeling like you are contributing to the next generation of nurses,” Hertz said. “Some of the nursing students I have taught certainly have gone on to contribute in substantial ways to the profession.”

Plonczynski, who came to NIU in 1996, is grateful for the recognition. “The best of all is to have your colleagues recognize you,” she said. “It’s gratifying to receive an award for something I love, and humbling even to be considered with recipients at this level.”

Her mission in nursing education has roots in Parker J. Palmer’s “The Courage to Teach,” published in 1997.

“His book says we become teachers because of a drive that comes from our heart, and I believe that,” she said. “I feel every day when I teach that I’m honored to be trusted with imparting not only knowledge but values and ethics about delivering health care in our communities.”

Although she believes the Nurse Educator Fellowship Program will shine a positive light on her profession – “the need is tremendous, and the supply is limited,” she said – Plonzynski has a question for all future professors of nursing.

“The first thing I ask is why,” she said. “If they tell me they just feel they can impart something important, or words to that effect, I know that anything else they need – whatever they’re lacking – they will find because they have the attitude and the values that need to be there.”

The NIU School of Nursing offers an exciting, vibrant nursing program within a university setting. The nursing program has been in existence since 1959 and enjoys an outstanding reputation throughout the state of Illinois.

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