The Nursing Alumni Council 2020

Duke Nursing Alumni Council membersThis year, DUSON celebrates its 90th birthday. In the time since its doors opened, much has changed. The School’s location on Trent Drive has expanded beyond its original small white building connected to Hanes House to today’s beautiful towering and awe-inspiring building with its open spaces and high-tech classrooms. Even its degree programs have grown and stretched over the years.

But, throughout nine decades, one thing has remained constant — DUSON-educated nurses are among some of the most highly accomplished, knowledgeable health care professionals in the industry. And keeping these outstanding providers connected to and involved with the School has always been a priority. This is where the Nursing Alumni Council (NAC) comes in.

Composed of 16 active members, as well as a treasured cadre of Emeritus members, the NAC serves as a conduit that keeps alumni — new and veteran — engaged with the School, providing them with a multitude of ways they can make an impact not only on the School as a whole but also on individual current students.

“We really regard ourselves as the DUSON fan club,” said NAC President Marianne Tango Williams, BSN ’81. “We promote and advocate the School’s mission, spreading news of the accomplishments and achievements of our faculty, our staff, and most importantly, those who are dearest to us — our students.”

Ultimately, she said, NAC members are ambassadors for the School, dedicated to the continued personal and professional growth of alumni. Still, to a large degree, current students — and even some alumni — are unaware of what the council does for the School.

In order for DUSON’s influence in the community to remain strong — and for its students to continue to benefit from the experiences and expertise alumni have to offer — telling NAC’s story is vital.

The Three Ts

Duke Nursing Alumni Council members at 2020 meetingWhen it comes to the role that NAC plays and the ways alumni can get involved, there is no cookie-cutter approach. In general, Williams said, the contributions fall into three categories: time, talent, and treasure.

“This is my favorite thing. We serve through sharing our three Ts,” she said. “And when alumni join the NAC, we just ask that they be willing to give of themselves through the same avenues.”

How an alumnus from 1970 can give back to the School is usually far different from how a 2019 graduate would be able to contribute. But every member is valuable, Williams stressed, and can make a positive impact on the lives of DUSON students.

Time is a precious commodity that can translate easily into encouragement and shared experiences. Older alumni who may be retired or not clinically current can still contribute significantly through NAC, she said.

“Many of us have extensive experiences in leadership and clinical practice, and we can help those students who want to learn more,” she said. “We can show recent alumni or students what it means to be able to lead and build teams — something that will serve them well as they are becoming proficient as clinicians.”

Alumni can also take the time to “get back to basics,” Williams said, promoting the idea of sending written notes of encouragement to students in all DUSON programs. Writing a heartfelt note to congratulate a student on an accomplishment or bolster his or her drive to continue working hard can have a profound impact, letting students know the DUSON community as a whole supports them.

Duke Nursing Alumni Council members at 2020 meeting“It’s great to get emails,” she said. “But isn’t it special when you see your name on a card and you open it up, and it’s just a thank you — a thank you for being a Duke nurse?”

Some alumni may be able to participate in another way. Recent graduates may be in the best position to donate their talent, offering opportunities to other new graduates or current students.

“These newer graduates can give their time by networking. That is so valuable to us for them to network with their fellow alumni who have just graduated,” Williams said. “They can give of their talents because they are fresh and clinically current. So they can be mentors and preceptors.”

Along with investments of time and talent, members of NAC — and other alumni — can also give of their treasure. Donations to the Annual Fund are always appreciated, Williams said, as are contributions that can be made in a variety of other ways.  

NAC’s Changing Face

Historically, NAC members were mainly BSN alumni — nursing students who graduated prior to 1984. Through their dedicated work for the School, countless students and new alumni benefited from both career guidance and financial support. But as the face of the School has changed — increasing racial, ethnic, and gender diversity — the need for the NAC to reflect the new student body has also grown.

NAC is not only actively seeking to diversify its membership demographically, but also to expand the definition of diversity to include diversity of degree programs and careers.

There has long been a need for more alumni from the professional degree programs to join NAC, Williams said. Within the past few years, that pivot has picked up pace. For instance, one of the more recent members to join is a 2019 male graduate from the MSN program who is “fired up” to participate in what the NAC offers alumni.

“In addition to the professional degree representation, we are also excited to have ABSN alumni join the NAC team to provide that much needed generational connectivity to spread the word about our alumni outreach,” Williams said.  “Our new NAC members want to make a difference and our ability to support the needs of the students grow because of their fresh ideas.”

Although COVID-19 has inundated the health care workforce with round-the-clock and growing clinical responsibilities, it has also presented an unforeseen opportunity for expanding the council’s diversity.

Duke Nursing Alumni Council member with Duke Blue Devil mascot“One positive change to come from COVID is realizing we can hold our meetings and alumni events, like the Campus to Couch speaker series, virtually,” Williams said. “This has allowed us to stay connected and also give flexibility to our NAC membership who live out of the area to more easily attend these meetings, without having to take extended time off from work.”

This inclusive push is still underway as NAC continues to seek alumni members who better mirror the School’s current student population and who represent the myriad of career options available in nursing. The goal is to continue to foster DUSON’s strength, paving the way for continued engagement for our alumni and our students.

“Our NAC team is all about sharing our amazing DUSON legacy,” Williams said.  We are passionate advocates for our beloved School and our incredible students, because we are Forever Duke!”

By Whitney J. Palmer