February 2023

Nursing Alumni Honored for Planting ‘Seeds of Change’

February 3, 2023    |  

Nightingale, Dix, Barton, Mahoney, Parsons, Wald, and Petry — the names of these seven influential nurses have been etched on the façade of the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) building for more than two decades.

Now, the names of two trailblazing UMSON alumnae join them, women whose legacies have shaped not only the nursing field, but also the city, the state, and beyond.

Esther E. McCready, DIN ’53, the first African American to gain admittance to UMSON, and former state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, MAS, BSN ’80, RN, FAAN, are highlighted on the front of the school’s recently opened expanded section, a recognition of their contributions to nursing, education, and public health.

UMSON honored these groundbreaking women’s impact as it cut the ribbon on the new space during a celebratory “Seeds of Change” event Jan. 30.

“Today we come together to celebrate several things,” said Jane M. Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Bill and Joanne Conway Dean of UMSON. “On one level, we celebrate the expansion of the School of Nursing’s footprint here on Lombard Street. This renovation and expansion is designed to meet the needs of our changing and growing student population, the next generation of nurses.

“These future nurses stand on the shoulders of all those who have come before them. And with this addition, we have the opportunity to permanently acknowledge two nurses on whose shoulders we all stand, each of whom has had a profoundly significant impact on health care,” she added.

Inside the expanded section, a living green wall spanning two floors adorns a student-focused space, the Virginia Lee Franklin Lounge. Flowing with plants, the green wall is a nod to the school’s commitment to sustainability and to the next generation of nurses.

Living green walls, composed of tightly packed, individually potted plants, improve indoor air quality and provide health benefits related to connecting to nature. The green wall system uses the plants’ soil medium to super filter the ambient air by pulling room air through the soil and returning it out for people to breathe. The air travels via clear plastic tubing along the edges of the green wall, and the pump required to circulate the air, along with the mechanisms associated with the self-watering system, are enclosed within the cabinet at the base of the green wall, made of repurposed wood.

UMSON’s green wall was inspired by one in the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Office of Design and Construction, after Anthony Consoli, AIA, LEED, AP, University architect, showed it to Kirschling. UMSON’s is now the only other living green wall on campus. The wall is composed of 10 species of plants.  

The wood at the green wall’s base was salvaged in part from a maple tree that had to be removed during construction of the building addition; the tree was originally donated by Susan Wozenski, JD, MPH, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Health, in memory of her father, Joseph P. Wozenski.

The design also incorporates repurposed, salvaged metal from which UMB President Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS, and his daughter, Gwynneth Jarrell, BSN ’06, RN, CPAN, a current Doctor of Nursing Practice student, both of whom are accomplished metalsmiths, created a decorative frame. The metal has its origins in Brooklyn, one of Baltimore’s southernmost neighborhoods. For the very top of the living green wall, the Jarrells created an element reminiscent of the Flossie, UMSON’s traditional nursing cap made of fluted lace (used until the end of the 1970s), from a curved ribbon of copper.

Nathan-Pulliam said she is tremendously honored to be recognized by the school. “Words can’t express,” she said. “I’m so proud of the School of Nursing. Nationally, we’ve done great, and our nurses are everywhere.”

As a legislator, Nathan-Pulliam realized just how much she learned from her time at the school.

“I was always prepared to use the nursing process to solve problems that came before me,” she said.

Upon the Shoulders of Groundbreaking Women

Both women’s legacies are built on decades of breaking barriers.

McCready, just 19 at the time, took on not only the School of Nursing, but also higher education as a whole, with a landmark lawsuit. In 1950, she pursued a Maryland Court of Appeals decision after UMSON originally denied her admission.

The school’s previous offer to pay for her to attend a Tennessee nursing school had been upheld as legal by a Baltimore court. But with the help of her attorney, Thurgood Marshall, McCready sued for admission to UMSON, and the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in her favor.

In her first meeting with lawyers, McCready was asked, “Who put you up to this?” said Larry Gibson, LLB, the Morton and Sophia Macht Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, who presented McCready’s history and legacy at the event. “She had replied, ‘No one. I did this on my own, because I am a citizen of Maryland and entitled to attend my state’s nursing school.’ ”

McCready’s victory held national significance, Gibson said. While there had been Donald Gaines Murray’s court case, University v. Murray, in 1936, the first time a U.S. court ordered the desegregation of an educational facility, the decision and his application was restricted to law schools, Gibson said. McCready’s lawsuit impacted all higher educational programs.

“The duty of a state to provide equal educational opportunity to its citizens had to be satisfied inside the state’s borders. That led to the admission of African American students into professional and graduate schools all over the nation,” Gibson said. “That is what Esther McCready accomplished.”

McCready received a Doctor of Public Service honorary degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) in 2015.

Nathan-Pulliam was mentored by McCready and continued McCready’s trailblazing work in health care. Nathan-Pulliam served in the Maryland General Assembly for 24 years before retiring as a Maryland state senator in late 2019, having focused her career on ensuring that all Marylanders have access to health care.

In her first year in office, she created a $2.6 million breast cancer diagnosis and treatment program for low-income women. And before retirement, one of her final actions in the legislature was the creation of the Social Determinants of Health Task Force of Baltimore City, a cutting-edge policy intervention and the first such legislatively mandated task force in the country.

And while Nathan-Pulliam might be known for these legislative accomplishments, to many, her legacy is one of friendships and mentorships.

“When I came to the Health and Government Operations Committee, I didn’t know my way, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Maryland Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk, JD, said in her remarks during the event. “But Shirley, she took her time to talk to me, to mentor me, and to give me an opportunity that many people wouldn’t do.”

Nathan-Pulliam wasn’t a mentor only to her legislative colleagues.

UMSON associate professor Yolanda Ogbolu, PhD ’11, MS ’05, BSN ’04, CRNP-Neonatal, FNAP, FAAN, first interacted with Nathan-Pulliam as a constituent looking for help.

“I had successfully completed my initial nursing degree at Baltimore City Community College. And the next step was to take the board exam,” Ogbolu said in her remarks. “My major problem — I had no money to pay the fee.”

As a single mother living in an apartment with her 4-year-old daughter, Ogbolu had to make a choice — pay her rent or pay for her board exam.

She chose rent.

“But I cried day and night with my decision,” she said. “But then suddenly, I said, ‘I’m going to write to everyone.’ I wrote to the governor. I wrote to my delegates. I wrote to senators and delegates at the state. Finally, one person, only one person, answered my letters. That was Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam.”

And while Nathan-Pulliam told Ogbolu she’d missed the Maryland deadline for the exam, the legislator arranged for Ogbolu to take it in Delaware.

Later, as a PhD student, Ogbolu applied to be a legislative intern with the senator with the hopes of reconnecting and paying it forward. Additionally, she said, she wanted to learn how to translate her health equity research into policy.

When they met again, Ogbolu asked Nathan-Pulliam if she remembered her. Nathan-Pulliam said she didn’t.

“And during my time with her, I understood why she didn’t remember me. As I read through the piles of letters and listened to phone calls that she receives daily, I realized why remembering me would be difficult. The senator has helped 10,000 Yolandas — I just happen to be standing here, the one telling my story,” Ogbolu said.                    

Eyes Toward the Future

While the Jan. 30 celebration was a chance to look back at the stories of two alumnae who have been instrumental in changing health care, it also was a chance to look toward the future of nursing.

The new space in the School of Nursing is very special, UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, said, because it’s a place for students to collect themselves and relax among the hustle and bustle of taking care of sick patients. It’s a chance for them to remember who they are and why they’re here, he added.

Nathan-Pulliam and McCready laid seeds of change, Jarrell said, to help nursing get to where it is today.

“But we also need to get where we need to go tomorrow. And I’m happy to tell all of you here what a terrific job our School of Nursing has done to get nurses out there and working,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how important nurses are in health care, Jarrell said, but it also shined a light on how difficult the workplace had become for nurses and how hard it was to deliver care. UMSON has been focused on addressing that, he added.

The school is on track to graduate close to 1,000 students this spring, he said.

“And among them, just like our two honorees, some of these nurses will deliver primary care throughout Maryland. This is a nursing school that is committed to Maryland. It’s a university that’s committed to the state of Maryland,” Jarrell said.

Just like Nathan-Pulliam and McCready, the nurses who come through the school can bring change to Maryland and beyond.

Nathan-Pulliam and McCready accomplished journeys that may have seemed impossible in their generations, Ogbolu said.

“They did their part. They left their mark — in fact, their names are on the building. … They showed us how to act with boldness, with compassion, with faith, and hope as an action word. Now it’s up to us,” she said. “So, I leave you with a question: What will you do to continue the journey? Let’s all go forth, to water the seeds of change that they have planted so that everyone has an opportunity to grow and flourish. Let’s move with boldness and with grace to advance social and racial equity.”