Brenau’s First Doctorates: Five for the Record Books

The women rose as a group, holding hands like finalists in some sort of pageant. In a sense, they were. You could see the excitement bubbling behind their faces as Provost Nancy Krippel in full academic regalia smiled broadly and began the ritualistic intonation: “President Schrader, I present to you the candidates for the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.”

Following that introduction, Brenau President Ed Schrader with the almost-by-rote “powers invested in me by the faculty and the Board of Trustees” commentary then took what arguably became one of the most significant actions in Brenau’s 135-year history. He conferred the first earned doctoral degrees on the five candidates.

The five later led the procession to the stage to receive diplomas and, in their case, the hoods, or the academic accoutrement, signifying their degree. Then it was official: Among the 735 or so who received undergraduate and graduate diplomas on the front law on the main campus May 2 and 3 were Dr. Maureen Vidrine from Monroe, Georgia; Dr. Angela Simmons-Butler from Clarkesville, Georgia; Dr. Shelia Campbell from Ellenwood, Georgia; Dr. Ann Marie Peck from Gainesville; and Dr. LaChaka Coffee from Atlanta.

Vidrine, who is a member of the Brenau nursing faculty, previously earned a Master of Science in Nursing at Georgia State University following undergrad studies at Emory. She calls herself a clinician who likes to teach. Already an undergraduate professor in Brenau’s School of Nursing, Vidrine plans to use her DNP degree to continue teaching and working with patients in equine-facilitated psychotherapy.

Coffee, WC ’00, BU ’08, a family nurse practitioner, says the DNP prepares her to be a leader in the new, reformed landscape of health care. Although it is bittersweet for her to leave Brenau, where she earned two other degrees, Coffee says she is excited to take the next steps in her career as a nursing leader and patient advocate.

Simmons-Butler, WC ’95, BU ’02, a family nurse practitioner, knows that many of her patients struggle to make healthy choices and prevent chronic diseases. As a DNP, she plans to focus on educating these patients and becoming a community advocate for their health and care.

Campbell previously earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Emory University. She became a nurse because she wanted to improve people’s lives. With her DNP degree, she hopes to do just that for residents of long-term care facilities and for the nurses who  treat them.

Peck, WC ’97, BU ’01, a family nurse practitioner, says that she is inspired to help others in need of care and education about their health. She used her capstone project for the DNP degree to pursue a personal mission: teaching women about heart disease.

Maureen Vidrine of Monroe, Georgia

Maureen Vidrine, a first recipient of the first doctoral degree earned at Brenau University, addressed those attending the 50th anniversary program for the School of Nursing on behalf of the five people who received the Doctor of Nursing Practive this year. Vidrine is assistant professor of nursing at Brenau.

The passionate struggle of scholarly pursuit

I am proud to speak on behalf of the first doctoral class at both the Brenau School of Nursing and at Brenau University. This grand adventure has changed us in ways we never could have foreseen, both personally and professionally. Together we engaged in challenging, cutting-edge coursework, clinical experiences and research projects that, as Dr. Jill Hayes promised us, “made our brains itch.”

We learned about genomics, informatics, statistics, epidemiology, bioethics, management, healthcare finance and so much more.

Somewhere along the way, as we evolved into DNPs ourselves, we began to understand what the Doctor of Nursing Practice is designed to do:  to train expert nurses to solve the problems of clinical practice through the application of existing research findings.

We immersed ourselves in our capstone projects, which focused on issues straight from today’s headlines: educating mental health clinicians regarding the neurodevelopmental implications of maltreatment, educating women regarding their unique cardiovascular risks, exploring nursing retention in long-term care, enhancing medication compliance with incarcerated patients and educating diabetic patients to make healthier nutritional choices.

However, graduate study at Brenau taught us a lot more than we bargained for – about ourselves, our relationships and our ability to dig deep and embrace the passionate struggle of scholarly pursuit.

Through our time in the program, we shared the joys of new grandchildren and new jobs and supported each other through painful losses and transitions. We began to believe in ourselves and each other through collaboration and the power of a shared vision.

It is said that we “become what we surround ourselves with.” In my case, I cannot think of a more outstanding group of women with whom to associate. With the blessings of Angela Simmons-Butler’s energy, Ann Marie Peck’s humor, LaChaka Coffee’s grace and Shelia Campbell’s patience and faith, I am bound to succeed!

The reality is that, just as healing and health is not accomplished by a series of tests, scans and procedures, life-changing learning does not happen in a vacuum. Both healing and deep learning, it turns out, must occur in the context of authentic, mutually satisfying relationships – the kind of relationships found within the Brenau family.

Although America’s health challenges and system complexities are mounting, I am confident that my Brenau doctoral experience has imbued my classmates and me with the skills to make a positive difference in the health of Americans at the individual, local, regional, national and even international levels.

All members of the Brenau community should be proud of the role they have played in establishing and supporting the growth of this institution. I thank Brenau University for the opportunity for me and others to make this extraordinary journey.


Graduate Profiles

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