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NIU remembers nursing professor Donna Munroe

January 14, 2015
Donna Munroe

Donna Munroe

When any sort of meeting in the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences wandered off track, faculty, administrators and staff knew they could count on Donna Munroe to restore focus.

Possessing a sharp mind, a kind heart and a keen ability to make decisions, Munroe’s calm voice of wisdom and strong leadership extended across campus.

A professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies since 2001, she had built a sterling reputation throughout NIU thanks to her passionate work on committees, becoming what Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Beverly Henry calls “a real presence at the institution.”

“Donna was the kind of person who honored her commitments. Her extensive knowledge of university policies, and her leadership in the development and revision of those polices, was deeply appreciated by her colleagues,” says Jan Strom, chair of the school. “She was always a voice of reason, armed with the relevant facts and institutional history.”

Munroe was participating in a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the University Council Personnel Committee in Altgeld Hall when she died.

Colleagues now are struggling to comprehend the sudden death of a scholar whom Associate Dean for Research and Resources Jim Ciesla considers among “the most respected faculty members in this college. I don’t think anybody would argue with that.”

“There’s a hole in the fabric of our school,” Strom says.

“This is a loss that will be felt across the entire university,” she adds. “Donna held extremely high standards for herself and for everyone else, and she did the work to meet those standards. She also mentored her peers, her colleagues and her students to help them meet those standards as well.”

School of Nursing and Health StudiesDean Derryl Block calls Munroe “an excellent teacher” and “a fabulous colleague with a special place in her heart for governance issues.”

“She was very much respected by the faculty, staff and students,” Block says. “She always was exceedingly prepared for any meeting and had a nice way of expressing herself. She also was very good when there were disagreements in bringing the conversation back around.”

In the classroom, where Munroe covered everything from nursing research and nursing ethics to gerontology nursing and nursing leadership, and where she most recently taught RN-to-BSN candidates, she challenged students to excel in her rigorous curriculum.

“Her students loved her,” Ciesla says. “She provided a generation of nursing students something of the bigger picture in their field. She helped them to understand things like public policy and management processes beyond their clinical practice.”

Munroe earned her Ph.D. in health policy and health administration from the University of Southern California.

Her academic interests include nurse leadership; the role of the nurse in institutional public policy implementation and evaluation; and community health nursing.

Research interests also focused on services for the older adult, including health care, housing and the education of nurses who work with that population.

To that end, Munroe and colleague Judith Hertz secured a $200,000 grant in 2004 to develop interactive learning modules that present nursing students with cases studies of geriatric patients as well as a computer-based library of resources.

School of Nursing and Health StudiesBut it’s her tireless dedication to improving the institution that will become her legacy.

“Donna was one of the most organized go-to persons. I called her the Queen of the Personnel Policies,” says Jeannette Rossetti, an associate professor of nursing. “It was never like we were bothering her. She was always gracious and generous.”

Hertz, her collaborator in several grants, remembers Munroe’s astute perspective regarding whatever work was at hand.

“She would identify gaps in what we were doing and writing, but she was also very realistic and pragmatic. Sometimes I’d say, ‘We should do this and this and this.’ And she’d answer, ‘Do we really want to commit to all that?’ ”

That same level-headed approach surfaced in larger meetings “where people tend to brainstorm and get carried with idealistic and pie-in-the-sky kinds of things,” Hertz adds. “Donna would always say, ‘That’s good, but we can only do so much. We should think about what’s really important rather than what might be nice.’ We’re really going to miss her here.”

“Donna has left big shoes to fill,” Strom says. “I can’t imagine her not being here on a personal level. She was as good as it gets.”

Munroe is survived by her husband, Robert Smith, and their daughter, Katherine. Funeral arrangements are pending.