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The monthly staff breakfast at the Inn at Penn also builds a sense of community and doubles as an efficient method for Meleis to keep her ear to the ground. This morning’s group is here, they soon find out, because they have two things in common: their birthday month and the fact that they haven’t recently attended a staff breakfast. Many are new to the school. Others have been working there many years. There are staffers from LIFE (Living Independently for Elders), the healthcare program for seniors in West Philadelphia run by the School of Nursing; from alumni affairs and development; from communications; and from the Office of Global Health Affairs, which has flourished beneath Meleis’s global worldview.

Once everyone has returned from the buffet with French toast and omelettes, Meleis pours herself a cup of hot water and announces her two rules: Have fun, and what’s said in this room stays in this room. She starts the dialogue with a question—what do you like most and least about your jobs?

After a long pause, a young woman offers that, as a new employee, she feels torn between the old and new regimes represented in her department. The dean offers some perspective. “How do we preserve what’s really good that we once had and bring it into a new era?” she says. “Change isn’t easy, but it’s for a reason—so stay with your positive outlook because what was there wasn’t working. We don’t change things because they’re working.”

Others dive in, and a theme soon emerges: What people like least is that there are only 24 hours in a day. To which the Engergizer Dean has an answer:

“There’s no such thing as time management, only energy management. Time is finite but energy is infinite,” she explains. “So if you do something that energizes you, that will expand your time. If you do the things you’re passionate about—if you do the things that have meaning—then you are expanding your energy.”

The things that have meaning for Meleis continue to evolve even as the woman at the center of the whirlwind remains constant. This morning she is particularly passionate about: her spinning classes, the 40th birthday of one of her two sons, the nursing school’s new partnership with the University of Botswana, the fact that the staffer sitting to her right has begun biking to work. Most of all, she is passionate about relationships. She sparkles even more brightly than her lapel pin when she speaks of the mentees she ran into while traveling over the summer. In Jerusalem she gave the keynote address at the very first International Conference in Nursing Science. Afterward, she was in Botswana for the International Council on Women’s Health Issues conference on gender-based violence and HIV risk among adolescent girls. (She serves as Council General of the ICOWH.)

“I have mentees that came from around the world to these places, and I looked around and I said, ‘I think I have really accomplished something,’” she says. “They are in leadership positions. They are a voice, they are strong, and they are making a difference not only in their country, but around the world.”

Her longtime colleague and friend Weiss sees no real difference in her former mentor now that she has returned to the role of authority figure. Just as when Meleis was a professor at UCSF, she still considers the students to be her important constituents. They’re the ones who become nurses, who influence healthcare policy, and who have the potential to provide the highest quality of care for patients. Even with the countless other activities she sees to on a daily basis—fundraising, Dean’s teas, facilitating faculty networking—the students remain in her sights.

“She’s still applying the activist spirit to everything she does,” says Weiss. “Now she’s just fighting for the school the same way she’s fought for innumerable other causes.”

Caroline Tiger C’96 is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.

FEATURE:
The Energizer Dean By Caroline Tiger

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