As CU Nursing’s Paula Meek retires, students recall powerful influenceDebra Melani | College of Nursing Dec 31, 2019
Ask students what made University of Colorado College of Nursing Professor Paula Meek, PhD, stand out, and the memories flow with striking intensity:
“She changed my life.” “She believed in me.” “She made me believe in myself.”
Yet one answer explaining why Meek’s announcement of a Dec. 31 retirement created such sadness might sum it up best:
“It’s like Dumbledore leaving Hogwarts,” said student Jessica Schaefer, MSN. “The College of Nursing will not be the same without Dr. Meek. She is such a great leader.”
Comparison to the famed Harry Potter wizard aside, many of Meek’s protégés found some magic in the PhD program director’s genuine dedication to nursing science.
“It’s like Dumbledore leaving Hogwarts.” — Jessica Schaefer, student
A contagious passion
“Her support and encouragement allowed me to become the first interdisciplinary PhD student at the College of Nursing,” said student Rachel Johnson, LCSW. “As a social worker, I would have never known about the program if she hadn't taught me about it and encouraged me to apply,” Johnson said.
Meek’s encouragement was a theme among students and colleagues. Without it: “I would have never pursued a PhD,” said current student Colleen McIIvennan, (DNP, ’12). “She has a passion for bridging the clinical and research sides of nursing.”
Meek joined CU’s College of Nursing in 2007 as a professor, after serving as senior associate dean for research and scholarship at the University of New Mexico College of Nursing.
Assistant Professor Heather Coats, PhD, has known Meek since she first came to campus from New Mexico. “She has been a trusted career mentor ever since,” Coats said.
“Her love for future researchers was in everything she did,” said Jodi Cropper, CU Nursing director of the Office of Academic Programs. “She was a mentor to everyone and was always encouraging faculty, students and staff to consider how a PhD could better their future.”
A ‘no-nonsense’ teacher
“Dr. Meek wasn't afraid to challenge students,” said former student Brie Thumm, (PhD, '17). “In an era of grade inflation and an emphasis on student satisfaction, many educators find it easier to just capitulate to students,” Thumm said. “Not Dr. Meek.”
Meek gave her “lousy” grades when they were deserved, pushing her to learn, Thumm said. “And she never spoon-fed me information, but instead set me up to do the work myself, leading to a true understanding of the information. Most importantly, she taught me what I was capable of.”
“She had a no-nonsense way of providing information and an incredibly caring way of providing feedback,” said student Emily Barr, PNP. “As a teacher, she was an expert scaffolder. She would assess early on who needed more help and who maybe was more ahead of the game and then would manage to teach in tiers.”
A researcher with wit
A respected and prolific researcher, particularly in the areas of cardiac and respiratory chronic diseases, Meek is a fellow of the American Thoracic Society and the Western Institute of Nursing (WIN). She participated in and encouraged student participation in the annual WIN research conference and last year was elected to the WIN Board of Governors.
Anyone who has spent any time with Meek knows that, in addition to standout teacher, mentor and researcher, she has another well-known characteristic: humor.
“Paula is very thoughtful and VERY funny,” said Cropper, adding that she always felt lucky to sit next to her at meetings and enjoy Meek’s often-sarcastic wit.
Meek’s fun side shone through in her often-worn Elton John-like sunglasses and her tendency to incorporate Legos and humor in her assignments.
“Dr. Meek LOVES Legos and has many, many of them,” said Barr, adding that her students gave her a set for a going-away gift. “In Quant 2 (Quantitative Methods II), she starts the class by giving us Legos and having us build our theoretical models. She then uses Legos as a metaphor for teaching,” Barr said.
A mentorship that lives on
Meek provided both the academic and the emotional support to survive a highly challenging doctorate program, Johnson said.
“Her guidance, caring and honesty were what I needed to be successful in a PhD program and as a researcher. I wouldn't be where I am without her,” she said, adding that many fellow students told her they did not believe they were PhD material until they found Meek.
Meek’s door was always open, said former student Martha Grubaugh (PhD, ’19). “She always had sage advice — personal, professional and academic. You really felt like she was behind you and your greatest cheerleader when times got tough.”But just like the wise wizard never really left Harry Potter, Coats said she’s sure that Meek’s mentorship will live on. “I know I can still always count on her for her words of wisdom.”