URI names internationally renowned researcher interim nursing dean

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West Kingston resident is respected professor, graduate mentor

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 26, 2012—A University of Rhode Island nursing professor known internationally for her work on the development of premature infants has been named interim dean of the College of Nursing.

Donald H. DeHayes, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, announced that Mary Sullivan began her duties earlier this summer. She succeeded Dayle Joseph, who retired from the dean’s position in the spring.

“Mary is an accomplished nurse-scientist and scholar and a highly valued and respected member of the College and greater URI communities. I have no doubt that she will provide effective leadership for the College and ensure that the College continues to move forward in the near future,” DeHayes said.

“I am honored to have been chosen to lead this extraordinary College, where we have leading faculty to guide our students in the very best and latest practices to improve patient care,” Sullivan said. “I am fortunate to be leading the College as it welcomes the most academically talented and diverse freshman class in its history. Given the critical importance of nurses in the role of health care reform, and the College’s efforts to improve health of patients in numerous settings, URI will remain a leader locally and globally.”

Gaining admission to the College is at its most competitive level in many years. URI accepted 166 freshmen out of 1,650 applicants for the fall semester. Total enrollment is a little greater than 900 students, with 17 percent minority students and 92 percent women.

Sullivan, of West Kingston, who has served as the director of graduate education in nursing and is a respected instructor, oversees the longest running U.S. study of premature infants from birth through their entry into young adulthood. The study subjects are now 24. Sullivan has found that premature infants are less healthy, have more social and school struggles and face a greater risk of heart-health problems in adulthood. Sullivan has found that supportive, loving parents and nurturing school environments can mitigate the effects of premature birth. She also found that premature babies are resilient and have a strong drive to succeed.

A research scientist at Women and Infants Hospital and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, Sullivan has been studying a cohort of babies born prematurely at Women and Infants Hospital in the 1980s. Her latest investigation, funded by a $2.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to URI, is examining whether stresses experienced by pre-term babies lead to illnesses as adults.

Sullivan has presented her early findings to the Eastern Nursing Research Society in Philadelphia and the 27th Congress meeting of the European Group of Pediatric Work Physiology at Britain’s University of Exeter last September.

Her research has garnered attention in numerous publications, including Time magazine’s web edition.

DeHayes said he has asked Sullivan to explore innovations, directions, and opportunities that simultaneously advance the position of the College and URI.

“I fully expect that the important work of the faculty and programs within the College of Nursing will continue to serve the best interests of our students, the profession, the citizens of Rhode Island, and the greater national and global communities,” DeHayes said.

In addition to her research, Sullivan has taught undergraduate courses in childbearing and reproductive health and graduate courses in research methods and concept development. She is the past president of the Eastern Nursing Research Society, a member of the American Nurses Association, the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, Sigma Theta Tau, and the Council for Advancement in Nursing Science.

In 2010, Sullivan was among 116 nurse-leaders inducted as Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing in Washington, D.C.

Sullivan earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Salve Regina University, her master’s from the University of Nebraska, and her doctorate in nursing from the University of Rhode Island.