Robin Bennett Kanarek ’96: Ensuring Nursing Excellence, Fairfield Now, Winter Issue 2007

She was accepted to Skidmore on the basis on her artwork, but Robin Bennett Kanarek ’96 never got to take a single art course while there. Instead, she fell in love with nursing, “and it was all or nothing back then,” she says. “I was told I had to choose one or the other.” She earned her associate’s degree in nursing, then decided to take a break from school and go to work.

“That decision not to finish my BSN was always one of my biggest regrets,” says Kanarek, who worked as a diabetes educator at Stamford Hospital. Not one to waste time with regrets, she decided to do something about it, enrolling in the School of Nursing’s second-degree program at Fairfield just as the youngest of her two children began school, and finally earning that longed-for BSN in 1996.

“Oh, how I dreaded taking that core with all the statistics, Western Civilization, religion, and calculus!” she admits. “But Dr. Ben Fine (of the College of Arts and Sciences) was such an excellent teacher and had an ability to make the math so relevant to every day life. And Drs. Sheila Grossman and Dee Lippman were instrumental in bringing out the best in me and in all their nursing students. They knew what we were capable of doing. In the end, the core helped me tremendously because it challenged me.”

All that has made for a very committed alumna, and after former University President Aloysius Kelley, S.J., hired Dr. Jeanne Novotny as dean of the School of Nursing in 2001, he insisted the two meet. “She absolutely had such energy and vitality and such a passion for nursing that it was impossible not to be taken under her spell,” Kanarek remembers. “She’s a true leader, and quickly brought the School to the level it should be.”

So strong is Kanarek’s belief in the direction of the School that she has recently put forth a challenge grant of $350,000 towards equipping the newly-constructed Learning Resource Center, built last year through the generosity and successful fundraising of the Board. “With the Kanarek Family Foundation gift, we’ll be able to engage in more faculty development as well as purchase simulation equipment, a medication and EKG machine, intravenous pumps, laptops, operating room equipment – in short, everything we need to make these clinical spaces as authentic as possible,” says Dr. Suzanne Campbell, associate professor and director of the Resource Center.

The Learning Resource Center is a simulation laboratory; students can work on a “patient”, a computerized robot programmed to have symptoms specific to an illness, while being assessed by both their peers and a professor through a closed circuit television in another room. Varying scenarios can also be created – the “patient” can be belligerent, for example, refuse to be treated by a female, or speak a foreign language. The result: a center where students can learn in a risk-free, hands-on environment. Using simulation-based teaching will also allow professors to integrate nursing skills, critical thinking, and communication into their curriculum.