Alumna Valerie Howard Appointed Dean of UNC School of Nursing

Alumni Feature

Headshot of Valerie HowardValerie Howard, a 2007 alumna of the Doctor of Education (EdD) program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, has built her career by developing innovative models to educate nurses.

“I’m drawn to making positive change wherever I go and improving experiences for students and faculty,” she says.

Howard will continue driving change in nursing education in her new role as dean of the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Nursing, effective August 1. There, she will lead the school in preparing future nurses and strategizing ways to address challenges in the field, including a nationwide nursing shortage, a lack of diversity in the nursing population, and unequal access to healthcare.

“We need to continue to think innovatively and creatively about how to prepare the next generation of nurses so they have the skills and resiliency to succeed,” says Howard. “There are tough problems we face in our profession, and we need to be prepared for the future of nursing.”

Howard considers her path to be an “uncharacteristic journey” for a school of nursing dean. She started her career as a nurse at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital before earning a master of science in nursing education from the Pitt School of Nursing, where she later became a clinical faculty member. When she decided to pursue a doctorate, she chose Pitt Education’s EdD program because it aligned with her passions and career interests.

“I knew that having knowledge and skills in pedagogy and administration was going to be important as an effective higher education leader and educator,” says Howard. “I wanted a program that would be immediately applicable in my career.”

While working on her EdD, she became the simulation coordinator at the Robert Morris University (RMU) School of Nursing and Health Sciences, where she helped to build a new nursing curriculum that integrated the use of simulation. In that role, she was able to immediately use the lessons she was learning in the EdD program. 

“I was taking classes on strategic planning, budgeting, policy, HR, and leadership, and I was able to build that into what I was doing with simulation at RMU,” says Howard. “It really was a win-win to work on my dissertation and earn my degree while actively helping my work.”

In 2009, Howard founded the RMU Regional Research and Innovation in Simulation Education Center, a center for simulation training largely based on her own research.  She then worked with a team to develop the Elsevier Simulation Learning System, one of the first simulation learning systems, which is now used by 400 schools across the country to support faculty and enhance student learning outcomes. She later served as dean of the RMU School of Nursing and Health Sciences before taking her current position as the vice dean of academic affairs at the Duke University School of Nursing.

Howard credits Pitt Education for providing her with fundamental principles about leadership, change initiatives, and strategic planning that she has utilized throughout her career.

“I feel like everything I learned at Pitt remained relevant to my career in higher education. I can still apply concepts learned about strategic planning, developing a business plan, leading change, building teams, and more to my daily work,” she says. “The EdD program helped me as I advanced my career and assumed greater leadership positions.”

Howard also credits the support of her family, mentors, and advisors who have helped her throughout her academic and career paths.

“When you’re leading and building teams, it’s important to have the emotional intelligence to realize that I don’t need to have every answer at every moment, however, I do have a team of people that I can rely on,” she says. “It’s so important to have mentors, advisors, and coaches along the way.”

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The Doctor of Education (EdD) program at Pitt Education is for experienced professionals who are driven to transform the field of education and reach the highest levels in their careers. The program is now accepting applications.