This is part two of a nine-part series profiling American Sentinel University’s leadership team. Check back each Monday to learn more about the strong leadership that guides American Sentinel and gather their tips for success in healthcare and in education.
Growing up on the family farm near Lake Michigan, Elaine Foster thought she had things figured out. It was her senior year in high school, and she and a high school friend had already checked out the local community college where they would go for their associate degrees in nursing. But suddenly, at age 17, her world changed when her friend was killed in a car accident.
“There was no way I could bring myself to go this college without my friend. It was just too painful,” Dr. Foster explained. Fortunately, she had a part-time job in the high school counseling office and had developed a close relationship with her counselor. “She was an amazing lady. She saw things in me that I didn’t see.”
Going above and beyond
Elaine’s counselor convinced her there was only one thing to do: skip community college and go straight for the BSN at the University of Michigan. “It was already the fall of my senior year, and she wasn’t sure I would get in, but she convinced me to give it a try,” Dr. Foster said. The counselor not only helped Elaine with her application, she called UM-Ann Arbor and spoke with the admission’s team. “Getting my acceptance letter was both thrilling and frightening. I was the first in my family to go off to college. It was a very big deal.”
Dr. Foster is quick to point out that she had a wonderful and supportive family; however, without the support of her counselor, her life would have probably taken a very different path. By age 23, she had her BSN and two years of hospital experience behind her when she was asked to teach nursing at the local community college. She was already working on her MSN and planning her wedding.
Scared to death
With her first day on the job two days after the nuptials, her fiancé graciously agreed to postpone their honeymoon. Dr. Foster will never forget walking into her first classroom filled with fear and trepidation, but within the first hour she knew that this was where she needed to be the rest of her life. “I’ve never looked back. I’ve been in education almost 32 years, working in hospitals intermittently. I really like nursing, but teaching is my true love.”
Tips for success
At the top of Dr. Foster’s list of best practices is the importance of believing in yourself, and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you. “Of course, you need to be very organized and learn to say ‘no’ – not to work or family, but to the little things that can add up and impact your success in a big way.”
Making virtual a reality
Dr. Foster spent 26 years at the community college, teaching for 16 years before accepting the position as Dean of Nursing and then Dean of Arts and Sciences. After 26 years, she decided that she wanted to expand her horizons. The opportunity to work with an online university opened up, she applied and was hired as the Associate Dean of Nursing, working with the RN to BSN program, MSN program and assisting in developing the DNP program. It was during this time she met Dr. Judy Burckhardt. During those couple of years, she developed a tremendous respect for Dr. Burckhardt, so when a position opened at American Sentinel University in 2013, Dr. Foster applied and was hired.
“I love working with graduate and doctoral students at American Sentinel. I am proud to be a part of an institution that is forward-thinking and always innovating. I hope to be here for a long time,” Dr. Foster said. When Dr. Judy Burckhardt retired and joined the American Sentinel University board, Dr. Foster was the perfect person to step up and become the new Dean of Nursing and Healthcare Programs.
Lessons from the mirror
When asked if the transfer from a traditional classroom to an online setting had been difficult for her, Dr. Foster replied that the virtual classroom has made her a better teacher and a better nurse. “I was concerned about becoming a disembodied voice to my students. So in the early days, I kept a mirror beside me so that I could monitor my facial expressions. I wanted to convey with my voice what the rest of my body was saying. I wanted my students to hear my happiness, encouragement and light-heartedness, even when having a difficult conversation,” Dr. Foster explained.
Working with the mirror has helped Dr. Foster pick up on nuances in conversations, both on the phone and face-to-face. “I was on a cruise with my family last February when I phoned home to check on my father. He kept telling me everything was fine, but I could hear between the lines. He finally admitted that he had been having some health issues which he had tried to hide from me, but I could hear it in his voice.”
Just for fun
When not cruising the open seas, you’ll find Dr. Foster helping out on the family’s 3,000-acre farm. “I can drive a combine and a tractor, and I enjoy gardening. Basically, I love anything that keeps me outdoors.” If you happen to be driving through Niles, Michigan, keep a lookout for a lady on a tractor. Unless it’s game day for the Wolverines, it’s probably Dr. Foster.
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