New Kensington’s Dee O’Hara changing teaching venue

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. -- Penn State New Kensington faculty member Dolores “Dee” O’Hara is moving from the classroom to the garden.

After a teaching vocation as instructor in nursing and program coordinator at the campus, O’Hara is retiring for a teaching avocation as master gardener through Penn State Cooperative Extension. O’Hara is trading in 15 years of educating registered nurses on the health care system for the opportunity to educate the local community on planting and pruning gardens.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Penn State New Kensington family,’ said O’Hara, a resident of Export, Pennsylvania. “I look forward to becoming a master gardener, and perhaps consult and teach a nursing course or two, and travel with my husband.”

Trained by the cooperative extension, master gardeners are volunteer educators in their local communities. They advise individuals and groups on gardening topics that include plant selection, composting, soil improvement, pest control, vegetable and flower gardening, and pruning.

O’Hara joined the campus faculty in 1999 as an instructor, and assumed the duties as program coordinator in 2004. She taught a number of upper-level courses throughout her tenure at the campus. Although she doesn’t specify a favorite, she is partial to the nursing management trilogy. The courses focus on data management, human resource management, organizational theory, and application of management principles.

“I’ve enjoyed teaching all the courses, but I especially like those in the nurse management series,” O’Hara said. “The content of the courses encourages students to understand how the health care system is structured and the many roles that nursing has in it.”

Growing up in Greenville, Pa., O’Hara was not one of those children who always wanted to be a nurse. Her decision to pursue nursing was influenced by a teacher in junior high school.

“There is a statement related to nursing that says ‘Do you choose nursing or does nursing choose you?’ O’Hara said. “I think nursing chose me because I didn’t plan to become a nurse until my English teacher encouraged me to look at career options that would challenge me and nursing was the only option I thought would do so.”

She began her nursing journey at Jameson Memorial Hospital’s School of Nursing in New Castle, Pa. Again, a teacher influenced her career path as she earned her nursing diploma.

“I was drawn to teaching when I was a freshman in my nursing diploma program,” O’Hara said. “I admired one of my faculty because of her professional manner and her ability to engage students in the learning process. That piqued my interest in teaching.”

She heeded the call and worked her way through bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at the University of Pittsburgh before earning a doctorate from Waynesburg University. Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs at the campus, cites O’Hara’s legacy as her commitment to students and to the development of a quality program.

"Dee has contributed to nursing education at the campus for many years and, importantly, she has helped to maintain a presence in our region of a Penn State-quality nursing education,” Adolph said. “Dee has overseen the advising and curriculum for nursing students, allowing them to move forward in their careers.”

The nursing program offers registered nurses the opportunity to earn a baccalaureate degree in nursing at the campus. According to O’Hara, classes are punctuated by lively discussions about clinical experiences, which challenge nurses to grow. The curriculum provides opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty in designing experiences in the clinical setting that meet individual student needs .

“The students bring to the classroom years of experiences, many personal responsibilities and a strong desire to achieve academic excellence,” O’Hara said. “The best outcome in is the professional growth that occurs and the long lasting friendships that develop.”

Outside the classroom, O’Hara is active on campus and in the community. Her research interests include cultural diversity, holistic nursing and complementary and alternative therapies. For the past two years, she has hosted a holistic nursing conference at the campus. Promoting wellness for the mind, body and spirit was the theme of the conference. O’Hara served on numerous campus committees and represented her campus colleagues as a senator on the Penn State Faculty Senate. She is a member of the Northern Westmoreland Career Technology Center advisory board and a youth leader for the Westmoreland County 4H program.

O’Hara relished her role in the campus family and was equally at ease among students, faculty, staff and administrators. She felt a bond with campus faculty and students that didn’t manifest in her previous positions in academia.

“I have been a faculty member in other nursing programs in college and university settings and have found Penn State New Kensington to be the best,” O’Hara said. “The campus welcomed me on the day of my interview and continued to support me throughout today. It has given me the opportunity to grow as a professional, to develop my teaching skills and to meet some of the friendliest people I’ve known.

In retirement, O’Hara’s pedagogy skills will remain honed as she works with garden enthusiasts. When not expounding on the best way to control aphids, the arch-nemesis of gardeners, O’Hara will be travelling with her husband, William, a retired engineer. Their daughter, Heather, is a producer at NBC in Washington, D.C., and lives in Falls Church, Va., with her husband, Daniel, a major account manager at Informatica.

In addition to gardening and travelling, O’Hara’s post-campus activities will be spent massaging her creative side, including working with arts and crafts, sewing and cake decorating.

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Last Updated January 10, 2015