June 19, 2014
By Toni Cardarella
Christine Sommers planned to teaching nursing part-time at the local university in Indonesia after moving there with her family in 2012. What Sommers, a University of Kansas School of Nursing doctoral student, didn't anticipate: becoming a dean of nursing just over a year later.
Sommers, who began the Ph.D. in Nursing program at KU Medical Center last summer, recalls what happened when she learned her executive dean of nursing at the Universitas Pelita Harapan was leaving to care for her parents.
"I let the administration know I was willing to teach full-time to help out, though I would still need to continue my studies in the Ph.D. in Nursing program at KU," Sommers says. "A week later, they offered me the position of executive dean of the nursing faculty."
While Sommers acknowledges she has experience as an intensive care nurse and nurse educator, she says she was caught off guard by the offer. She isn't fluent in the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, and teaches class in English, with a translator.
"The culture is Asian, with a combination of different cultures for the different people groups here in Indonesia, also Chinese, Korean and various other expatriates," Sommers says. "And though the university offers some majors that are predominately in English, nursing is not one of them."
Many of the nursing students, especially if they come from remote areas, are very weak in English, Sommers says.
"With teaching, I am frequently trying to determine creative ways to use technology and other teaching methods to overcome the language barrier and encourage the students to use English," she says.
Despite those challenges, Sommers accepted the offer and became executive dean of nursing faculty at the Universitas Pelita Harapan in December. She oversees a staff of about 30 people, including administration and support staff, lecturers and clinical educators. The university is located on about 3,000 acres in Lippo Village, a township on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. She says there are about 350 nursing students but the university anticipates expanding to more than 600 nursing students next academic year.
"We're delighted Christine has taken on a leadership position," says Cynthia Teel, associate dean of graduate programs at the KU School of Nursing, and Sommers' advisor. "As she progresses through our program she undoubtedly will develop more skills that will benefit her students, faculty and the school there."
If Teel seems confident, it's because after 20 years at the KU School of Nursing, she's seen the kind of leaders the doctoral program produces - successful nurse educators and research scholars at colleges, universities and health care settings. The KU School of Nursing doctoral program was one of the first in the United States when it was begun in 1983, and it remains the only school in Kansas to offer a Ph.D. in nursing.
As she continues her education at KU, Sommers is developing her skills as a researcher and her minor will be in global nursing education, a focus made possible in part, Teel says, through NEXus (The Nursing Education Xchange), which gives students in participating doctoral programs access to nursing courses that may not be offered at their university.
Sommers says the structure of Universitas Pelita Harapan and how business is done in Indonesia is very different from academic and hospital settings where she's worked in the United States.
"I need to consider the various cultures and what is considered respectful," she says.
Sommers says even though she's just starting out in the Ph.D. program at the KU School of Nursing, what she's learned so far has been helpful to her, as a teacher and faculty leader.
"I anticipate that will only continue as I move through the Ph.D. program and continue to serve in this role at the university," she says.