Charting a Path
Angela Rowe McDonald, Ph.D.
by Gabrielle Lacherza
The opening of a new school comes with it a long checklist. Seek accreditation. Evaluate the need for new program offerings. Find partnerships that will give students opportunities for hands-on learning and create career pathways. But none of these things can be accomplished until the first item is complete: Find the right leader.
Fortunately, Saint Joseph’s has found an experienced educator and health professional in Angela Rowe McDonald, Ph.D., the inaugural dean of the new School of Health Studies and Education (SHSE).
McDonald has spent her life at the intersection of health and education. After earning a degree in human services counseling from Old Dominion University, she worked as a community counseling intern while earning her master’s degree. She served as a family counselor in the School of Education at the College of William & Mary while working toward her doctoral degree and has been a professional counselor, either for a college or in private practice, for nearly all of her career.
Steering the direction of a new school will not be an unfamiliar task for McDonald. After 10 years in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, she spent the last year as the interim dean of its College of Health Sciences. Like SHSE, the college was formed from existing programs and faculty. The experience taught her the value of the early steps in the process of forming a school.
“Saint Joseph’s is developing a plan to pursue national accreditation in educator preparation,” McDonald says. “This will allow us to be more competitive in the market and give our students an advantage that will help them to be more mobile.”
On the health side, McDonald’s focus will be growing partnerships with health organizations and enhancing programs so that those students are fully prepared for professional health graduate programs and the pursuit of health careers. In a city with many health and education professionals, the opportunities for Saint Joseph’s to establish its voice in the marketplace are endless.
“We need to expand the opportunities for undergraduates to earn necessary clinical hours on campus or through partnership arrangements,” she says. “Saint Joseph's will be plugged into the network of health schools around the country.”
McDonald is taking on the work with a balance of agility and precision.
“I want to move the school forward, but to be strategic in our approach,” she says. “I want to dig into data, leverage market research and rely on faculty expertise to decide which growth opportunities to pursue.”
The school will benefit, McDonald says, from the strength of its existing programs. It is composed of dozens of established undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs, and McDonald will look for ways to expand those offerings.
“We have strong, foundational offerings and a world-class faculty,” she says. “I can already see so many directions that we could take this school because of the rich expertise that exists.”
McDonald is particularly impressed by the work being done by the Institute for Clinical Bioethics and the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support.
“We should be building on these successes and looking to expand our offerings or curriculum in the area of ‘helping professions’ who have specialized training to work with a variety of populations that have specific educational or health needs,” McDonald says. “I want to evaluate our portfolio across the school to see what additional growth opportunities we may have and look to grow our footprint in these areas regionally.”
One of the key advantages that McDonald sees the school offering is its Jesuit roots, which she says speak to her training as a licensed counselor and support the need to prepare professionals to engage in ethical decision making.
“Everyone has a story, but it’s the job of a counselor to appreciate the complexity of the human spirit and to explore beyond the surface,” she says. “That’s very similar to the way that the Jesuits approach education.”
“I can already see so many directions that we could take this school because of the rich expertise that exists.”
— Angela Rowe McDonald, Ph.D.
As the school begins its first semester, McDonald knows that keeping an eye on the future of the health and education industries will be crucial to the success of both the school and its graduates. Students must be prepared to enter the workforce now, but should also be equipped with the tools to thrive as the world around them changes.
“For all the technological advances in both fields, the one thing that tech can never replace is empathy,” McDonald says. “Human compassion is needed as an educator, as a health care professional and as an administrator. All of these professional roles are about listening to people and helping them achieve their goals. That’s what I hope to do with the School of Health Studies and Education.”
Gabrielle Lacherza is the PR and communications specialist at Saint Joseph’s University.