Mary Beth Luna of Joliet Junior College was not expecting to receive the Illinois State Board of Education’s Nurse Educator Fellowship Award for 2013.
The JJC Nursing, Allied Health, and Emergency Services Department chair and professor had been nominated by Dean of Nursing Cecile Regner months earlier.
“I was surprised and excited and humbled,” Luna said.
Luna is one of 18 nursing educators in the state to receive the Nurse Educator Fellowship Award. This award will grant her $9,061 for professional development purposes. She plans to use it to pay for the remainder of her online classes at Capella University, where she is pursuing a doctorate in nursing education.
Though Luna has been employed at JJC for the past 13 years, she didn’t originally see herself in nursing education.
After high school, Luna attended both the Evangelical School of Nursing at Christ Hospital and later, Governor’s State University. During her nursing career, she worked first at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Ill., and then at RML Specialty Hospital in Hinsdale, Ill.
She loved nursing – but also had a knack for teaching. On the job, she’d often find herself in positions where she’d be in charge of on-the-job training.
“I really, really love teaching. I think even before I became a nurse I liked to teach people things,” Luna said. “I love nursing – love the fact that I can make a difference in people’s lives and in their health. Combining the two is great because I get the best of both worlds.”
After many years in the field, Luna went back to school for a master’s degree as she continued her work as a nurse. After obtaining her master’s and spending a total of 17 years as a nurse, she was still not sure what path she wanted to take to advance in her career.
A little while later, a friend told her about an opening at JJC.
“This job — it came looking for me, I didn’t go looking for it,” Luna said. “I put my resume in. It was due the next day. I did everything I needed to do. And getting the job — I think it was fate.”
Luna became a professor at JJC in 2000, and has been chair of the Nursing, Allied Health, and Emergency Services Department since 2007.
She said she thinks it’s important to work as a nurse first before becoming a nursing professor.
“They need to have true nursing experience behind them,” she said.
The most challenging part of Luna’s transition from nurse to professor was the back end of education – dealing with things such as curriculum and evaluations.
As she is working on her Ph.D., she is now learning even more about how to run and organize her classroom. After obtaining the degree, Luna wants to help with the continued success of the nursing program at JJC. She believes one of the most important keys to success is being a good teacher.
“Being or having a good teacher is the difference between success and failure,” she said. “Having someone that not only knows the information and knowledge, but professors need to be able to convey that in a way that students understand.”
Luna teaches three classes at JJC – Introduction to Nursing, an LPN transitioning class, and an online pharmacology class. She plans to work at JJC until she retires, after which she hopes to teach online classes while living in her home in Michigan that overlooks the lake.