Nurses’ Alumni Organization Recognizes Outstanding Alumni

The Nurses Alumni Organization (NAO) recognized two alumni at its annual Homecoming brunch. Dr. Michelle Byrne, ’79, MS ’86 received the 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award, and Elisha Smith ’14 received the 2017 Outstanding Badger Nursing Award.

Distinguished Achievement

Byrne is a nursing professor at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, where she has taught nursing education instructional methods, assessment and evaluation, quality and safety, and curriculum development as well as academic educator practicums in both the master’s and doctoral programs.

Among her other significant accomplishments is “The Byrne Guide for Cultural Inclusion,” which resulted from Byrne’s dissertation. The guide is a resource to help educators identify explicit and implicit bias and grow more aware of racial stereotypes in teaching materials.

“I finished my PhD in 2000, and I still think my dissertation is relevant,” Byrne says, noting that as society and student populations change, nursing education needs to change with them. “We’re always becoming culturally competent . . . We can identify bias, but what do we do about it? ‘The Byrne Guide’ came out of that question. What can you do to make sure every student in your class is included? We should still be asking that question.”

Byrne received her PhD in nursing education from Georgia State University. She is a certified nurse educator and certified perioperative nurse with more than 30 years of experience in the nursing field.

“This award really brings my career full circle. This is where I came from, and getting this award from UW–Madison is just the ultimate accomplishment,” Byrne says. “I am thankful that I got both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UW–Madison. They weren’t just degrees. They really did fuel progress in my career.”

Outstanding Badger Nurse

A Chicago native, Smith expected to become a doctor until he started volunteering at Rush University in Chicago. “That opened up my eyes,” he says. “When I matriculated into UW–Madison, I had already decided nursing was going to be my major.”

After graduation, Smith joined the orthopedic unit at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse. Two years later he moved into critical care. In both units, Smith impressed his colleagues with his warmth, humility, and gracious manner with patients. But what really made him stand out, says Jeremiah Galván, a Gundersen critical care nurse manager who hired Smith into his unit, is Smith’s relentless curiosity and insatiable appetite for growth. “This is who he is,” Galván says, “a person of persevering passion and purpose.”

Smith acknowledges the enthusiasm and attributes it, at least in part, to what he considers incredibly rewarding work. “I know it sounds clichéd,” he says, “but it just feeds my soul. Obviously, my overall goal in life was to enrich the lives of other people. Nursing allows me to do that on a physical level, and an emotional and spiritual level as well.”

About the NAO

Established in 1927, NAO includes graduates from degree and certificate programs. It works closely with the UW–Madison School of Nursing to promote fellowship and recognition among school alumni, advance school programs, further high standards for nursing education and practice, and support students in various ways, including scholarships and awards.

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