An Everlasting Footprint

Jun. 24, 2022
Kathy Rideout’s empathy, humility, and authenticity touched thousands of lives

“I am one of the lives transformed by Kathy Rideout.”

Two decades ago, LaRon Nelson, ’02N, ’04N (MS), ’09N (PhD) felt like a fish out of water.

Recently discharged from the U.S. Navy, the Georgia native enrolled in the nursing program at the University of Rochester, but from his background to his gender to his race, he struggled to find his place at the University and to fit in with his classmates, which he described as 90 percent white women.

Until he met Kathy Rideout, EdD, PPCNP-BC, FNAP.

rideout in the HWH student lounge
UR Nursing Dean Kathy Rideout

Then the school’s associate dean for academic affairs, Rideout stopped him in the hallway of Helen Wood Hall one day and peppered him with questions, showing genuine interest in how well he was acclimating.

“I was surprised that she had taken the time to notice me, but was more surprised that she knew who I was,” said Nelson, associate dean of global affairs and planetary health and Independence Foundation Professor of Nursing at Yale University. “She was aware of my Navy service, she knew that I was a first-generation college student, and she knew that I had high pre-college academic achievement, and she described what those experiences meant for the richness of the student learning environment for all the students. It was the moment that I first felt that my value to the university was beyond how my dark skin ‘diversified’ the school.

“Kathy helped me to realize that my intellect, drive, and life experiences were valued contributions. That moment changed my life because it set me free to act as a full member of the University community, and I have since thrived.”

Yvette Conyers, ’07N, DNP, MS, RN, FNP-C, CTN-B, first met Rideout in 2008. Conyers was a recent graduate of the school’s RN to BS program and was interested in joining the faculty on a part-time basis. Part of that process involved sitting down with the associate dean leading the academic mission.

“From that very first interaction, it felt like home for me,” Conyers said. “Kathy was very welcoming. Her smile, her authenticity, her true caring for you as an individual and not just as an employee, that’s something I felt immediately.”

Conyers would go on to become a full-time faculty member and co-director of the Accelerated Bachelor’s Program for Non-Nurses at the school. She later was elected the inaugural president of the Rochester chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, for which Rideout as dean of the UR School of Nursing would provide critical support.

Kathy Rideoutt speaking at a podium
Kathy Rideout, whose humble, soft-spoken, and friendly nature belied her fierce passion for nursing, will step down on June 30 after more than a decade as dean of the University of Rochester School of Nursing. She led the school to renewed prominence during her tenure and goes out with enrollment and many of the school’s rankings at all-time highs.

The experiences of Nelson and Conyers are but two examples of the impact one individual can have on the life and career trajectory of another. And they are emblematic of the approach that Rideout brought to her role as dean, first as interim leader of the school, then when she was officially installed in the position in 2012.

“She has superb personal relationships and she knows how to develop them. That creates an ambiance in the school,” said former dean Loretta Ford, EdD, RN, PNP, NP-C, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP. “Visiting the school, the ambiance is palpable. I was amazed at that feeling that you get when you walk through the door. You could see that people were enthusiastic and happy to be there. Everyone – the staff, the students, the faculty – contributes to that, but it is Kathy’s leadership that spurs it on.”

“There is a sense of energy, and a lot of optimism about where the School of Nursing is going in all of its missions. And it’s quite clear that people like to come to work here,” Mark B. Taubman, MD, CEO of the UR Medical Center, said when announcing Rideout’s reappointment to a five-year term as dean in 2016. “That’s probably the best thing anyone can ever say and something we all aspire to: creating an environment where people want to be here. We heard loud and clear that people want to be here.”

The very same qualities that make Rideout an exceptional nurse and educator – faith, empathy, humility, caring – have been the calling cards of her leadership style as dean. Her example has not only set the tone for a welcoming and collegial environment within the school, but it has created an atmosphere in which each individual is empowered to be their best selves and reach their full potential.

“Dean Rideout shaped my mindset on what leadership is,” said Jose Perpignan, ’16N, co-founder of the Greater New York City Black Nurses Association and student in the Family Nurse Practitioner to Doctor of Nursing Practice program. “I remember walking by her in the hallway and she said, ‘Oh, hey Jose!’ I was amazed. How can she work in the hospital, run a nursing school, and still know everyone’s name? I pride myself on becoming the type of leader Kathy is.”

“She never has a hidden agenda, she just wants people to be successful. That’s where she comes from, you can just feel it,” said Karen Keady, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing executive and vice president at URMC. “She’s such a positive person and we need more of that in today’s world. I am going to miss her tremendously. I haven’t had enough time with her. I’ve only been here four years, and that’s not fair.”

Kathy Rideout with UR president Joel Seligman and CEO Brad Berk
Rideout flanked by former University of Rochester President Joel Seligman (left) and former Medical Center CEO Bradford Berk after being named dean in August 2012.

“Kathy has an open-door policy. You can come to her with issues and she will make the time to listen. Most deans don’t do that,” said Conyers, noting that the policy not only applied to faculty and staff, but to students as well. She recalled a time a few years ago when a cohort of students brought forth concerns affecting students of color. Rideout hosted multiple discussions with groups and individuals to understand and alleviate their concerns.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive community has been a hallmark of Rideout’s career, but especially as dean. She has instituted policies and initiatives that have been at the forefront of the University’s diversity efforts. From playing a lead role in creating sustainable and permanent pieces, such as the school’s diversity council and LIFT program, to calling attention to events recognizing LGBTQ communities, to ensuring that the mannequins in the simulation labs feature a variety of skin tones and genders, she has made inclusivity an integral part of the school’s functioning.

“Kathy has always been vocal about being truly in support of DEI,” said Conyers. “I think some people may have concerns about your dean being too ‘political,’ but Kathy had no barriers. She knew in the end, it was truly the just thing to do.”

The welcoming feeling extended to every corner of campus life. She was also a fixture at student events, from informal gatherings to mentoring sessions with future leaders. She appeared at every orientation, convocation, and graduation, often delivering heart-touching stories at pinning ceremonies about her ongoing work in the Golisano Children’s Hospital working with infants with ostomies.

The stories were always tinged with humor and empathy and gently reinforced an important lesson for nurses about to begin their careers: it’s always about the patient.

“Kathy was a shining light for us,” said Paige Steiner, ’21N. “She always had words of wisdom to share with us.”

Rideout and faculty touring the new addition to Helen Wood Hall
The crowning achievement of Rideout’s tenure, a three-story expansion of Helen Wood Hall, was completed and dedicated in May after only a brief delay due to the pandemic. The new 26,000-square-foot addition includes cutting-edge simulation and technology that will transform nursing education for the next generation of health care providers.

“I remember her stories vividly,” Conyers said. “Staying clinical and practicing humbles her and she expresses that in her stories. If she wasn’t working clinically, she may have been a different dean. But those experiences with patients, realizing that we’re all human beings, keeps Kathy humble. Now it’s our turn to tell our stories of Kathy, remembering the trailblazer that she was and is.”

As dean, Rideout instituted a cheerful message to faculty, staff, and students that she sent faithfully every Monday. It included the highlights and successes of faculty and staff, from papers published and awards won to wedding day and newborn baby photos. All week long she took notes and collected items to share the following week. It was beautiful in its simplicity – there were no design elements, nothing formal, just a way to shine the light on others – and quintessentially Kathy. Although the message came from her, it had little to do with her. It was all about promoting others and elevating the role of nursing.

“I sometimes think back on that day in the hallway and how different my life would be if Kathy had not stopped me,” said Nelson. “I am convinced that she recognized talent and promise in me that I had not yet recognized. Moreover, she made a point to intervene in my life.

“My story is the story of Kathy Rideout. She has made her mark on the world by touching lives, inspiring future leaders, and creating nurses who will use their positions to change the world one patient at a time.”

“Her footprint is everlasting,” Conyers said. “The fact that she allows others to work in her footprints while creating their own is priceless. I’m just glad I had her footprints to follow.”