- Susan Hagedorn
In 1975, Susan Hagedorn ’77 was a struggling single mother whose longtime yearning to be a nurse brought her to UMass Amherst. She came because it offered a two-year program for students who already held a bachelor’s degree and, critically important for her, the best financial aid.
Once on campus, she led a successful campaign to ban the traditional blue-striped dress, the uniform of female nursing students. “I wanted to dress like the guys,” she recalls. More recently, Hagedorn has found a new way to encourage innovation: She just pledged $1.5 million to create the Seedworks Nursing Professorship for Social Justice. The endowed professorship is the first for the nursing school and the only endowed professorship in a public nursing school in New England.
“I was not the easiest student,” says Hagedorn. “I moved from being an angry sixties radical to a nurse with first-rate clinical skills that I could use to address deeply felt social justice issues in health care.”
With her newly minted nursing degree, Hagedorn moved to the Boston area and began her career, one that has been devoted to researching and improving the lives of underserved populations, especially adolescents. She says, “I practiced by socially critiquing the situation . . . examining the role poverty, discrimination, gender bias, or education played in health care.” As an outgrowth of this approach, in 1983 she helped found the comprehensive school-based health clinic at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
Over the years, Hagedorn has earned certifications and advanced degrees, including a doctorate from the University of Colorado. She has published widely on such topics as the teaching, practice, and theory of nursing. Her many accomplishments include practicing at residential treatment programs; operating a mentor program for at-risk middle school students; and coordinating a health clinic for women and children living in a safe house.
When Hagedorn accepted the appointment to the UMass Amherst Foundation Board, Chancellor John V. Lombardi said, “Sue Hagedorn in many ways is the quintessential alumna. She has had many life experiences. She followed a dream that UMass Amherst made possible and now is ready to leave her mark on our school.”
Hagedorn decided to endow the professorship partly because her UMass Amherst experience was, she says, “a pivotal event in my life.” An associate professor at the University of Colorado and director of its Partnership in Prevention program, she is also motivated by her strong feeling that “academics have a huge responsibility to think broadly and to mentor students and to go beyond scholarship—to be agents of social change.”
Through her gift, UMass Amherst will gain a faculty position that puts social justice front and center in the nursing curriculum. “It’s going to produce a mentor for students who will integrate nursing with implementing social change,” is how she puts it. “These nurses will see their patients in a broad way, and the health of individuals in the community will benefit.”
Hagedorn, School of Nursing Dean Eileen Breslin, and nursing school faculty will work together to develop criteria for recruiting the first Seedworks Nursing Professor for Social Justice. Says Dean Breslin, “This is an extraordinary, transformative gift, one that speaks to the heritage of this school and its strong commitment to community and to meeting the needs of the underserved.
“This sets a gold standard,” the Dean adds. “It will enable us to attract and retain the best faculty and students— and ultimately improve the lives of men, women, and children.”