Eve McGee takes a break with nursing students Elizabeth Gimre, Meron Tibebu, Megan Hadden and Heidi Fielder.

Nursing school has secret weapon in student retention

For students in need, Eve McGee is a friend indeed.

We all dream about it, but how many people actually settle into work each day knowing that they have found their calling? Not many, probably, but one, for sure — Eve McGee, and her calling is social work. And, to the great benefit of the population of the School of Nursing, that calling eventually brought Eve McGee to UMKC.

“As weird as it sounds, I knew as a kid that I wanted to be a social worker,” she said. “As I got older and started getting serious about it, my parents were petrified and begged me to consider another profession.”

But she had her mind set and, after earning her master’s degree in social work from KU, began her career following the traditional social work path. She never imagined that path would lead her to UMKC.

“I was doing a lot of work with domestic abuse victims and the homeless, working the streets and working in the shelters. Occasionally, my work would bring me to an event or a meeting here at the University,” McGee said. “On one of those occasions, I bumped into an old friend who told me about a position they were hiring for at the nursing school.”

All McGee knew about the job was that it had something to do with workforce diversity, but the friend suggested that she should apply for it.

"I knew they weren’t looking specifically for a social worker, but something told me to go ahead and apply for the job,” McGee said. “After they interviewed me, I had a really good feeling that I would be a good fit for the job. Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual — they hired someone else.”

Meant to be

McGee made an impression, though, and when the other person didn’t work out, they called McGee back in and offered her the position. With her foot in the door, it didn’t take long for the School of Nursing to start reaping the benefits of that lucky twist of fate. As she got to know her way around and started developing relationships with faculty and students, it became apparent that McGee’s skills as a social worker might come in handy in the area of student retention.

“I met with the Dean and we talked about the idea of turning me loose to work with students who were having problems and were at risk for leaving school,” McGee said. “We decided we would try it for a year as sort of a pilot program and see how it worked out.”

That was four years ago. It worked out.

“There were about 80 students in that first class I worked with and I social worked the heck out of them,” McGee said. “I was amazed at how many issues came up. I was inundated dealing with students.”

Since then, McGee says that she has seen it all, and been an active part of much of it — from helping students cram for finals to intervening with students who were facing homelessness or domestic violence. While it’s impossible to be all things to all people, it is McGee’s nature to at least try.

“Depending on the situation, I can be a little bit big sister, a little bit best friend and a little bit mom,” McGee said. “And, I think there are plenty of students who would tell you, that I can be a little bit drill sergeant, too, when I need to be.”

McGee also works closely with the UMKC Counseling Center, and credits them for much of the success she has witnessed at the Nursing School.

“We have a great relationship with the counseling and testing center at the Volker campus. I refer students to them all the time,” McGee said. “I often collaborate with them on student care plans. I love those people and there is no way I could do my job without them.”

Up to the challenge

According to McGee’s many fans at the Nursing School, it is her ability to connect with students and understand what they need that has made her so successful.

“Eve is wonderful in so many ways. She always finds a way to help us when we need it,” said nursing student Meron Tibebu. “If you go to her office, she always welcomes you with a smile and usually offers a snack or something to drink. She is an amazing person and we are lucky to have her.”

McGee is unwilling to take too much credit for solving people’s problems. She sees herself as more of a “facilitator” in helping people help themselves.

“We all face challenges every day in the course of our lives, and sometimes those challenges seem impossible,” she said. “But we all have the tools to face and overcome most of those challenges; sometimes, we just need a little support.”

McGee knows a bit about overcoming life’s challenges.

“I was a young single mother, in public housing for 11 years, living on food stamps and $234 a month,” she said. “I made a deal with my creator a long time ago that if I ever got out of there, I would give back.”

She did get out and, as the unofficial “Energizer bunny” of the nursing school, McGee keeps giving and giving and giving….

"Eve fills a very important and somewhat unique role for us. I don’t think there is another nursing school in the country with a full-time social worker on staff,” said Lora Lacey-Haun, dean of the nursing school. “She has become an invaluable member of our student support team.”

Roney Eapen, senior, says Eve is his "go-to" person to talk to or to listen. "She's absolutely wonderful. She's there whenever I need her."

“Eve fills a very important and somewhat unique role for us. I don’t think there is another nursing school in the country with a full-time social worker on staff.”

Lora Lacey-Haun
Dean, UMKC School of Nursing