Susan O'Conner-Von is many things: a PhD, an RN, a professor and, for the last seven years, the Center’s Director of Graduate Studies. By all accounts, she’s also an expert advice-giver, supreme policy wonk, a compassionate ear, and a fearless leader.
“We jokingly call her the tiny hammer,” Christina Owen, student services specialist at the Center, says of O’Conner-Von’s superb management skills. “She lays down the law in the kindest, most professional way. When she is giving someone bad news, it almost doesn’t feel like it because she has such a wonderful way about her: her patience, understanding, empathy, and passion for helping students and her general care for the wellbeing of everyone has a way of making us feel heard.”
The multi-award-winning O’Conner Von, who has served in the role for “an incredible seven years,” is returning full time to the School of Nursing, a world in which she has always kept one foot firmly planted. “It was a tough decision, especially in a time where we all want continuity and consistency,” she says. “But it’s time for new blood, new thinking, new energy. I’ll always stay connected with the Center.”
“Susan always invested in faculty development,” says Center Founder and Director Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer. “She was eager to share feedback directly with faculty and together to review student evaluations with an eye towards learning and growing as a teacher.”
Her legacy will leave a lasting impression on many, including Kely MacPhail, senior education specialist and director of the Center’s Learning Resources Group.“ Susan’s calm presence and commitment to integrity were deeply reflected in how she approached her responsibilities as Director of Graduate Studies,” she says. “She has a very keen sense of when to take action and knowing the best ways to engage different stakeholders. Her ability to influence others and achieve results is inspiring, and I will strive to carry that forward.”
Erin Fider, student services and academic programs coordinator for the Center, who worked with O’Conner-Von nearly daily, says that not only did Susan bring “a wealth of knowledge” to Center programs from her years of service on various university committees, but she also became a friend.
Together, they traveled to Ireland. “During a dinner in Killarney, Susan and our guide secretly recruited a table of about a dozen ladies, who happened to be in a choir, to sing happy birthday to me at full volume in perfect harmony. They had pretended all day not to remember, but I knew they were up to something because Susan never forgets a birthday,” Fider says, adding that Susan also remembers the names of everyone’s pets.
Fider adds it’s hard to characterize what everyone will miss about O’Conner-Von, because of the depth and breadth of what she brought to the Center, from policy to personality.
“Susan has an amazing work ethic. She juggles multiple roles between her
Bakken Center and School of Nursing appointments. Yet she is always responsive,
approachable and quick with her humor,” Fider says.
She always made herself available to consult with faculty and students on a variety of issues, often arriving with treats from Caribou Coffee. “She is a source of support – we all know that Susan has our backs!”
O’Conner-Von says she’ll miss the phenomenal faculty, superb staff, and diversity of students the Center attracts, but she won’t be disappearing. “I’m hoping people remember me as a very compassionate, caring individual who really focused on the health and wellbeing of our students especially and being kind to each other—a role model for openness and acceptance and gratitude for each other.”
Dr. Megan Voss, who will become the Center’s director of education in the Fall, says she has big shoes to fill as she takes up the mantle: “She has saintly qualities, honestly.”
“I am deeply grateful for Susan’s leadership throughout the past 7 years,” says Kreitzer. “She has helped us build a very solid foundation for our educational enterprise that will serve us well in the future – truly a lasting legacy.”
MEET DR. MEGAN VOSS
Stepping into the role of the director of education is Dr. Megan Voss, DNP, RN, and assuming many of Susan’s responsibilities in Center academic programs.
“Susan is someone I’d admired a long time, and I see the positive changes she has made,” says Voss. “It’s a role that I always thought ‘someday that would be a really cool role and such an honor,’ but didn’t think that day would be now.”
Voss, who is a nurse clinician, educator, and is currently Integrative Therapy Program Director for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant, says her goal is to uphold the “incredible foundation” O’Conner-Von has built. “I feel so grateful for the state of the Center’s educational programming she is handing over to me. I can’t imagine a better person to follow in terms of inheriting a well-oiled machine.”
She also hopes to capitalize on the momentum of creativity, flexibility, and the transition into
a digital world that the COVID-19 pandemic forced. “One of my strengths is that I am a flexible, curious person who is wanting to grow and change, and I am not a rigid thinker. This pandemic pushed us into an area we couldn’t hide or escape our lives and we came face-to-face with our own wellbeing. I think we learned how important a whole-person approach is – Susan understood that from the beginning. Now, the rest of us get to come in, build on it, see what emerges, and what the future looks like.”
Voss will be taking on an associate professor role in the School of Nursing as well. “I’m a big fan of learning from multiple places and being connected,” she says. “Being more fully in this side will help me root into the role in a different way if I were still primarily on the clinical side.”