When Ruth Rea went looking for a second career, she sought a job as rewarding as her 27 years in the Army Nurse Corps. She found UW Tacoma.
"To see students evolve and develop those higher thinking skills, to hear students share their dreams-that's amazing," she says. "This place is really special."
Rea, a nursing professor at UW Tacoma since 1998, draws on her experience in the field to help her busy students comprehend new ideas in nursing.
"Some of them, their workday starts at 5 a.m. and they're in evening classes with me," she said. "I try to be sensitive to their time frame, and I try to take the complicated, complex concepts I'm teaching and make them easier to understand."
Rea holds a Ph.D. in nursing administration from the University of Texas, an M.S. in nursing from the University of Colorado, and a B.S.N. from the University of Maryland. She joined the Army as a way to pay for college, intending to study for four years and give the next three to her country. Somehow, she ended up staying.
"I thought about leaving," she said. "But it just never happened."
By the end of her career, she was a full colonel and director of the Madigan Army Medical Center Education Unit. She retired from the Army in 1995 and quickly realized that she was too young to be idle. "I think I failed retirement," she said. "I had a need to be creative and productive."
Rea worked as a lecturer for St. Martin's College before taking an open seat on the UW Tacoma faculty. She quickly became popular among nursing students.
"When I met Dr. Rea, I met someone who not only interacted with me, but fed my appetite for knowledge while keeping me hungry for more," one student wrote in a letter of nomination for the Distinguished Teaching Award. "Dr. Rea can take any subject and make it fun, interesting and exciting."
Rea said she encourages students to approach learning in unique ways and creates tools that help. She involves students in the "Dead Numbers Game" to teach statistics and breaks the students into "Survivor" groups, like the television show, to encourage teamwork.
"Students do push themselves to learn," she said. "But sometimes, you have to use a bit of entertainment to get their attention and maintain it."
Rea said she was "amazingly humbled and pleased" to receive the award.
"I work really hard on my teaching," she said, noting that she is the third member of UWT's Nursing department to be honored. "There's definitely a synergistic energy here. It's a good group."