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Memories of SSU

Vivian Malmstrom

Professor of Nursing, 1972-1988

Memories by Sue Thomas, Jan Hitchcock, and Lucy Kortum

            Vivian Malmstrom was the first faculty member to be hired by Mary Searight after her 1972 appointment as chair of the yet to be initiated nursing program at Sonoma State. Mary knew that she faced high hurdles in the nursing community as well as on campus. She had to convince the National League for nursing to accredit a unique program offering a two-year baccalaureate nursing education to registered nurses with associate degrees. She had to convince the California Board of Registered Nursing that the courses she was planning for students who were already registered nurses did not fall under BRN jurisdiction. And she was launching a nursing program at a committed liberal arts college. The faculty she had yet to hire would be new to each other, the program, and the college, and they would have just one month prior to the beginning of the semester to develop the curriculum that Mary had envisioned.

            To help her deal with these disparate challenges, Mary knew she needed a person who was wise, steady, venturesome, and a superb teacher. At UCSF Mary had known Vivian, recognized for those qualities by all who worked with her. Sue Thomas remembers her own days as a student nurse at UCSF, when she knew Vivian as head nurse in the medical unit. She described Vivian as very knowledgeable, respectful of others, and compassionate in her interactions with patients, staff, and students. Over the years several faculty who had known and admired Vivian came to Sonoma State in part because of her presence.

            We wish Vivian, who died in 2008, had written her own memories of those months in which the nursing program began, and as it grew to become an integral part of Sonoma State. We can only write what we observed and what she meant to us.

            Mary had managed to arrange a course load that enabled faculty to engage in an ongoing curriculum development in addition to their teaching assignments. There was inevitable stress among faculty from different backgrounds as new courses were developed. Vivian was able to serve as an assistant chairperson for curriculum development and faculty relations, not a usual assignment at Sonoma State.                               

            Another one of Vivian’s assignments was student admissions, and subsequently academic advising and support. Students came from various backgrounds ranging from new community college graduates without actual nursing experience, to others returning to academia after many years of nursing. All knew they needed a BS degree from an accredited program to advance in their careers and expected demanding new coursework, but many felt over burdened by other college requirements. Both students and faculty felt the stress of program accreditation to validate their efforts.

            In the early years faculty and students were somewhat isolated by faculty offices located in two facing trailers to the south of Darwin. But both in the trailers and after the department offices were moved to the new Nichols Hall, Vivian’s office was in front and center and she was ready to deal with the smallest and biggest issues of the program. She listened to the various woes without judgment and often with good advice. Though the college provided large and small classrooms for nursing’s unique needs, it was with the construction of Nichols Hall that adequate room, a TV studio, was provided for the Microteaching course required of all students and taught by Vivian.  This class recognized the nurse’s role as teacher of patients, colleagues, and the public. Meeting in small sections in which each student prepared a “lesson” based on that week’s identified element of the teaching process, opportunity was provided for imagination and fun as well as learning. Students came to know each other and Vivian to know all of them.

            Vivian and her husband Joe moved to Rohnert Park, and later to Sebastopol. As did her office, their home provided respite for students, faculty, and staff, and was the scene of meetings, seminars, and festivities. It helped that she was an adventurous cook and that they were wine connoisseurs. Lakeside picnics and office parties also brought all together.

            During a two-year leave from the nursing department, Vivian accepted an assignment in the Mariana Islands, where she developed and enhanced nursing education and service in the Trust Territories. Both Vivian and Joe were cherished there as they had been at home. Several students in that nursing program came to SSU to earn their BS in Nursing.

            Until she retired in 1988, Vivian provided the thoughtful environment that enabled students, faculty and staff to flourish, within the department and throughout the University. She participated in diverse departmental, division, and college wide committees. Again, we would cherish Vivian’s own memories of this time during which many faculty were at first cautious about the presence of the school’s first professional program. Her outreach enabled others throughout the college to understand and appreciate the new and different group of students and faculty among them. We miss her.