Carol J. Huston: For such a time as this

By Bessie Marquis | 12/03/2007

Carol J. Huston

There is a common saying among my friends from the Midwest region of the United States that the very best Californians are transplanted Midwesterners. That sentiment is definitely true of Carol Huston, RN, MSN, DPA, FAAN, recently inaugurated president of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. She embodies the best of Middle America—tenaciousness, a strong work ethic and generosity of spirit—that she combines with the best of the West—dynamism, futuristic thinking and willingness to embrace change.

Carol HustonThe middle child in a family of three children, Carol Jorgensen spent her first 21 years in Iowa. She married Tom Huston, her high school sweetheart, in 1976, while attending nursing school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. In 1977, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, graduating with distinction despite working several jobs while going to school full time. It was at the University of Iowa that she became acquainted with the honor society and was inducted into Gamma Chapter.

After graduation, Huston joined her husband, stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Southern California, and began working as a cardiac intensive care staff nurse in Riverside. It wasn’t long, however, before she felt the pull to return to her more rural roots and the classroom. A year later, the couple selected Chico, a small university town in Northern California, and moved all their worldly possessions there, sight unseen. They had no idea they would still be there 30 years later.

It is from Chico that Huston has pursued her dreams. As a cardiac care nurse, she created and directed a cardiac rehabilitation program and developed her management skills at two hospitals, becoming an expert clinician. It was during this period that I, a faculty member at California State University, Chico (CSUC), first met her. A wonderful resource for my clinical students, she quickly became their favorite role model. Little did I know she would soon join me as a faculty member at CSUC School of Nursing.

Huston_Marquis_rev_SFWHuston began pursuing her first graduate degree several years after arriving in Northern California, completing her Master of Science in Nursing degree at CSUC in 1982. Even before completing the MSN, her intelligence and energy captured the attention of leaders in the university’s nursing program, and she was offered an assistant professorship in 1982.

One of Huston’s first goals as a faculty member was to form a committee to explore the possibility of establishing an honor society chapter at CSUC. Senior faculty members had previously considered it but were dissuaded by the amount of effort required. The tenacious Huston was not in the least deterred by discouraging comments from more seasoned colleagues and was rewarded for her leadership efforts in 1988, when Kappa Omicron Chapter was chartered.

She became Kappa Omicron’s first president and has served in that capacity three times. She has also served as vice president, secretary, fundraising chair, mentoring chair and faculty counselor. The first recipient of Kappa Omicron’s annual Excellence in Nursing award, the highest award given at the chapter level, Huston is the only member to have received the award twice. Even when she became very involved at the regional and national levels of the honor society, she continued to provide hands-on support at the chapter level and still does today.

Huston pursued her academic career at CSUC with the same energy and determination she demonstrated in establishing the honor society chapter. Indeed, her record of accomplishments at the university has been exceptional. She was one of the few faculty members at that time, from any discipline, to be granted accelerated tenure at the university, and she almost immediately began earning numerous awards and honors. She received Meritorious Performance and Professional Promise Awards in 1985 and 1988, was a recipient of Professional Achievement Honors in 1998 and 2000, and was selected as one of seven Master Teachers in 1999. She was also named the university’s Outstanding Teacher in 2001.

Huston_teaching-rev_SFWSherry Fox, RN, PhD, director of the CSUC School of Nursing, states: “Carol Huston is the consummate nurse educator, noted for bringing out the best in her students, providing inspiration and mentoring for undergraduate and graduate nursing students, as well as mentoring other faculty. She is a prolific writer, author of several bestselling leadership and management texts and numerous professional articles. Over the years, she has successfully balanced her teaching role, professional writing and extensive service to Sigma Theta Tau International, maintaining excellence in all three areas.”

Among numerous accolades received when she was named Outstanding Teacher was this comment by a former student: “Carol Huston stretches student nurses to develop and utilize their critical-thinking skills while applying theoretical concepts and theory to practice. She imparts her knowledge through an uncanny ability to involve, challenge and guide students with acceptance, confidence, wit and credibility.”

One only has to observe Huston in the classroom to recognize that she is a dynamic teacher and outstanding lecturer. Her poise in front of audiences puts others at ease, enabling her to draw out participants in workshops as well as hold the interest of large audiences. Outside the classroom, she has been the keynote speaker at more than 100 gatherings and has presented papers throughout the United States and in many other countries.

Indeed, she has always thrived in the academic environment, writing numerous books, articles and research grants while continuing her clinical practice as a staff nurse, charge nurse and acute care hospital house supervisor. In 1985, I asked her to collaborate with me in co-authoring a textbook of management case studies. Thus began a partnership that has spanned more than two decades and includes the following books: Retention and Productivity Strategies for Nurse Managers, four editions of Management Decision Making in Nursing, and six editions of Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing. We have also co-authored many journal articles, co-presented scholarly work at conferences and developed a model for critical thinking.

Huston’s other scholarly achievements during the same period have been nothing short of astonishing. In addition to our collaboration, she has co-authored a variety of journal articles, has been the author-editor of a textbook and the sole author of more than 60 journal articles, most in refereed journals. She also found time to be a co-investigator or primary investigator on numerous grants, including a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services for RN-BSN outreach in rural Northern California.

The Hustons began their family in the 1980s, with one daughter born in 1983 and another in 1987. Their firstborn, Kristin, graduates in 2008 from Oregon State University/Oregon Health Sciences University with a doctorate in pharmacy. She lives in Portland with her husband, Jason. Their younger daughter, Shauna, is pursuing a degree in dietetics at California State University, Chico.

In 1994, Huston returned to school to earn both a master’s and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Southern California (USC). Her 1997 doctoral dissertation, The Replacement of Registered Nurses by Unlicensed Assistive Personnel: The Impact on Three Process/Outcome Indicators of Quality, was a timely look at the impact of nurse staffing and staffing mix on outcome quality indicators and was nominated in 1997 for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation at USC.

During her doctoral studies, Huston continued teaching full time. The children were young, so Tom contributed even more to maintaining the family unit. Carol has often told people that many of the accomplishments in her life would not have been possible without the ongoing support of her husband and family. Indeed, no one is more proud of her achievements. On receiving a recent award from CSUC, Huston was asked how she managed to meet such an enormous number of commitments with such success. She replied: “I have a wonderful life. I love everything I do. My husband and children have been wonderful sources of support all along the way.”

After completing her doctoral degree and still working full time as a professor at CSUC, Huston joined the faculty of Western University of Health Sciences in the College of Graduate Nursing on a part-time basis. Working mostly summers and weekends, she assisted Western University in obtaining accreditation for its master’s degree program, created the university’s original Master Evaluation Plan (CQI Model), and taught health systems, health finance and quality measurement courses to family nurse practitioner students, entry level master’s in nursing students, and clinical nurse leader students from 1998 to 2006.

Karen Hanford, RN, MSN, FNP, founding dean of the College of Graduate Nursing at Western University of Health Sciences, states: “Dr. Carol Huston’s leadership and contributions greatly facilitated our vision. Key areas of excellence included her being a scholar, master teacher and distance educator. In her faculty role, she served as mentor, educator and role model. I have had the privilege of being a colleague of Dr. Huston for more than 25 years, and her commitment to the nursing profession is extraordinary. She is brilliant, hardworking and demonstrates the attributes of an international leader for nursing.”

Although many outstanding nurses pursue a specific topic of interest and make it the focus of their writing and research, Huston has chosen to embrace numerous issues. Some of her early work dealt with clinical issues and patient care, but she has also pursued interests in leadership and management. She is recognized as an authority in mentoring, distance learning, delegation, power and politics, outcomes measurement and critical thinking.

She doesn’t just talk, write or do research about these issues; she lives them. She not only encourages others to be mentors, she is a role model for mentoring herself. She designs and teaches online courses, is involved in nursing policy and promotes critical thinking in her own teaching.

Peggy Rowberg, RN, DNP, APN, a teaching colleague of Huston at both Western University of Health Sciences and CSUC, states: “Some of the qualities that have always impressed me about Carol are her knowledge, and her willingness and ability to impart this knowledge to others with humor and grace. She is one of the most ethical people I know, but also one of the most humble. She is a dedicated change agent. No one works harder or with such an ability to produce incredibly articulate and thought-provoking documents. I also believe she is an emotionally intelligent leader who always guides others to evaluate all aspects of a situation before making a decision. She has an innate ability to put others at ease and has always worked diligently in her role as a leader to empower others. I am honored and proud to be able to call Carol Huston my friend and colleague.”

Huston’s ability to work with others is one of her most outstanding leadership qualities. Co-authoring and editing books and collaborating on research require teamwork, evident in her 2006 text, Professional Issues in Nursing, for which she coordinated and edited the writing of nine contributors. Her skill in working with others was also apparent when she collaborated with three other co-investigators on a study funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Jeanne Madison, RN, MPH, PhD, associate professor and head of the School of Health at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia, has collaborated with Huston on both research and writing. “Carol Huston is without a doubt the most supportive and inclusive colleague I know,” Madison says. “She is one of those nurses you want in the next office at the university, on the night shift with you in the ER, nodding in the front row when you are presenting a paper, writing a reference for you for that perfect job and, in my case, tidying up my draft chapter for her book while I disappeared in an ill-timed chemotherapy fog. Not surprisingly, I got full credit for the chapter we wrote!”

One of Huston’s greatest talents as a writer and educator is her editing ability. Both novice and veteran authors benefit from her mighty red pencil. I still hold my breath after submitting a new textbook chapter to her, waiting to see how much revision she will suggest. After getting over the initial shock of seeing so much red, writers realize that the work is so much better than when first submitted. Authors lucky enough to have Huston for an editor profit greatly from the experience. She has an uncanny ability to make writers better than they ever imagined.

Huston has had a highly successful academic career, but she is much more than a one-dimensional academic. She has always found time to be a devoted wife and mother, a loving friend, a committed member of her church and an involved member of her community. She is also a regionally rated Gold Life Master duplicate bridge player and has earned the nickname of “Barracuda” at her local bridge club. Her husband says, “Her partners revere her and her opponents fear her.”

As a successful national tournament player, she qualified two years ago to play in the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) Grand National competition in Reno, Nevada. Not only did she and her partner do well in the tournament, she was a hero, performing CPR on a gentleman who suffered cardiac arrest at the bridge table. He later made a full recovery, and Huston was recognized by the ACBL for her efforts.

Now that their daughters are adults, the Hustons enjoy travel and Carol has embraced the role of global nursing ambassador. Because Tom owns his own business, he has the flexibility to travel with her often. Whenever they travel internationally—for pleasure, for honor society business, or to lead a health care delegation to some exotic destination—Tom is there, passport in hand.

They went to Kenya for a photo safari and a hot air balloon ride across the Serengeti; to Germany and the Netherlands, where Huston represented Sigma Theta Tau International and presented a keynote address; to Montreal and Vienna, where she participated in honor society research congresses; and recently to China, where she led a delegation of health professionals. The trip was sponsored by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Foundation and People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs. Huston has been invited to lead another People to People nursing delegation to Vietnam and Cambodia in December 2008.

Huston’s love of Sigma Theta Tau International has been a constant in her life. No matter how full her schedule, she has always had time for the honor society. From the time she joined the honor society as a young student nurse in 1977, the organization’s values and goals have helped shape her career. Indeed, I have known many young nursing professionals who, after attending their first biennial convention, became instant enthusiasts of the honor society. Huston was no exception. After serving as a chapter delegate to several conventions, she decided to become more involved.

In 1995, she was selected mentoring chairperson for Region 1, a position she held for four years. In 1999, she was elected Region 1 coordinator. She was also selected as a distinguished lecturer for six separate biennia and has been invited to speak at numerous honor society events, both domestic and international. In this way, she has personally met and come to know thousands of honor society members.

Huston assumed her first international office for Sigma Theta Tau International in 2001, when she was elected to the board of directors, a position she held for four years. In 2005, she became president-elect of the organization and, in early November, its 27th president.

Carol Picard, RN, PhD, the honor society’s 26th president, has great confidence in her successor: “I have worked with Carol on the board and knew from the start that she would make a great president. Carol combines the qualities of leadership that are so valuable—love, courage and honor. She values and appreciates the contributions of others to the enterprise at hand, has the capacity to hold a vision of where the organization needs to be, and can analyze and synthesize complex issues. She also has the courage to pose challenging questions and offer her own position when addressing important issues. Additionally, Carol finds joy in the work of Sigma Theta Tau International, which she shares, helping create a very positive environment for all. The founders would be so pleased with how she will bring their vision forward for the next biennium!”

In the 2005-07 biennium, Huston chaired the Futures Advisory Council, which drafted Vision 2020, a document that will guide strategic planning for the honor society for the decade to come. Clearly, her commitment to the organization is enormous, her vision extraordinary and her ability to grasp complex issues exemplary. Her leadership skills and ability to work with others will serve her well.

Sherry Fox agrees. “Carol Huston is focused and energetic, and she will certainly bring her outstanding capabilities to the presidency of Sigma Theta Tau International. The faculty and students of CSU, Chico, are honored to have her represent our campus. We know she will be an outstanding president.”    

Tim Porter-O’Grady, RN, EdD, CNAA, CS, FAAN, a former member of the honor society’s board of directors, also forecasts a successful presidential tenure for Huston. “Carol is willing to address the tough issues and to dig in to get at the truth related to them,” Porter-O’Grady says. “She is also able to persevere with constituents and stakeholders in facilitating their efforts to produce a meaningful outcome or result. Finally, Carol is absolutely committed to the future of Sigma Theta Tau International, even though pursuing the future may frequently create ‘noise’ and challenges, all of which are a part of constructing a new frame of reference for the organization. She comes to the presidency in a transformational moment in the history of the honor society and will be just the right person at the right time.”

I concur with Porter-O’Grady. I have always expected great things from my friend Carol Huston, and so far she has never disappointed me. I predict it will be an exciting and rewarding two years for our honor society. 

Bessie Marquis, RN, MSN, is professor emeritus at California State University, Chico (CSU, Chico). Prior to joining the nursing faculty at CSU, Chico in 1979, she worked as a clinical and administrative nurse for 20 years. Marquis is co-author with President Huston of Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing (currently in its 5th edition), as well as Management Decision Making for Nurses, (3rd edition) and Retention and Productivity Strategies for Nurse Managers. 

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