Donation to Sigma Foundation to benefit nurse researchers in Africa

By Jane Palmer | 02/22/2019

The Dr. Constance M. Baker Leadership and Research Permanent Fund will continue work Baker began in Africa nearly 20 years ago.

Constance M. BakerDuring her distinguished career, she has been an educator, administrator, mentor, researcher, and civil rights advocate. And her role as philanthropist is nothing new for Constance M. Baker, PhD, RN, dean of Indiana University School of Nursing (IUSON) from 1988-91.  

Her recent donation to the Sigma Foundation for Nursing has established the Dr. Constance M. Baker Leadership and Research Permanent Fund, which will provide grants to nurses conducting research in Africa beginning in 2021.

“Through decades of activism, volunteerism, and service to humanity through nursing, Dr. Baker advanced our collective mission and expanded our vision from Indiana to Africa,” says Patrick Palmieri, DHSc, EdS, MBA, MSN, PGDip(Oxon), ACNP, RN, CPHRM, CPHQ, FACHE, FAAN, Sigma Foundation for Nursing board chair.

“From her ardent advocacy for improving the lives of vulnerable populations to her perpetual passion for initiating projects to stimulate positive social change, Dr. Baker is truly the epitome of global nursing excellence in action. Personally, I am thankful for her most recent philanthropic generosity that will help Sigma advance nursing research and develop nursing leaders in Africa.”

Passion for international nursing and belief in philanthropy have been driving forces for Baker throughout her professional nursing career. Her generous donation will continue work she began in Africa almost 20 years ago.

“I’ve traveled extensively in my professional life; it’s easier to tell you where I haven’t been,” Baker says. She hasn’t traveled to South America and Australia—at least not yet.

Visits to Africa
During her first visit to South Africa in 2000, through the People to People program, she toured hospitals in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pretoria. The nurses wore traditional uniforms and were deferential, Baker notes. Her interest in South Africa was not limited to healthcare—she was curious to know more about the vision, discipline, and influence of Nelson Mandela.

May WykleOver the years, Baker mentored nursing students and assisted with curriculum development at universities in Africa and on other continents. Seeing the value of Sigma’s global initiatives, she funded a trip to Malawi, Africa, for past President May Wykle, PhD, RN, FAAN, FGSA, to deliver the keynote address at the 2007 Tau Lambda at-Large Chapter conference.  

“The conference was a great success,” Wykle says. “One of the things we did while we were there was focus on helping the maternal-child clinic, with emphasis on nutrition of young expectant mothers. Dr. Baker was wonderful in stepping up to support international health efforts.”

Wykle’s “welcoming demure” served as a role model for chapter members, Baker says. “Her presence and engaging participation communicated the authenticity of Sigma’s philosophy and goals.”

Mentoring African nurses
Address MalataBaker was impressed with the creativity and commitment she observed in African nurses. Address Malata, PhD, FAAN, vice chancellor of Malawi University of Science and Technology, is one example. Baker recalls meeting her in 2005 at the University of Malawi (UM) and attending her presentation at Sigma’s 2007 Biennial Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. “I watched her evolve into the UM deanship,” Baker says.

Baker connected Wykle and Malata, who invited Wykle to keynote the conference. “It was historic to host a former Sigma president in Africa that year,” Malata says. “Dr. Baker motivated me to take on leadership—hence I became the president of the chapter. She showed me selflessness and commitment to the nursing profession.”

Baker also mentored Naomi Mutea, DNP, RN, KRN/KRM. The two met in 2005 when Baker visited Moi University School of Nursing in Eldoret, Kenya. They developed, and still maintain, a professional relationship. In 2006, Baker invited Mutea to visit her in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

Naomi Mutea“This was my first time to visit the U.S.,” says Mutea, now dean of the Meru University School of Nursing in Kenya, Africa. “In 2008, we published a paper based on my master’s thesis, ‘Involvement of Kenyan Nurses in the Management of Hospitalized Diabetic Patients.’

“She also assisted me with a grant of US $5,000 when I moved to the U.S. in 2008, after I was directly affected by postelection violence that occurred in Kenya in 2007-08,” Mutea adds. “She has always encouraged me to continue building nursing in Kenya.”   

Nursing research in Africa has rapidly advanced since Baker’s first visit in 2000, she says. There are more graduate-prepared nurses now and more funding available to study patient outcomes and other priority nursing areas.

Civil rights activist
Nursing is not Baker’s only passion—she took an active part in the civil rights movement in the United States, including joining the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr.

When asked why she decided to participate, she gave three reasons:

“First, I possess strong beliefs about basic human rights and decreasing barriers to achieving one’s full human potential.

"Second, in the early ’60s, I was a graduate student in sociology at Case Western Reserve University (as was May Wykle), studying intergroup relations, history of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education, social change, etc. I was president of the graduate students’ Sociology Club, and we were politically active, such as marching against the war in Vietnam, for civil rights, and promoting women’s liberation.

“Third, it was an opportunity to learn from others and see Washington, D.C.”

Sigma’s Founders Room
Baker has enjoyed a close relationship with Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) for many years. She describes how the Founders Room, located on the second floor of Sigma’s headquarters, came about:

Constance Baker and Vernice FergusonIn the fall of 1988, when I was the new dean of Indiana University School of Nursing, Nell Watts [Sigma’s executive officer] invited me to tour the new building as it was nearing completion. When she showed me the “Texas Room” (I knew Billye Brown well and was not surprised), I asked Nell how the six students who founded Sigma Theta Tau would be honored. She asked, “What would you like to create?” I said, “The Indiana University Founders Room.” Nell replied, “That will cost about $60,000.” So I immediately began raising money. The record will show that, with the help of Linda Brimmer [former Foundation director], I was able to meet Nell’s price, and she, in turn, created the “Indiana Room.” The large table in the Indiana Room was donated by Rebecca Markel, an Indiana University faculty.

Philanthropy not new
Baker says she is “in the business” of philanthropy. She completed a postdoctoral Master of Arts in Philanthropic Studies and a certificate in fundraising. The money she raised in 1988 created the Founders Room, a highlight of headquarters tours. Now, her generous gift has established the Leadership and Research Permanent Fund.

“The Sigma fund appeals to me because of its global vision,” Baker says.

Her donation will advance nursing research and leadership in Africa, continuing the work she began nearly 20 years ago.

Career highlights

Where she’s traveled:

Canada, Mexico, Jordan, Japan, China, Indonesia, Greece, Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa, Cuba, Kenya, Malawi, Singapore, India, Europe, Virgin Islands, Great Britain

She’s most passionate about:

  • Visionary, authentic leadership
    1965-77: Taught nursing leadership to BSN seniors at Columbia University School of Nursing.
    1977-2007: Assumed leadership/administration roles as dean or director at Lake Superior State University, University of Illinois, University of South Carolina, and Indiana University.
  • Creative, facilitative teaching
    1999-2007: Delivered IUSON’s nursing administration MSN via problem-based learning.
    1992-2001: Mentored 12 IUSON graduate students to present four refereed papers.
    1997-2004: Mentored 25 IUSON graduate students to publish six refereed journal articles.
  • Conscientious, goal-oriented practice
    1985-88: Formed “Partners for Nursing Excellence” and implemented nursing education-nursing practice collaboration project to demonstrate the unique role competencies of master’s-prepared clinical nurse specialists. Funding shared between University of South Carolina and Richland Memorial Hospital.
    1989-1990: Obtained and directed “Strengthening Hospital Nursing: A Program to Improve Patient Care at Indiana University,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. RNL

Jane Palmer is assistant editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.
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