Hester C. Klopper: Blazing trails

By Siedine Knobloch Coetzee and Judith Bruce | 11/22/2013

New president calls members to serve locally, transform regionally, and lead globally.


Hester Klopper

“Don’t go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
A path is a way beaten, formed, or trodden by the feet of many, whereas a trail is made when one passes, for the first time, through a wild region, over rough country, or the like. We have a choice in life—to follow a path or make a trail. By forging a trail, we decide to be extraordinary. In making our own way, we stray from the normal, average, and safe path that everyone follows and become pioneers, the first to brave unexplored territory. Leading the way, we leave a trail that inspires others to follow. Throughout her life of serving, transforming, and leading, Hester C. Klopper, PhD, MBA, RN, RM, FANSA, has been such a trail maker.
 
Siedine CoetzeeBeginning her trail
Born in Pretoria, South Africa, the eldest of four children of Pieter and Pat Matthee, Hester learnt to forge trails and lead at an early age. Blessed with a loving family that always encouraged her to pursue her dreams and strive for excellence, she ended up in nursing by accident, after working a holiday job at a local hospital. A nursing manager at the hospital convinced her that she would make an excellent nurse and persuaded her to enroll in nursing the next year. In 1985, she earned a diploma in general nursing science and midwifery at Ann Latsky Nursing College in Johannesburg and, in 1986, a diploma in psychiatric nursing science.
 
Judith BruceAs Hester progressed academically and professionally, her passion for nursing grew deeper, as did her commitment to excellence. In her final year of study, she received an award for being the best general nursing science student. But campus life was not all about study. It was during that time that Hester met Willem Klopper, an undergraduate student preparing to become a mining engineer. He would also become her husband. Setting out on a new trail, they married in the spring of 1986 and celebrated their 27th anniversary this year.
 
With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Hester Klopper enrolled for a baccalaureate degree in nursing education and community health nursing at the University of South Africa (UNISA), completing it in 1990. In 1991, she was awarded a diploma in health science management.
 
Again, life was not all study. Willem and Hester were blessed with two wonderful children—a son, Wilco, born in 1988, and a daughter, Simri, born in 1991. Hester makes no secret that they remain the blessings of her life. The admiration and appreciation are mutual, as her husband and children are her biggest supporters. Of his mother, Wilco observes: 
My mom is unmatched as a role model—not only for me, but for all! Being the master of her own destiny, captain of her own ship, she steers herself into greatness and unparalleled accomplishment. She has an unshakable character that is made of the finest, rarest-quality materials—namely, love, compassion, honesty, loyalty, and dedication, all glued together with a unique array of colourful dreams. She is always fair, unprejudiced, willing, and wanting to lend a hand. I can go on and on for another thousand years describing my mom’s amazing nature but still will not be able to capture my gratitude and admiration of her in words.
Having shown a talent for leadership, Klopper realized that, if she was going to be a leader in the profession, she needed postgraduate education. She completed her master’s degree in nursing (Magister Curationis) in 1992 and her doctorate (PhD) in 1994, all before the age of 30, truly a remarkable achievement for that time. Still blazing an academic trail, she completed in 2001 an international diploma in teaching and training and a master’s in business administration (MBA) at Luton University, United Kingdom.
 
Forging a local trail
Klopper began her teaching career in 1990 as an educational consultant for the Clinic Holdings Group (now Netcare Private Hospital Group), where she developed in-service education programs, taught general nursing students, and presented management-development courses. In 1993, she was appointed lecturer at the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (now University of Johannesburg), where she taught post-basic, master’s, and PhD students on all aspects of education.
 
Her consultant experience at Clinic Holdings Group also proved beneficial as a lecturer. Seeing an opportunity to improve service delivery in the post-basic program, she immediately developed an alternate mode of course delivery and structure that, within one year, increased program enrollment 100 percent. With that success behind her, it was no surprise when Klopper helped establish the Centre for Nurse Leaders in 1995, using a distance-education model of structured workshops to serve the educational needs of more than 2,500 students.
 
A year later, Klopper partnered with others to establish a national education company and, in 1997, was appointed managing director of the Health Academy, a subsidiary. Despite the increased management demands of her new position, she still found time to become involved in curriculum development, working in collaboration with universities. Thinking outside the box and driven by innovation, she also consulted at Technikon South Africa (TSA), creating the delivery platform for its nursing bridge program, which leads to registration as a nurse. This program, still in existence, is now integrated into the Department of Health Sciences at UNISA.
 
In 1999, Klopper was appointed executive director in the office of chairperson and chief executive officer of the Open Learning Group. In this position, she gained increased national recognition as liaison with the South African Department of Education (SADoE), the Council of Higher Education (CHE), and the Standards and Qualifications Authority (SAQA). With her increased national recognition, she was appointed professor and head of the Department of Nursing Education at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 2001, one of the youngest nurses in South Africa to step into such a role.
 
Blazing a regional trail
Chapter development for the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) is a multistep process that involves first forming and operating a local honor society that eventually applies to STTI for chartering as a chapter. For Klopper, her path to STTI membership began when she became a founding member of the Africa Honor Society of Nursing (AHSN). In November 2003, she was formally inducted as a member of STTI, and the following year, AHSN was chartered in Botswana and became Tau Lambda-at-Large Chapter.
 
Klopper’s belief in and selfless dedication to STTI is exemplified in her service to Tau Lambda-at-Large, where she has served as secretariat-treasurer for 12 years (2001-03; 2005-13). During her years as secretariat, she was in charge of the organizing committee for every regional Tau Lambda-at-Large conference.
 
As a chapter member, Klopper has worked with Leana Ria Uys, DSocSc, RN, RM, one of her mentors, and several other members in developing the Consortium for Higher Education in Nursing and Midwifery in Africa (CHENMA). CHENMA is a collaboration of Southern African universities working with universities in other selected African countries to develop master’s-prepared nurse specialists in various clinical fields of nursing and midwifery. This capacity-building initiative received the Spirit of Philanthropy award from STTI in 2007 and is still mushrooming across Africa, now under the auspices of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
 
Uys, professor and deputy vice-chancellor and head of the College of Health Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal before her retirement in 2012, recalls: 
Hester and I worked together in the Tau Lambda Chapter-at-Large of STTI for many years when I was president and she was secretariat-treasurer. We shared a vision about the importance of the organization for nurses in Africa and set out to grow the organization all over Africa to provide networking and development opportunities to individual nurses. Gradually, we also saw the need for a strong presence in the organization for nurses from especially North Africa, in order to enlarge their professional world.
As the membership of Tau Lambda-at-Large Chapter increased, eventually growing to more than 1,000 inducted members representing 18 universities across Africa, Klopper recognized the chapter’s potential for transforming and improving service delivery to members, as well as fostering greater member involvement. With support from STTI’s board of directors, she spearheaded a pilot program to establish regional offices, opening the first African site in 2012. Chapter membership continued to grow, so Klopper next developed a plan, working with the Tau Lambda-at-Large board, to divide the chapter into four at-large chapters to further expand the honor society’s reach throughout Africa.
 
Navigating a global trail
Soon after Klopper’s induction as a member of STTI, which occurred at the organization’s 37th Biennial Convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she received an invitation from newly inaugurated President Daniel J. Pesut, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, ACC, to serve on STTI’s International Governance Committee. For that honor, Klopper always recognizes Pesut for the opportunity he provided her to become part of the honor society’s work on a larger scale.
 
In 2003, the same year Klopper was inducted as a member of STTI, she was appointed co-director of the World Health Organisation Collaboration Centre (WHOCC) at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, relocating to Canada with her family.
 
In 2005, Klopper returned to African soil to assume an appointment as professor and dean of the School of Nursing Science at North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus. In recognition of her continued service to STTI and her passion to be more involved in the organization, she was elected to the International Governance Committee at the 38th Biennial Convention, which convened in Indianapolis in 2005. Since that time, Klopper’s international career has expanded exponentially. Invited to be a member of Global Forums, she has served as global ambassador for the honor society as well as STTI board liaison. Also, she has been elected to other international boards, including that of the International Network for Doctoral Education in Nursing (INDEN).
 
Marie T. Nolan, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and chair, Department of Acute and Chronic Care, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and president of INDEN, comments: 
Dr. Hester Klopper has been a long-standing member of the International Network for Doctoral Education in Nursing (INDEN) and served on the INDEN board of directors from 2006 to 2010. In this role, she was a highly effective champion of the mission of INDEN: the promotion of quality nursing doctoral education globally. As president-elect of STTI, Professor Klopper has continued to be active in INDEN and has supported the STTI-INDEN Postdoctoral Fellow Program, which has funded career-changing mentorship experiences for nurse-faculty members from universities in low- and middle-income nations by faculty members in countries with well-established nursing doctoral programs. On behalf of the INDEN board and other members of the organization, we are most grateful for the positive impact that Professor Klopper has had on nursing doctoral education globally and, specifically, in South Africa. 
The year 2007 marked one of the most significant highlights of Klopper’s career. At the 39th Biennial Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, Klopper was elected to the STTI board as director-at-large, the first person from Africa to hold that position. Her international work continues to expand. As Leana Uys observes: 
Hester aimed to get to know STTI from the inside, while retaining her “outsider” perspective and bringing her strong background in management and innovation to the work she was doing in committees. She often talked about her admiration for the quality and value of this nursing organization and shared her insights and learning with us in South Africa. But, gradually, she became convinced of the importance of becoming part of the leadership as a nurse leader from Africa, and this led to new learning, much thought, and continued discussion. We walked some of the way with her and enjoyed seeing her grow and thrive in this international environment. Seeing her as president makes her a role model for nurses from all over the world, showing how globalization has opened the world and the global sisterhood of nursing to all of us.
Concurrent with Klopper’s rising influence in the Honor Society of Nursing, her national work, networks, and recognition in South Africa increased. In 2008, she was elected to two two-year terms (2008-10; 2010-12) as chairperson of the Forum of University Nursing Deans in South Africa (FUNDISA), and she steered the organization from that of an information-sharing platform to a decision-making organization with significant policy influence.
 
In 2012, Klopper was appointed dean of the Faculty of Health and Community Science at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa, thus expanding her sphere of influence to include health sciences. The nursing profession and capacity development in nursing continue, however, to define the very core of Klopper’s being. That focus was confirmed in 2013, when she returned to serve, transform, and lead the nursing profession as chief executive officer of FUNDISA. In this role, she drives the agenda for nursing and nursing research in South Africa and has truly become one of the most eminent public figures for the nursing profession in this country and throughout Africa.
 
As CEO of FUNDISA, Klopper works closely with the current chairperson, Mavis Mulaudzi, DLitt et Phil, head of the University of Pretoria Department of Nursing Science, who speaks highly of Klopper’s contribution as a leader: 
A leader of note … , Professor Klopper is known for motivating others to reach their potential. She works with and urges all heads of schools to promote scholarship in their respective departments through encouragement and fostering national and international partnerships. She is a formidable leader who thrives on ensuring that she leaves footprints wherever she treads.
Despite her busy schedule, Klopper continues to contribute to individuals by promoting research-capacity development and investing in young researchers through supervision, mentorship, and teaching. She also contributes personally to research through presentations and publications. Although she has a commendable graduate output, Klopper does not compromise on quality. Instead, she uses her natural leadership ability to push students beyond what they think they are capable of.
 
One of her doctoral graduates, Mustafa M.E. Bodrick, PhD, RN, assistant professor, College of Nursing, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, remarks:  
Professor Klopper was never satisfied with mediocrity, for she always urged me as a PhD candidate to push beyond my self-limiting intellectual boundaries to unleash cognitive creativity. I lacked academic self-confidence on many occasions, but she blatantly ignored my protestations and drove me to grasp higher scientific capacity. She often quoted the NIKE advertisement by saying, “Just do it!” and I did! A trailblazer and pioneering professional on every level.
Thus far, Klopper has supervised more than 40 master’s students and 25 PhD candidates; published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers; received millions in research grants; and presented at more than 100 international conferences. In recognition of these achievements and Klopper’s service to the profession in many other ways, the Nursing Education Association in South Africa awarded her the Nursing Excellence Award for Leadership in Nursing Education, citing “her dedicated and visionary leadership in the profession and her competency, tenacity, passion, and drive to promote the development of nursing education.”
 
In 2011, Klopper was further recognized for her important contributions to nursing research when she was inducted by FUNDISA into the Hall of Fame for Excellence in Nursing Research and inducted as a fellow by the Academy of Nursing of South Africa. Of Klopper’s contributions to the nursing profession, Nelouise Geyer, MCurN, RN, chief executive officer of the Nursing Education Association, observes: 
Professor Klopper’s national contribution to nursing and the nursing profession in South Africa has certainly been her leadership role on a broad front and her role in research-capacity development. Throughout her career, she has initiated and participated in innovative new developments in nursing, education, and research. She continues to role-model leadership through appointed and elected professional leadership positions, academic leadership, and an advocacy role for the profession and education of nurses.
These important accolades notwithstanding, Klopper acknowledges that the greatest honour ever bestowed on her was becoming president-elect of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. When she is inaugurated president of the organization and assumes leadership of the organization’s board of directors at the 41st Biennial Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, she will be the first person outside of North America to be elected president of that esteemed organization.
 
With Klopper’s installation as president of STTI, she will expand the voice of the nursing profession, not only in South Africa and the continent of Africa, but in the world, exemplified by her presidential call to action to serve locally, transform regionally, and lead globally.
 
As two companions who have walked with Hester as she has forged new trails in nursing, we invite you to join us as we respond to her call. We are confident that it will challenge you as it has us, so that the next time you are faced with the choice of following a path or making a trail, you will choose to make a trail and become, like Hester C. Klopper, extraordinary.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
                         —Robert Frost, 1920
 
Siedine Knobloch Coetzee, PhD, RN, is senior lecturer, School of Nursing Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Judith Bruce, PhD, RN, FANSA, is professor and head of the School of Therapeutic Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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