Thelma Cleveland

Thelma Cleveland, PhD, RN

Thelma Cleve­land, PhD, RN, is a visionary who helped ensure that nursing educa­tion in Washington State met the needs of our popula­tion and the needs of thousands of students. During her tenure as dean of the nursing school at Washington State Univer­sity, she led the way in expanding access to nursing educa­tion through satel­lite branches across the state, and even across the Pacific to the Univer­sity of Guam.

Thelma’s early nursing career hinted at the legacy she would leave in nursing educa­tion. Shortly after receiving her bachelor’s in nursing from the Univer­sity of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, she began teaching at Presby­terian Hospital School of Nursing. After receiving her Masters degree in Nursing from the Univer­sity of Washington in 1958 and then spending some time working and teaching in Florida, she came back to the UW, working at the Univer­sity Hospital and also serving as a clinical instructor and clinical assis­tant professor.

When Thelma went to the Inter­col­le­giate College of Nursing (now Washington State Univer­sity College of Nursing) in 1970, as Assis­tant Professor and Curriculum Coordi­nator, classes were being taught in the Carnegie Library in downtown Spokane — a humble begin­ning for the first consor­tium nursing school in the United States. During her more than 20-years at the college, Thelma served in a variety of leader­ship roles, becoming Dean in 1982.

Shortly there­after, WSU began a Masters program in nursing to prepare nurse practi­tioners, nurse educa­tors and nurse special­ists. By 1990, WSU had advanced its techno­log­ical capabil­i­ties and began offering courses through a two-way televi­sion network where classes could be viewed by the college’s nursing branch sites outside of Spokane. These early on-line capabil­i­ties allowed ICNE to develop the state’s first RN-BSN program in Spokane, Vancouver, and the Tri-Cities, creating an impor­tant option for regis­tered nurses to continue their educa­tion while balancing their work and family oblig­a­tions. Under her visionary leader­ship, Thelma began the School’s journey to create a PhD in Nursing program, which was launched in 2007.

At her retire­ment in 1997, the college had grown to become one of the leading nursing educa­tion insti­tu­tions in the country, with programs in five cities across Washington State. She was the longest serving Dean of the Inter­col­le­giate College of Nursing (I.C.N.), encom­passing the College of Nursing at Eastern Washington Univer­sity, Gonzaga Univer­sity, Washington State Univer­sity and Whitworth College and prior to 1981, Fort Wright College of the Holy Names.

In her honor, the Cleve­land Visiting Scholar Program was dedicated on January 9, 1997. The endowed program was made possible by gifts from the college’s long-standing commu­nity partners and friends, in honor of Dr. Cleve­land’s many years of dedicated service to the college, the commu­nity, and the nursing profes­sion. With the Cleve­land Visiting Scholar Program, Thelma’s legacy continues to contribute to the college and the future gener­a­tions who will benefit from its mission.

Thelma’s advocacy for nurses and nursing educa­tion has been stead­fast, with her volun­teer work contin­uing well past her retire­ment. A WSNA member for over 50 years now, Thelma has been involved in numerous policy and planning commit­tees and served several years on the WSNA Board of Direc­tors. She was also active on numerous state commis­sions, councils and boards that have helped shape nursing educa­tion in our state by enhancing coordi­na­tion between schools, increasing distance educa­tion, and consulting on curriculum devel­op­ment for numerous schools. As a longstanding member of the Advisory Committee of Colleagues in Caring: Regional Collab­o­ra­tives for Nursing Work Force Devel­op­ment, Thelma guided efforts to stream­line the nursing educa­tion system and increase the capacity and attrac­tive­ness of the nursing profes­sion. Her leader­ship has made our educa­tional insti­tu­tions better and helped open the doors of nursing educa­tion to more students. That legacy has left us with more well-prepared nurses working today and a future where our nursing educa­tion will continue to thrive and evolve to meet the needs of future students and our population.