Before Mary Koithan was a nurse, an academic or a college dean, she was a kid in Cincinnati whose mother never learned to drive, who walked to church with her family on Sundays and who didn’t eat in a restaurant until she was 18.

“A guy took me out for dinner and they handed me a menu and I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls, laughing.

Dean Koithan, who joined the Washington State University College of Nursing on July 1, said those experiences were formative. But “what really made me who I am” was her insistence on applying to Cincinnati’s renowned public college-prep high school, Walnut Hills.

“Walnut Hills was a huge melting pot of Cincinnati and I was exposed to lots of people and ideas,” said Koithan recently. “They taught me to think critically, and to not accept the status quo.”

Those lessons have informed her work in health care. While at the University of Arizona, where she was associate dean for student and community engagement, she launched the Arizona Nursing Inclusive Excellence program to admit a more diverse group of students and provide them intensive academic support and mentoring to ensure their success.

She has long had an interest in integrative nursing, which focuses on how mind, body and spirit contribute to health and wellbeing.

And she values the scholarship of teaching and clinical practice in addition to the scholarship of research.

“There’s certainly a scholarship to innovative teaching and learning, and creating environments where students thrive,” Koithan said. “Examining the impact of these changes has incredible value to universities as we rise to meet the challenges of our current environment and a new generation of learners.”

She was drawn to WSU by its land-grant mission and by the College of Nursing’s long history of working with underserved and rural populations.

Plus, she said, “I was looking for a community of scholars who were nice.” She found that in her visits to Washington, where she interviewed at College of Nursing sites around the state.

“Somebody asked me a long time ago, ‘What are you looking for in a position?’” Koithan said. “I said I want a faculty I can have fun with. I want a relationship with the faculty and with communities. I want relationships with healthcare organizations so that we can work toward common goals.”

She joined the College of Nursing in an historically difficult time, with most faculty and staff working from home, all classroom instruction being held virtually with just a few skills labs and simulations held on-site, a society that is questioning values and priorities, and an austere financial future ahead.

Still, “you can look at this as an opportunity or a tragedy,” Koithan said.

So, she’ll start here, she said: “Students from all backgrounds need to feel welcome here. Their voices need to be heard throughout our organization and eventually throughout the profession itself. Students need representation on all college committees because we should be listening to and valuing the people we serve.”

The college has outlined a process toward increasing diversity in nursing education and will engage in a year of faculty and staff education to ensure that inclusive excellence becomes “not only our goal, but the way we live.”

She’ll connect with community stakeholders across the state, virtually. And she wants to follow the faculty’s vision to create the future together.

“I don’t want the college to be what other people tell us to be.” Koithan said. “I want our faculty and students to create our footprint and the vision we want.”