Values at work: Jesuit and Mercy Traditions Inspire Dean’s Lifelong Work

By Amelia Skimin, Communications Specialist, University of Detroit Mercy

 Christine Pacini speaking at the University of Detroit Mercy's annual Spirit Awards ceremony (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy)

Christine Pacini speaking at the University of Detroit Mercy's annual Spirit Awards ceremony (Photo by University of Detroit Mercy)

If you ask Christine Pacini, the heart of her successes in life is her Catholic education.

"I have been grounded in the Jesuit and Mercy traditions," she says. "I'm profoundly grateful for how I've been educated."

After attending Catholic schools in her formative years, the Jesuit education offered by the University of Detroit (now the University of Detroit Mercy, after a merger with Mercy College of Detroit) seemed like a natural fit when it came time to select a college.

"U of D was a school that really allowed working class people to send their kids for a values-based education that they could afford," she explains.

When she enrolled in Fall 1967, she had no idea what role the University would come to play in her life, or that she would spend roughly 25 years of her career there, eventually becoming dean of the College of Health Professions and McAuley School of Nursing. In fact, she didn’t know her career would involve nursing at all.

At the time, she wanted to become a teacher. With that goal in mind, she majored in history, minored in political science and earned a secondary teaching certificate, all in just three and a half years, while enjoying the robust, vibrant campus life available to students at the time – even commuters like her.

But Pacini's plans began to shift when she was unable to find a teaching job. “My dad told me to go into nursing,” she recalls. “He said, ‘go into nursing, you’ll find a job.’“

Nursing jobs may have been plentiful at the time, but finding a program that would accept her with a Bachelor’s degree proved difficult. “Truly, the only program that would have a conversation with me was Mercy College of Detroit,” she says.

Thanks in large part to the school’s program director, Noreen O’Neil, Pacini was accepted into a cohort of eight students, each of whom already had degrees or were transferring to the program. She then began an accelerated track to a nursing degree.

But it wasn’t the typical route, and there were some bumps in the road. During one semester, Pacini took classes at four different schools to get the science credits that she needed. But it worked, and after three years, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her first job was at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital (now part of the Detroit Medical Center), and she loved it.

It wasn’t just that job that she loved, though. It was the field. “I love nursing,” she explains. “There’s not a job I’ve had in nursing that I haven’t enjoyed.”

That passion inspired her to teach others who wanted to enter the profession. After earning her Master’s degree, she joined the faculty at Mercy College. She was there for nearly a decade before she was recruited to a nursing executive position at a Detroit-area hospital. But after a few years, she felt called back to teaching, completed her Ph.D., and returned to the classroom, this time at the University of Detroit Mercy, formed when her two undergraduate alma maters incorporated, becoming one institution in 1990. She returned just as she was finishing her doctorate.

She served in numerous roles – faculty member, assistant dean, associate dean – but was recruited away again, in 2003, this time to a clinical practice executive position at Indiana University Health System, where she had the opportunity to work with her professional heroes. From there, she went to the University of Michigan Health System, then later to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, but was drawn back to Michigan seven years later, back to the University – and the values – that felt like home.

“I enjoy the freedom to be obvious and transparent about the values we reflect,” she says. “We can get energized over social justice and things that matter.”

Her final return was in the role of dean, which she took on in February 2010. The school was in a state of transition, and Pacini was the fourth dean in just two years. When she arrived, she brought some much-needed stability and predictability. She explains, “I’ve always said I’m not the best dean in the cadre of deans, but I think I was the right dean for this organization at the time."

Under Pacini's tenure, the school’s infrastructure was reorganized and strengthened. The renowned Physician Assistant (PA) program was approved to double in size. The College’s building underwent a major expansion to accommodate the increase in students and all of the programs became fully accredited, or, in the case of several new programs, began the process to achieve accreditation. Many are now nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report, including the Physician's Assistant program (#81), Nurse Anesthesia (#10), Master of Science in Nursing (#136) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (#139).

There are other, less tangible accomplishments, too, like the energy of the faculty, many of whom she brought on board.

But all good things must come to an end, and so in October, Pacini stepped down from her position. She will stay on in a consultant role through the end of the fall semester to help the new dean, Neal Rosenburg, get acclimated, before taking a sabbatical to travel and write. And when the new school year rolls around, she will return once again to one of her first loves: teaching.