Farewell to Dr. Susan Shunkwiler
HFC allowed Dr. Susan Shunkwiler, the founding Dean of the School of Health and Human Services, to merge her two passions – teaching and nursing – into one.
“I wanted to be a teacher. My father was a teacher, but the profession was cyclical, and sometimes teachers get laid off. He advised me to find something that would be equally fulfilling but more secure. Nursing was my choice. There’s teaching in nursing. I got into the nursing program at HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) and absolutely loved it, all the way through my career,” said Shunkwiler.
For more than 40 years, Shunkwiler has been a nurse. For nearly 20 years, she has been a professor and administrator at HFC. On Dec. 31, Shunkwiler will retire from the College and will leave behind a legacy of greatness.
"Susan is leaving a lasting impact on this College and its students in her retirement. She got a great start herself, as I did, coming up through HFC as students years ago. Giving back to this College and community is a joy, and something that Susan has done beautifully in her many years and roles at HFC,” said HFC Chairperson of Communication and Media/WHFR General Manager Susan McGraw – Shunkwiler’s fellow HFC alumna and "fellow Susan."
Shunkwiler's decision was prompted by a loss in her family earlier this year, making her re-evaluate her priorities.
“It gave me pause,” she said. “My husband retired a while ago, and that influenced me too. So I just decided it was time. Two of our children are getting married next year, so I have two weddings to plan. I want to travel. Also, our new grandbaby will be born in early 2022.”
A family tradition
A lifelong Dearborn resident, Shunkwiler is the youngest of four (her twin brother is eight minutes older) and the only woman. She is married to Chuck, her husband of 38 years. They have four children: David, Sean, Kasey, and Christopher. Her husband and eldest child David are also nurses who earned their associate degrees in nursing from HFC. David teaches nursing at HFC in addition to working at Henry Ford Hospital (HFH) in Detroit.
All of Shunkwiler’s sons attended HFC. Sean is also an HFC alumnus, and Christopher has taken architecture classes at HFC. Her daughter Kasey attended Grand Valley State University.
“I couldn’t talk Kasey into attending HFC after she found out she had been awarded a scholarship from GVSU,” she said.
Shunkwiler is proud of all her children. It was a proud moment for Shunkwiler to place a nursing pin on David’s robe at the 2009 commencement ceremony. To make this occasion all the more special, it was the same nursing pin she wore when she graduated from HFC in 1980.
“It was a full circle moment for me. I remember getting a little choked up,” she recalled.
Sean also graduated from HFC in 2009, earning his associate degree in business administration. Shunkwiler handed him his diploma as he walked across the stage.
“It was so great to be able to do that,” she said. “It was a very proud day for my family and for me.”
HFC provided a great career path for Shunkwiler
Shunkwiler’s association with HFC began upon graduation from Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn.
“My parents didn’t have the financial means to send me to another college. My brothers attended college on athletic scholarships. I wasn’t very athletic,” she said.
Her mentor was the late Vivian Foster, who taught nursing at HFC for more than 20 years until her retirement in 1992.
After earning her associate degree in nursing, Shunkwiler transferred to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing. From there, she earned her master’s degree in nursing/midwifery from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She went on to earn her doctorate in nursing practice from Madonna University in Livonia.
“The College provided me with the opportunity to get my degree and also provided a great path for me to get where I am today,” said Shunkwiler.
“The opportunity of a lifetime”
Shunkwiler was the first nurse to be credentialed as a Certified Nurse Midwife by Oakwood Health System’s medical staff. She opened the first nurse midwife practice at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn (now called Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn), where she worked for 26 years.
“I’ve worked in the delivery room. I’ve worked in midwifery,” said Shunkwiler. “There are so many different career paths you can take in nursing.”
In 2004, Shunkwiler returned to HFC, on the other side of the classroom.
“I just thought it was the best opportunity for me. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, really. When I applied, I had no teaching experience but plenty of clinical experience,” she recalled. “At the time, I was in the Upper Peninsula with my family on vacation. They needed to interview me immediately, so I cut my vacation short. My son David (quarterback for the Dearborn High School football team) and I drove back together.”
A two-time recipient of the HFC Women’s Recognition Award, Shunkwiler was in the classroom for nearly 10 years before becoming associate dean in 2013. In 2017, she was appointed the founding dean of the HHS, reporting to HFC Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Michael Nealon.
“It was very exciting. When I think about my beginnings, I remember being in nursing school – I never would’ve dreamed in a million years that I’d become a dean!” she said. “It was exciting, humbling, and an honor. I adore the people I work with. Dr. Nealon is an outstanding leader and boss who makes your job enjoyable everyday.”
“I will be forever grateful for the vision and leadership that Dr. Susan Shunkwiler brought to her role as the inaugural dean of HHS,” said Nealon. “With equal amounts of courage, boldness, imagination, passion, and understanding, Susan helped lead the programs and people of HHS to the exciting tomorrow that now stretches out before them. She has led through her own example and service to others, always with a commitment to furthering student success and excellence in education.”
Making a difference, achieving many milestones
Under Shunkwiler’s leadership, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam pass rate jumped from 68 percent to 93 percent, far exceeding the national average. This and 13 program accreditations are among Shunkwiler’s proudest accomplishments at HFC.
“I really wanted to make a difference, so I went into administration,” she said. “We implemented a new nursing curriculum, and our pass rates went up significantly!”
“Susan could not have set a higher or better example of what it means to be a caring, visionary, dedicated leader whose first commitment is to the people she serves,” said HFC President Russell Kavalhuna.
HFC Assistant Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations Shai James Boyd, who co-chaired the Michigan Chapter of the American Council on Education Women’s Network (MI-ACE) with Shunkwiler, agreed.
“Susan is everyone's biggest cheerleader,” she said. “I am grateful to have served with her as co-chair of the HFC Women's Network.”
Other notable accomplishments during Shunkwiler’s time as dean include establishing the Surgical Technology Operating Room and the Respiratory Laboratory. She also led the way for HFC to establish the first Lactation Consultant Program in partnership with Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit. When it was founded in 2019, this program was one of only nine in the world, as well as the only accredited program in the state of Michigan.
“I’m a very excited for my mom to start the next chapter in her life. She’s such a hard worker and has poured her heart and soul into HFC. She’s much deserving of some rest and relaxation, even though knowing her as I do, she’ll stay just as busy in retirement as she has in her career! My dad better watch out!” said David Shunkwiler.
The heart of a teacher
Don't be surprised if she returns to HFC to teach a nursing class.
“I would love to teach. Teaching is what I love to do,” she said. “Teaching is my heart and soul. I love the students. I’ll miss the students.”
“Teaching has always been a strong passion for Susan, and our students will certainly be lucky to have her as an instructor and advocate,” said Kavalhuna. “Anyone who knows Susan can tell you about her kindness, compassion, and genuine care for her students and her teammates. She shows her passion for her work at every meeting and every interaction. She has helped us immeasurably in our response to the COVID pandemic, has volunteered countless hours making our procedures better, and reached out to external colleagues in her wide network of experts.”
Shunkwiler’s retirement is bittersweet for Kavalhuna. He is happy for Shunkwiler, but he will missing having her as a colleague.
“We will miss you, Susan,” he said. “You have made HFC a better place, and we are grateful.”
While she is looking forward to spending more time with her family, Shunkwiler will miss her HFC teammates. As she retires, she knows that the nursing program, HHS (Dr. Cynthia Scheuer will serve as the interim dean), and HFC as a whole are in good hands.
“It was a tough decision to leave, but it’s the right decision,” she said. “HHS is in a good place. As long as we have excellent programs and continue that trend, we can’t go wrong.”