Alumni Awards

Alma Gault Alumni Award for Public Service: Carrie Plummer, PhD, MSN’05

Carrie PlummerAt Vanderbilt, Carrie is known for encouraging and providing opportunities for her students to volunteer for constructive community work, using their skills to help those in need. Nowhere has this been more apparent than during the recent pandemic. Carrie worked with the Tennessee Department of Health to organize and run Nashville’s first COVID-19 mass vaccination event in March 2021. Her work to recruit and organize a very large group of volunteers from Vanderbilt resulted in over 10,000 people being vaccinated in one day.

Carrie has since coordinated over 100 mobile vaccine events (so far), devoting countless evening and weekend hours to this endeavor. The Vanderbilt Mobile Vaccine Program, led by Carrie and instructor Christian Ketel and staffed by School of Nursing and Medical Center volunteers, has grown to be a major player in vaccine distribution in Tennessee. Working through schools, clinics, substance abuse recovery programs, low-income housing organizations and other nonprofits, Carrie and her volunteers have immunized almost 4,000 Middle Tennesseans and provided the vaccine to underrepresented populations for whom access has been a challenge.

Alumni Award for Clinical Achievement in Nursing: Krista Koleas, MSN’03 (posthumous)

Krista KoleasAs a certified dermatological nurse practitioner, Krista helped to manage the expansion of physicians, nurses and auxiliary staff at Nashville Skin, where she took on her own patient caseload and the role of clinic manager. Simultaneously, she volunteered at Siloam Family Health for 20 years, first as a nurse and then as liaison between it and Nashville Skin, to provide more extensive care to underserved populations in Middle Tennessee.

Nashville Skin founder Brent Pennington said, “Krista had many achievements in her clinical work, showing up always with enthusiasm and positive energy that is hard to describe. It was contagious and she inspired everyone to be the best version of themselves. It's impossible to measure how many lives she impacted for the good.” Morgan Wills, medical director of Siloam Family Health, added, “While Krista never drew a paycheck, she poured her heart and soul into this place that cares for ‘new neighbors’ from many nations.”

During the nomination period for the 2021 VUSN awards, Krista passed away. Nominator Carol Etherington said of her, “It was stunning to realize this very brave and beautiful young woman would face her own death at the age of 45. People close to her have commented that through the months of her illness, ‘she has taught me how to live my life differently and better, and she has taught me how to die.’ What else can be said about clinical achievement, life achievement and the joy of achieving all that as a nurse?”

Catherine Hanley Class of 1912 Rising Star Alumni Award: Rishi Mistry, MSN’15

Rishi MistryRishi’s career since graduation has been one of many firsts. He is the first and only nonphysician medical director at Yakima Pediatrics, paving the way for other nonphysicians to take leadership roles within the parent organization, Community Health of Central Washington. When he was appointed as clinical site director, he was the youngest practitioner at his clinic. And he is the first and only nurse practitioner to serve as a trustee on the board of the Washington State Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a physician-led organization, creating a friendly space for other nonphysician providers to join.

Within his clinic, Rishi developed a comprehensive asthma program to help reduce emergency and inpatient admissions, and he created procedures for screening for adverse childhood experiences, maternal depression, developmental delays and harmful social determinants of health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he developed the organization’s telemedicine program and curbside visit protocols. Community Health of Central Washington has adopted many of Rishi’s innovations throughout the organization.

Rishi was named best pediatrician in his community in 2019 and runner up in 2021.

The Colleen Conway-Welch Alumni Award for National Leadership: Terrah Foster Akard, PhD’08, MSN’01

Terrah Foster AkardTerrah’s research provides evidence-based strategies that enhance the lives and decrease the suffering of infants, children and teenagers facing advanced cancer, and their families. Her work has been cited over 1,000 times, establishing that legacy interventions are possible and can improve the quality of parent-child communication and care. 

Children with advanced cancer from lower-income families are at greater risk for poorer quality of life, according to Terrah’s research, and parent-child communication problems worsen over time following a child’s initial cancer diagnosis. Her team is examining the efficacy of digital storytelling intervention for children with life-threatening conditions living in rural areas. Terrah’s research provides invaluable insight into the need for such interventions for rural families who have limited resources for home-based, end-of-life and palliative care.

Terrah has partnered music therapists with families to write song lyrics about their child, which are then recorded on DVD. She is the first investigator to use Facebook to reach out to children with advanced cancer and their parents, resulting in a 400% increase in enrollment in randomized clinical trials. Her expertise caught the attention of multiple researchers during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing their own studies to continue using her remote recruitment strategies.

The lives of children with advanced cancer and those of their families are forever changed by Terrah’s leadership in pediatric palliative care research.

Friend of Nursing Award: Lauren Beach, JD, PhD

Lauren BeachLauren is a research assistant professor in the Departments of Medical Social Sciences and Preventive Medicine, and the interim director of the Evaluation Data Integration and Technical Assistance Program (EDIT) at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, all at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Her many publications, presentations and research projects reflect her expertise in LGBTQIA+ health, legal and ethical considerations, epidemiology, and the delivery of culturally competent care.

For the past six years, Lauren has provided lectures for VUSN students on issues relating to LGBTQIA+ health research and advocacy. Faculty at Vanderbilt remark that her presentations are well-received, and that she understands and speaks to the role that nursing and advanced practice nursing play in public health. Her lecture topics include “Legal and Ethical Considerations in the Provision of LGBT Health,” “LGBTI Health and Interprofessional Practice,” and “Intro to LGBTQI Identities,” some of which are available to graduate students across Vanderbilt University.

The School of Nursing has greatly benefitted from, and is grateful for, Lauren’s expertise and advocacy.

Honorary Alumna: Paddy Peerman, MS, RN

Paddy PeermanPaddy has been a stalwart member of the VUSN family for decades, starting in 1982 when she was hired as an instructor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. She was appointed by Dean Colleen Conway-Welch to usher students and alumni through the politically and emotionally sensitive time when the school discontinued its BSN program. Paddy held various administrative roles over the years, most of which utilized her talent around delicate and challenging issues. As head of admissions, she saw master’s student enrollment grow from 38 students to almost 500 each year. She became known for running a tight ship, ensuring her staff used their time wisely to attract the best and brightest nursing students to Vanderbilt.

In addition to her leadership regarding the admissions office, Paddy served as faculty adviser to the VUSN Honor Council from 1985 until mid-2021. She retired this past summer after 39 years of loyal service to the School of Nursing.

Paddy has received many accolades, including the VUSN Leading Forward Award for showing “personal initiative and politically astute collaboration that proves consistently effective in such a way to establish a new standard, or pathway to higher achievement for the institution.”

The Linda Norman Alumni Award for Innovation in Health Care: Alane O’Connor, DNP’10

Alane O'ConnorAlane’s interest is in the care of pregnant women with substance use disorders. As the first director of perinatal addiction treatment at Maine Medical Center in Portland, she leads the medical center’s growing access to substance use treatment through a variety of clinical programs. Alane has developed an inpatient consulting service, linking patients with appropriate treatment through advanced practice nurses and resident physicians who are not addictions specialists but whom she has trained.

Alane has published numerous national and international peer-reviewed articles on infant outcomes following exposure to buprenorphine during pregnancy. She is the medical adviser to the Maine Maternal Opioid Misuse (MaineMOM) Initiative, and was appointed by the governor to co-chair the Maine Opioid Response Clinical Advisory Committee. In addition, she maintains a part-time practice in addiction care at the Kennebec Behavioral Health’s Opioid Health Home in rural Skowhegan, Maine.

Alane is a leader in clinical practice, program development, the education of new clinicians, and addressing statewide policy issues that make all the difference for those with substance use disorders. 

Lulu Wolf Hassenplug Alumni Award for Distinguished Career in Nursing: Susan Germann Yackzan, PhD, BSN’86

Susan Germann Yackzan Associate vice president and nurse scientist for the Baptist Health System in Kentucky, Susan collaborates with others to research and publish a vast number of articles related to oncology nursing.. She is the primary author of 26 published articles, two book chapters, and many local, regional and national presentations. For nurses and other practitioners, she designed and published “pocket guides” on injectable chemotherapeutic agents.

Since 2019, Susan has been the associate editor of the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, and is a reviewer of abstracts for the Mid-Career Scientist Award. She has served as clinical and volunteer faculty at both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. In her previous position as director for Baptist Health Lexington Hospital, she received funding for four major projects, managed fourteen unfunded research projects, and mentored other nurse colleagues, for which she received the Celebration of Care Award from the Baptist Health Lexington Foundation.

Susan earned her PhD from the University of Kentucky and holds certifications in oncology and advanced oncology. This year, she was elected as chairperson of the National Oncology Nursing Society.

The Thomas L. Christenbery Alumni Award for Diversity and Inclusion: Tom Christenbery, PhD’04, MSN’87 (posthumous)

Tom ChristenberyTom was widely and deeply known for his enthusiastic and deliberate support of all students, alumni, faculty and staff at VUSN, celebrating individuals and groups regardless of – and because of – their race, gender and other demographics. He was especially interested in ensuring that underrepresented segments of the population were recognized and encouraged.

Tom's work led directly to VUSN being recognized as a “Best School for Men in Nursing” from the American Association of Men in Nursing, and he founded the Middle Tennessee/Vanderbilt chapter of AAMN. He helped establish VUSNPride and served as faculty adviser, and was an outspoken member of VUSN’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force.

Tom was very well-known among generations for students and alumni. VUSN Assistant Dean Mary Ann Jessee said, “I truly believe that there are those individuals that so deeply influence and emulate the culture of an organization, that when they exit, the organization is forever changed. Tom is one of those few, valuable individuals.”