Graduate student Barbara Siwula ’14 was scrolling through Mennonite College of Nursing faculty looking for someone to join her thesis committee when she landed on Janet Krejci, then interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Although Siwula didn’t know what a provost was, she was impressed with the former Mennonite dean’s experience in nursing leadership, Siwula’s topic. She sent her an email, waiting for a polite decline. But Krejci quickly accepted.
“I was thrilled to be asked,” she said. “Being in administration you don’t get enough opportunities to mentor students. Student contact is what energizes me. Working with a graduate student on research in an area I love is just a treat.”
In Krejci’s corner office in Hovey Hall, she turned to look out her window of campus. “I look at the students—that’s the joy of this, that’s why we’re all here.”
When Siwula told School of Communication Instructor Tom Lamonica, M.S.E. ’88, the provost would be serving on her committee, he asked if she knew what that meant.
She does now.
Krejci came to Illinois State University in 2009 after serving as associate dean and coordinator of graduate leadership programs at Marquette University in Milwaukee. As a Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Executive Fellow, Krejci participated in Leadership America, the preeminent national women’s development program. She has numerous publications and funded research grants in the areas of leadership, recruitment and retention, work climate, and workforce diversity in health care settings. In 2015 the interim tag was dropped from Krejci’s provost and vice president title, making her Illinois State’s chief academic administrator.
Krejci helped Siwula narrow her topic from a broad analysis of nursing leadership skills and how to enhance them to “Analyzing the Leadership Skills of Nurses Through Mentoring Relationships.”
“It’s not uncommon for graduate students to get so excited about answering the questions, that they want to answer all the questions in the world,” Krejci said, smiling. “Part of this journey is to get good at the methods, in addition to answering the questions.”
Siwula is set to graduate with her master’s in communication in May and plans on working in the business side of health care. Rounding out her committee are School of Communication faculty Daniel Cochece Davis and Lance Lippert.
“I couldn’t do the research without any of the three of them,” Siwula said.
Over the past year, the provost has reviewed drafts, answered questions, and linked Siwula with critical contacts in the health care world.
“Knowing Janet has really opened doors for me,” Siwula said.
The provost views students as future colleagues and also mentors a university scholar each year. She also sees that individualized attention given freely by other faculty.
“One of the things that impresses me every single day here is that there is not that hierarchy with students and faculty. We’re here to learn from each other, and I see that everywhere I go on campus. What energizes me is to see the passion faculty have for student success. It’s palpable.”
Having a mentor makes all the difference in whether a nurse will move into a leadership role, she said. “It’s always about stepping up, paying it forward, doing something for others. I could run down 15 people who opened doors for me and I didn’t even ask. When someone steps up and says, ‘I see something in you,’ you listen. That’s why I love this topic.”
Siwula’s research will be influential, her mentor told her.
“It will go on and influence other leaders of nursing. It will be published. It will be part of the conversation. You don’t know how many people that will affect. You may never know.”
Kate Arthur can be reached at kaarthu@IllinoisState.edu.