Adejoke Ayoola: Illustrious Nurse Administrator, Educator and Advocate

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Adejoke Ayoola - Dean of School of Health - Calvin University | LinkedIn
Adejoke Ayoola – Dean of School of Health – Calvin University

Shortly after receiving a landmark donation of 15 million dollars from an anonymous alumnus towards the establishment of its School of Health in 2021, the management of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, set in motion the processes that would bring the vision to reality. Paramount among the considerations was the need to “search for a dean with vision, passion, experience, and expertise to lead the school.”

That search was significant for two reasons. One, Calvin University, which had been in existence for 145 years, had built a reputation for itself as a first-rate liberal arts institution, with students from 47 US states, 49 countries, and four Canadian provinces. Two, it was the first time in its history that the institution would have a School of Health and the management understand the multifaceted implications of getting it right from the beginning.

As the search intensified for a capable administrator, one name that stood out among the list of “high calibre candidates” reviewed by the search committee (which included Provost Noah Toly and others in the upper echelons of the school’s management) was that of Prof. Adejoke Bolanle Ayoola. According to Prof. Toly, “Prof. Ayoola not only met but also clearly excelled in the critical leadership requirements established by the committee.” Accordingly, she was named the founding dean of the School of Health, with effect from 1 July 2022.

Indeed, the choice of Ayoola could not have been easier for the search committee.  Aside from being renowned throughout Michigan for her life-changing public health initiatives, she had also established herself as one of the top-ranking nursing professors and administrators in the US and the world at large.

Just a year before her historic appointment as dean, she had emerged as one of three nursing professors in the state of Michigan and among just 230 distinguished nurse leaders around the world to be inducted as Fellows by the American Academy of Nursing (AAN). According to the AAN, the recognition was for her extraordinary contributions towards improving healthcare around the world. “Induction into the Academy is a significant milestone in a nurse leader’s career in which their accomplishments are honoured by their colleagues within the profession,” it said.

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Made for impact

Interestingly, despite the novelty of the School of Health initiative for Calvin University and her high-stakes position as the founding dean, Ayoola was neither daunted nor fazed by her appointment. Rather, she expressed the readiness of one who had prepared and waited all her life for such a grand opportunity. According to her, “I love creatively designing new programmes in collaboration with people and in response to identified needs. The idea of serving as a founding dean of the School of Health is exciting because it will provide me with opportunities to work with stakeholders to shape the School of Health’s programmes.”

Ayoola’s infectious confidence sprang from five factors – her unparalleled passion as a healthcare practitioner; her transformational vision as a consummate educator and administrator; her depth of knowledge and expertise as a prolific researcher; her records of success in launching and executing health programmes that continue to improve the quality of lives of women and girls; as well as her unwavering faith in God.

Records from Calvin University show that from the time she joined the institution’s nursing department in 2007, Ayoola has demonstrated uncommon commitment towards improving the reproductive health of women. “Reproductive health problems are not just problems for developing nations, they are right here in Grand Rapids,” she once said.

Subsequently, in 2008, she helped to start a discussion on women’s health between Calvin’s nursing department and women in three Grand Rapids neighbourhoods (Baxter/Madison, Creston/Belknap, and Burton Heights). She started by asking the women what they believed they were in need of and how Calvin could help partner to meet those needs.

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One of the concerns raised by the women was unintended pregnancy. In response, in 2012, Ayoola created the popular Preconception Reproductive Knowledge Promotion programme (PREKNOP). Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the initiative allowed Calvin nursing students, under the supervision of Calvin faculty and staff, to teach women about the many aspects of reproductive health.

Following the success of PREKNOP, women in Grand Rapids desired for their daughters to be taught the same things. This led Ayoola to, in 2016, establish the annual HEALTH Camp (Health, Education, and Leadership Training for a Hopeful Future), an interdisciplinary camp with the goal of promoting a culture of health among young girls. According to Calvin University, “Ayoola has made a big investment in Grand Rapids neighbourhoods, working alongside her colleagues and students to equip and empower women to make better choices for their own health and the health of their families. And she’s also placed a premium on investing in her students, which has yielded great returns.”

Beyond Grand Rapids and Michigan, Ayoola has also been helping communities across the United States and the world to design PREKNOP and HEALTH camp programmes that are relevant to their cultural contexts. Moreover, in recognition of her expertise in maternal health research and innovative designs of community-based interventions, she has started collaborative projects in African countries, including in her home country of Nigeria.

Background to success

Ayoola’s passion for healthcare and women’s health, in particular, started from her early years in Nigeria.  “I’ve seen a lot of women go through tough times,” she said, as she reflected on growing up in Nigeria. “And I think of Christ, He’s come to give us life, so what can I do myself being a woman, and what can we do to improve women’s health? Those are questions that got everything started for me.”

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These questions inspired Ayoola to study Nursing at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, graduating in 1991. Thereafter, she served as nurse tutor (graduate assistant) Department of Nursing, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (1994 -1998). Obtaining her master’s degree in Nursing from same OAU, Ile-Ife, in 1998, Ayoola proceeded to serve as programme officer, Women Health Promotion Project, Ile-Ife (1998 –1999); programme officer, Action Health Incorporation, Lagos (1999 –2000); senior nurse tutor, Post-Basic Nursing School, National Ear Care Centre, Lagos (2000 – 2003).

After earning her PhD at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, in 2007, Ayoola served as assistant professor, Department of Nursing, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; associate professor, Department of Nursing, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, before being made a full professor in August 2020.

Awards and recognitions

Ayoola has earned several awards and recognitions for her numerous accomplishments as health practitioner, educator and administrator. Aside from being inducted into the 2020 Class of Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing, she also won the Excellence in Nursing Research Award, by the Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Society (Kappa Epsilon Chapter) in 2009;   the Distinguished Alumni Award, by Obafemi Awolowo University College of Health Sciences, Ife-Ife, Osun State, in 2012;  the New Investigator Award, by the Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS) Women’s Health & Transitions in Childbearing Research Sections, in 2013; the Faculty Lectureship Award, by Calvin College, 2013 Academic Year; the Nurse Faculty Scholar Award, by Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, 2012-2015; the Carnegie Foundation African Diaspora Fellowship, in 2017; and the Mid-Career Investigator Award, by the Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS), in 2019.

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