Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Barbara French
Director of Nursing Education, Barbara French, is a smiling presence in her cozy office on a stormy day. With “way too many college degrees” to her credit, it is hard to believe that French is something of a modern miracle. Born with polio, weighing only two pounds, she was not expected to live. If she survived, her mother was told she would be blind, retarded, and unable to walk. She obviously did survive, without most of the dire consequences predicted for her, although she had to endure multiple surgeries on one leg, and wore a leg brace until high school. Nevertheless, French, who started her nursing career in a 1972 high school LVN program, earned an Associate of Science degree in nursing from Modesto Junior College in 1984, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health Psychology from CSU Stanislaus in 1991, a Masters of Counseling Psychology from CSU Stanislaus in 1993, a PhD in psychology from Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco in 1999, and a Masters degree as a nurse practitioner from Sonoma State University in 2007. “I am finally finished with school,” she laughs.
Although she struggled in elementary school, French credits her sixth grade teacher, Lois Guest, for “encouraging me to succeed, so I could make a difference.” After that, she says, “I always knew I wanted to teach.” Her first teaching job, while she was a student at CSU Stanislaus, was teaching a Human Sexuality course to a class of 200 students! “I used a lot of humor in that class,” says French, with a grin.
She was working as a clinical psychologist in Fresno, when a co-worker told French that Mendocino College (MC) was looking for a director of nursing. She started at MC in the Fall semester of 2003, and the first nursing students were admitted to the LVN to RN Bridge Program the following Spring. In 2006, MC started a full 2 year Registered Nurse program, with Bridge students coming in during the 3rd semester. “I am so glad I ended up here,” she enthuses. “I feel fortunate coming to work every day to a job I love!”
French says the best part of her job is “seeing how much students grow from that first day on campus, until they walk across the stage at graduation two years later.” She says she appreciates teaching at a small college where she knows all the nursing students personally, and feels she makes a difference. French tries to give her students a genuine love of nursing, letting them know what it means to be a nurse, rather than just teaching them how to do it.
The most challenging part of her job, “by far,” she says, is saying no to so many students who really want to be in the nursing program. “We have 130 applications right now,” she notes, “for 18 places in the Fall 2011 class.” Six additional students will be admitted through the Bridge Program in the Spring 2012 semester, to complete the 24 spaces in the class.
Regarding changes she has seen since 2003, French quips, “The students look much younger than they used to!” She points out that the stakes are high for nursing students in this economy, since they are virtually assured of a good paying job when they finish, so many of them make enormous sacrifices to stay in school.
In her spare time, French enjoys spending time with family, riding her Harley, watching the SF Giants, and knitting.