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Community’s generosity sparks lifetime of learning for Kingsport native

Submitted by Jim Wozniak • Oct 22, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Motivated by the kindness of others who put her on this career path, Dr. Teressa Wexler continued to move forward and recently achieved a significant milestone. This assistant dean of Tusculum University’s School of Nursing earned a Doctor of Education in educational leadership, with an educational technology specialization, from the University of Phoenix.

“Obtaining my doctoral degree has given me personal fulfillment, not only in my passion for nursing and education but also for myself for having reached this level of academic success,” Wexler said. “I’ve been pursuing this degree for a long time.”

Wexler praises her husband – David – and her three children – Gabby, Matthew and Abby – for supporting her during her pursuit of her doctorate. Without them, she would not have accomplished this degree, she said.

After graduating from Sullivan North High School in Sullivan County, Wexler intended to be an automotive mechanic, but neighbors and members of the Gravely Ruritan Club had other designs for her.

They believed she would be an ideal nurse and raised the funds to pay all of her expenses, including food and gas, to become a licensed practical nurse. She thought she had received a scholarship but learned from her mother 30 years later the story about the community’s generosity. To this day, sharing the story makes Wexler emotional.

On her first day of school, she was sent to a hospital to test whether she really wanted to be a nurse. She saw medical professionals treat multiple casualties from a motor vehicle accident and became convinced she was on the right career path.

“From that moment, I decided not only am I going to be a nurse – and work to be the best nurse I can – I’m going to teach this subject one day,” Wexler said. “I decided I was going to go as high as I can and give back in gratitude for that scholarship.”

After receiving her LPN degree from the Kingsport School of Practical Nursing in 1984, Wexler gradually accumulated more degrees – an associate degree from East Tennessee State University in 1995, a bachelor’s in nursing from ETSU in 2004, a master’s in nursing from the University of Phoenix in 2006 and finally the doctorate.

In addition to serving as assistant dean, Wexler is an assistant professor of nursing.

Dr. Lori Anderson, dean of Tusculum’s School of Nursing, said Wexler was able to begin teaching graduate students at Tusculum during the fall 2019 semester because of the doctorate. Her new degree also increased the number of faculty members who have doctorates, a strategic goal for Anderson.

“Doctorally prepared faculty members are vital because they provide a different way of thinking and presenting information, which enriches a student’s education,” she said. “That’s essential in health care because nurses encounter many challenges in clinical settings and students have to be prepared to think differently based on the situations they encounter.”

Wexler said the doctorate also enables her to contribute to the nursing field as a leader and subject-matter expert.

“I work with a great team – brilliant and exceptional people in nursing, the College of Health Sciences and all of Tusculum University – and the knowledge I gained combined with the research I completed for this degree will allow me to complement them,” Wexler said. “Our main goal at the university is excellence in education, so the more we can educate ourselves, the more we can help students achieve.”

After 35 years as a nurse, Wexler continues to pay forward the kindness paid her all those years ago.

Tusculum University, the first higher education institution in Tennessee and the 28th oldest in the nation, provides a comprehensive education in a Judeo-Christian environment, grounded in a civic, liberal and medical arts curriculum with pathways for career preparation, personal development and civic engagement. About 1,800 students are enrolled on the main campus in Greeneville, at locations in Knoxville and Morristown, and in online programs.