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Nursing foundation, UAH dean endow scholarship

HUNTSVILLE – Dr. Karen Frith, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, knew she wanted to find a way to support nursing students.

“Throughout my career, I’ve worked with students who have financial struggles that block their dream of becoming a nurse,” she shares. “I feel an obligation to give back because I’ve had such a rich career, and that’s because I had good support from the beginning.”

(L-R) UAH Dean of the College of Nursing, Dr. Karen Frith; UAH Nursing Associate Dean, Undergraduate
Programs, Dr. Amy Lanz; Alabama Nurses Foundation board member John Baird; UAH President Charles
L. Karr; Alabama Nurses Foundation Executive Director, John Ziegler; UAH Vice President of
Advancement and Executive Director of UAH Foundation, Mallie Hale; and UAH Senior Development
Officer, Dr. Helen Lien. (Michael Mercier/UAH)

When the Alabama Nurses Foundation proposed a matching gift to endow a nursing scholarship as a way of encouraging other donors to support UAH nursing students, Frith saw an opportunity.

“I thought, ‘why not me?’,” she said. “We could have found another donor, but why wouldn’t I take the leadership of making that contribution and giving the (college of nursing) the chance to get support from ANF right away?”

Together, Frith and the foundation committed $100,000 to establish endowed scholarships for nursing students.

UAH President Dr. Charles L. Karr said Frith’s and the foundation’s support are paramount to UAH’s success.

“What a generous and impactful gift – one that will have a tremendous impact on our students. Dean Karen Frith has demonstrated her commitment to the students in the nursing program through her very generous gift of a scholarship.” he said. “Then, to have ANF match the gift is remarkable. The two gifts together allow for UAH to support the outstanding students in our nursing program.

“Aside from having an immediate impact on our students, Dean Frith and ANF are having a positive effect on our community in that most of the graduates of UAH stay right here in North Alabama. I am very thankful to both Dean Frith and to ANF – their gifts will positively impact young people now and into the future.”

Despite her ardent passion for her profession, Frith divulges that she did not alwayswant to be a nurse.

A Decatur native, Frith said, “I grew up singing in the Oak Park Middle School and Decatur High School Chorus, so when I went to college, I started as a music major. It was a big part of my life. But when I got to college, I noticed a lot of people practicing and I didn’t feel that same draw to practice as much.

“I didn’t have the commitment it would take to be successful.”

As it happened, Frith was a member of a sorority, and it was in that sorority house where she discovered her future career.

“Some older college students were studying in the common room with their ‘Fundamentals of Nursing’ textbook,” she said. “I asked them what they were studying, and they showed me the book and talked to me about nursing. I had always loved science as a student, and I had taken anatomy and physiology in high school.

“I remembered that and looked through the book and said, ‘Maybe I’ll be a nurse.’ That was my light bulb moment.”

From that point forward, Frith excelled, as she first completed her bachelor of science in nursing and then moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., to pursue her master’s in nursing administration while also working full-time as a nurse.

“I believe in leadership,” Frith said. “The work [of being a nurse] is always there, but the environment and culture depends on good leadership.”

Frith then moved to Atlanta where she received her Ph.D. from Georgia State University in nursing with a concentration in education.

“When I was an undergraduate student, I told my advisor that one day I wanted to teach,” she said. “I come from a long family history of K-12 educators, so it must be in my blood. I loved everything about college, and I wanted to teach.”

Despite knowing her long-term goal was to work in education, Frith wanted to gain experience in the nursing profession, so she worked as a staff nurse and later as a manager.

“I was the manager of a coronary and cardiovascular ICU for four years in Macon, Ga. I was a member of a local nursing association and one of my former professors at Auburn was now at Georgia College and State University and she remembered I was a good student,” Frith said. “She said, ‘If you’re ever interested in teaching, give me a call.’ I wasn’t ready yet because I wanted to do more in the ICU. When I was ready, I called her up and she had a position for me.

“I was there for 15 years and department chair for 10 of those years. I was an advisor, a chair, a faculty member – I played all the roles.”

That experience, Frith said, is what prepared her for the next chapter of her life: moving to Huntsville.

“My mother lived in Decatur and her health was failing,” she said. “I didn’t like living so far away from her, so I moved to Huntsville. I knew UAH had a nursing program.

“I interviewed for a position and got the job. Now I’m in my 16th year.”

In 2021, Frith was named the new Dean of the College of Nursing after serving as an
associate professor, professor, interim dean, associate dean for graduate programs,
associate dean for undergraduate programs and coordinator for the College’s Ph.D. and
DNP programs.

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