Marie Cowan became dean of the UCLA School of Nursing in 1997. During her 11 years, her extraordinary commitment to academic and research excellence elevated the school to its current position as one of the top nursing schools in the country. She always had the requisite academic markers of scientific achievement: funded research grants, plentiful publications and prolific papers at scientific meetings. But most important, Dean Cowan had the willingness and the generosity of spirit to share her talents with everyone around her as a friend, a colleague, a mentor, a wife and the mother to three children.
Dean Cowan was 69 years old when she died last year, after a decade-long battle with cancer, and she continued to work up until a few days before her death. Gerald S. Levey, M.D., dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and vice chancellor for UCLA Medical Sciences, called her “a dynamo … fearless about thinking outside the box.” As a front-page obituary in the Seattle Times noted – before coming to UCLA, she was a wellknown professor at the University of Washington – Dean Cowan was “a champion multitasker long before the term became popular.” Said one of her two daughters, Kathy Harris: “She had the energy of 10 people. She lived many lifetimes in her one.”
That energy was evident at UCLA, where her leadership transformed the School of Nursing. The school launched two new programs in 2006 to address the shortage of registered nurses in California: After a 10-year hiatus, the Bachelor of Science program in nursing was re-instituted, and a new program for graduate education in entry clinical nursing was established. A bioscience emphasis was established at the doctoral level. Dean Cowan doubled the size of the faculty by recruiting 22 prominent new researchers, and the school became known for its scholarship and diversity.
At the national level, she set the agenda for nursing research by serving on the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer-review group for the Council of Cardiovascular Nurses. As the chair of this group, Dean Cowan also helped alter bylaws to enable nurses to apply for research funding and to serve on peer-review and grantaward committees. In November 2007, the American Academy of Nursing applauded Dean Cowan’s career-long commitment to nursing research and presented her with its “Living Legend” award.
Marie Cowan has been remembered for many things in the world of nursing, but to those of us who personally knew her, she was much more. She had a really funny side and loved to have parties for students at her home, a yearly event that everyone looked forward to and enjoyed. The dean also took a personal interest in the school’s faculty, making sure that new appointees were given the tools they needed to achieve tenure. She made the staff feel that they were truly a part of the School of Nursing.
Through her vision, energy, innovation and leadership, she has left a rich and lasting legacy.
— Suzette Cardin, assistant dean of student affairs, UCLA School of Nursing