Couple endows chair to honor nursing career

Dr. Steven Irwin and his wife Kathleen Irwin for whom an endowed chair will be named.
Dr. G. Stephen Irwin and his wife, Kathleen Irwin, for whom an endowed chair will be named.

The University of Illinois Chicago has received a gift to establish the Kathleen M. Irwin Endowed Chair Professorship in Outstanding Nursing Practice.

Kathleen Irwin, who attended UIC, grew up in Chicago’s Bowmanville neighborhood with her immediate and extended family in a small house with a single bathroom. Irwin died in February of 2021.

According to her husband, Dr. G. Stephen Irwin, his wife’s modest upbringing was one element that made Kathy a unique person, with great empathy and insight he hadn’t found in anyone else he’d met. Now he’s honoring her and her nursing career with the endowed chair professorship.

“Kathy and I both saw patients at Mennonite Hospital in Bloomington, Illinois, and I was so impressed with her work that I hired her to work for my practice. Three years later, we were married,” said Dr. Irwin. “Kathy wanted to give to the College of Nursing after her passing. She knew the chair we would establish in her name would bring talented faculty to the college — faculty whose work honors Kathy’s many decades serving as an exceptional nurse.”

“This gift is extraordinary. We believe it is one of the nation’s few endowed positions at a Research 1 university for nursing faculty who are engaged in clinical practice,” College of Nursing Dean Terri Weaver said. “Also, education, practice and research have long been equal dimensions of our tripartite mission, so being able to elevate a clinical track faculty member to endowed chair will be a source of great pride for us and underscore the significant contribution of practice scholarship.”

While they didn’t meet until much later, Kathy and Steve Irwin both attended UIC, Kathy for three years before leaving to earn a nursing diploma and Dr. Irwin to earn his medical degree. For him, UIC made the possibility of attending medical school a reality, and the degree he earned allowed him to transform his life. Together, he and Kathy became advocates for public education and the concept of an excellent education at a reasonable price. They also agreed together to be philanthropic and began supporting the University of Illinois in 1983.

The Irwins had not focused on the College of Nursing over their years of giving but knew of its excellence. After research and discussion, they determined they wanted to support its academic enterprise and discovered there wasn’t already a named chair in the clinical side of academic nursing.

So, after Kathy’s passing, Dr. Irwin established this endowed chair in response to her wishes and to honor her legacy. The named chair will support the work of an outstanding clinical-track faculty member who is active in nursing practice. It also supports UIC’s IGNITE Campaign, which aims to retain and recruit prominent faculty members who have a stake in the future of our communities and a passion to serve humanity.

“Steve and Kathy Irwin have been avid supporters of the education UIC provides, and they have spent decades backing that passion up with generous gifts,” said Tom Wamsley, UIC’s vice chancellor for advancement. “To be the best, we have to enlist the best and, in Kathy’s memory, Dr. Irwin is helping us attract seasoned, forward-thinkers dedicated to transformation. We’re grateful for this donation and their many years of partnership.”

“The clinical side of nursing was where Kathy was at her best, so she felt she could make her biggest impact in that area,” said Dr. Irwin. “Much of our giving has been to the medical school, and this gift was of her volition and creation. The College of Nursing is already decorated with many fine academics and accolades, but Kathy and I felt this would add more to their ability to attract talent.”

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