28 Days of Black Excellence: Yolanda Coleman
Yolanda Coleman holds a doctorate in nursing from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing in 2012, a master’s degree in nursing from DePaul University, and a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in medical technology and chemistry.
In October, Coleman was named chief nursing officer of Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She also serves as an assistant professor at Oak Point University and previously served as vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer for Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Illinois. Before that, she served in the Sinai Chicago Health System as the system executive director for care transformation, care continuum and clinical excellence as well as an associate chief nursing officer.
Tariq El-Amin 00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement with Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King 00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.
Clips from 1995 movie “Panther” 00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here?
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information.
Aisha El-Amin 00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Tariq El-Amin 00:29
Welcome to Black Excellence.
Aisha El-Amin 0:35
Greetings, UIC family and friends and welcome to UIC’s “28 Days of Black Excellence.” I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin, UIC’s associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging. It is my great honor to celebrate the history of Black excellence at UIC with powerful, inspiring and informative conversations with UIC’s alumni and some of our past faculty and staff as well. Each day we have a new guest who will share their story. And I am honored today to introduce Dr. Yolanda Coleman. Dr. Coleman is a graduate from the College of Nursing in 2012. And since that time, she has been up to some phenomenal things. And so Dr. Coleman, if you can kind of tell us a little bit about yourself, kind of where you’re from and what you’ve been up to since 2012.
Yolanda Coleman 1:29
Sure, so I am Dr. Yolanda Coleman, a graduate of the University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing with my Ph.D. in 2012. Since then, I would say that I’ve done a whole lot, especially as it relates to health care. Upon immediately graduating, I was still an ICU nurse at the University of Illinois health system at the time. But then I began to kind of branch my wings in my career trajectory in a sense, and I did a lot in leadership and community service and also with academics. I currently serve as the chief nursing officer for Weiss Memorial Hospital here in Chicago. I can say that I am the first African American chief nursing officer there. And my previous position also at Cancer Treatment Centers of America as chief nursing officer, I was the first African American in that position. I am very passionate and have done a lot of work as it relates to health care and nursing. I do have a research background and when I was at UIC I was very passionate about breast cancer screening and how it affected women of different socioeconomic statuses. Also how it related to Black women at the time, so my dissertation at that time was focused on that. I really do love what I do. And I know that I am in a smaller population of women that fit the same demographics for the area and the work that I do. But I am very proud to represent UIC as an alum and in anything that I do because my career did start in the hospital there and also I continue to support the College of Nursing as I serve as the president of UIC’s College of Nursing Alumni Board.
Aisha El-Amin 3:28
Wow. Yeah, busy indeed. [Laughter] And thank you for your work. An someone who just recently lost my baby sister to breast cancer, I truly appreciate the work that you’re doing. And I thank you for that. So what what are you from Chicago? Like, what’s your what’s your background?
Yolanda Coleman 3:49
Alright. Yes, I am from the area. I was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois. I lived in the Bolingbrook, Illinois area. So my parents are still here, happily retired. So I always say that stay around in this area for them.
Aisha El-Amin 4:07
Yes, that’s a good reason. That’s a good reason to stay. As you look back at UIC and kind of your experience there and I am just loving that you are, you’re a trailblazer. Being the first, that is huge and I know that’s a lot of weight that you carry in blazing that trail. Can you look back on some of your fondest memories and what those look like at UIC?
Yolanda Coleman 4:36
Sure, I was very excited at my time at UIC and I always say UIC is really what captivated me and just got my career jump-started in a sense. My heart is always with UIC and everything I do. That’s why I try to remain so attached to UIC, even as I move along in my career. Some of my fondest memories are just being a part of the College of Nursing and a part of the university. And at that time, knowing that I was of a select few with my demographic that was obtaining a Ph.D. program, I was in the Ph.D. studies. You know, even in 2012, that was still a huge feat. And still a smaller population of women, and minorities that fit into that demographic. I would say I was very well-supported at UIC, that was recognized. Sometimes, when you’re in the program in these disparate populations, in a sense, you don’t have the mentoring. Or people that look like you that are teaching you and mentoring you through your program. But I must say that I had the fortune of having an advisor, that was one of the first professors as an African American female at UIC, to be my mentor and advisor. And that made me feel comfortable. And that helped me to feel comfortable throughout my studies at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Aisha El-Amin 6:06
Wow. Yes. Each one, you know, teach one, mentor one. I think that that is a thing that I’m hearing throughout these interviews. And with every journey and especially, you know, being being part of a minoritized group, and being the first, you have challenges, right. And so, as you think back on the challenges that you had, can you kind of talk about how you, how you overcame those challenges to be where you are now in hopes that it helps other students that are in the position that you were in?
Yolanda Coleman 6:38
So I think that one of the things that were of concern is the visibility. The visibility of having those that can mentor you or having resources that can help you out, because you are known to be, you know, of a population that doesn’t fit the larger population or demographic. So I would say that UIC was very prominent in ensuring that they set the minority students in the College of Nursing with mentors and gave us resources to help support our trajectory. I was very concerned coming in because looking at the demographics of that time, Black women were about 2% of Ph.D.s in nursing, even back in 2012. So it was concerning to me that I would be supported by professors and deans and anybody that was involved in my education and academics at that time, that they would not see me by my demographic. But instead, see me by my knowledge and my eagerness to learn and in my eagerness to represent UIC in the future. So I must say that UIC did a very good job at that time for making me and others feel comfortable and ensuring that bias wasn’t promoted.
Aisha El-Amin 7:59
I really appreciate that. So you have a unique perspective that I don’t know, if many people do, right? I would love for you to share because you were not only here, but you continue to be involved as part of the alumni association. So you’ve seen, you know, different changes that have happened, different deans, different leadership, different programs. So what are some of those changes, as you know, people that are just kind of dropping into UIC now and don’t understand kind of some of those growth areas and some of the changes that have happened, what are some changes you can think of that you could share with us?
Yolanda Coleman 8:32
Well, the visibility as it relates to diversity inclusion, you know, there wasn’t so much talk, even at that time that I was a student and a nurse at the hospital of diversity and inclusion. It’s out there it’s visible it’s prominent and it’s well talked about to ensure that UIC as a college and as an organization is doing what needs to be done to ensure that the organization is diverse and is inclusive of all others. So I think they’re doing a tremendous job. With that and even as the president of the college’s alumni association for nursing, I believe there hasn’t been one African American prior to me. One of the things that we discuss, I’ve been on that board for four or five years now. It was very important that they had representation on the board committee that was a minority. So it’s, it’s being talked about, it’s appreciated, it’s known that it’s needed. I think they’re taking all the right steps necessary as we move into the future to do what’s necessary to make sure that it’s an inclusive environment.
Aisha El-Amin 9:46
Now, that’s beautiful. Thanks for kind of sharing that experience that you know, many of us, you know, we are not part of and you’re leading it. As students listen to this and, you know, aspiring, you know, nurses and aspiring just to be the first to make great changes in the world. What advice would you give them?
Yolanda Coleman 10:13
I would say, dream big. You know, I remember online classes in 2012 weren’t as readily available as they are now. So I sat in on a lot of classes during my time as a student at UIC. And if someone even at that time would have told me that I would be an executive leader, the first African American female at some large organizations. I may not have believed it, but I will say that I assure and I attest to the fact UIC helped me get there. And that’s why I constantly remain involved in the college fair, and the community of UIC there because of the support that I had, the education that I had, I give talks, I mentor, and I do a lot in our community. And one of the things that I always say is that UIC catapulted my career, I learned so much at UIC. And it’s helped me become the leader that I am today. It’s given me the background and knowledge that I needed to be an exceptional, recognized leader today in health care in the Chicago area. I would tell students to aim high. No dream is too small. Absolutely get a mentor, whether they look like them is a little different. Get a mentor, mentorship is very important. And then get on the committees and boards. You know, get on committees of students and then after they graduate stay involved in the UIC community, because there’s a large network out there that they can tap into for resources.
Aisha El-Amin 11:55
That is great advice. I want to take just our last moment to say thank you. Thank you for the work that you do. Thank you for the continued connection and the inspiration that you’ve given to so many.
Yolanda Coleman 12:08
Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.
Aisha El-Amin 12:12
Tariq El-Amin 12:13
[Music] Thanks for joining us. Find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alumni, faculty and staff at blackresources.uic.edu. That’s blackresources.uic.edu.