By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
Though she’s only been at the UTEP School of Nursing since 2005, Kris Robinson, Ph.D., has helped build the school’s online master’s program, increased graduate student enrollment and secured $4.2 million in funding – feats that are not easy to accomplish in such a short time.
The associate professor of nursing is now trying to parlay her success into a thriving research career. On June 1, Robinson transitioned from her position as assistant dean of graduate education in the School of Nursing into a more active role as a researcher and faculty member.
“I’ve grown the program to capacity, I’ve gotten some funding for it, and now it’s time to move on and hopefully be as successful in writing grants for research as I have been in writing grants to develop the program,” Robinson said.
When Robinson left Idaho State University for the warm Texas climate in 2003, she knew that she wanted to spend the last part of her nursing career focusing on chronic pain and pain management research.
In 2004, Audree Reynolds, UTEP professor emeritus, told her that the School of Nursing had a fledgling online graduate program and Robinson, who had been teaching online courses since 1996, jumped at the chance to teach at the University.
“My goal in coming to UTEP was to start a research career,” said Robinson, who moved to El Paso on December 31, 2004. “I’d been teaching since 1988. I did well as an educator and in program management and development, but the one part I didn’t get to do was research. So when I came to UTEP, I really wanted to focus on that.”
Robinson was tasked with growing UTEP’s nursing education and nurse practitioner majors, and she needed funds and support from faculty and staff to be able to succeed.
In 2006, she was awarded $864,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Division of Nursing to fund SUCCESS: Serving the Underserved, Cultural Competence Enhancing Student Success. The goal of the grant was to increase the number of Hispanic and disadvantaged students enrolled in the graduate nursing program.
Under the grant, the average graduation time for family nurse practitioners was cut from five years to 2.6 years and the nursing education major program grew from six students to 75.
Between 2005 and 2008, Robinson also received funding to make the graduate program’s three majors – Nursing Education, Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Systems Management – 100 percent available online.
When she became assistant dean in 2008, the graduate program had fewer than 100 students. Today, the program has reached full capacity, with 200 students admitted in all three majors.
“Working with Kris at first was like water skiing when you’re outside the wake: fast, choppy, and always feeling slightly off-balance,” said Diane Monsivais, Ph.D., assistant professor at the School of Nursing who met Robinson in 2005. “But the longer we worked together, and I came to appreciate the complexities of running the graduate program, I could see the bigger picture of what she was doing. Now working with her is more like water skiing in the wake – still fast, but the ride is a lot smoother. Our collaboration has allowed us to move far beyond what we would have individually, and I am grateful to have the working relationship we have.”
Since arriving at UTEP, Robinson has received funding for 15 grants, but she admits that the program’s success couldn’t have happened without help from her colleagues.
“One person does not make changes alone,” Robinson said. “I might have initiated some of these proposals and written some of the grants, but the grants didn’t come out of my ideas alone. It was the people who were able to put them into action – the dean, assistant deans, directors, faculty, staff and research assistants. You just can’t grow a program without support and without people to help do the work.”
From 2006 to 2011, Robinson received the UTEP Office of Research and Sponsored Projects Outstanding Performance for her outstanding performance in securing external funding.
She has used her expertise to help others write grants, but she has also taken the time to mentor students and faculty.
Debbie Sikes, an instructor in clinical nursing, met Robinson in 2007 when she was a student in the nurse educator program.
After Sikes graduated in 2009, Robinson hired her as the coordinator for the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) and Standardized Patient (SP) program, which uses standardized patients, or actors, to train nurse practitioner students.
“Dr. Robinson has been very encouraging to me as both an instructor and colleague,” Sikes said. “The use of standardized patients and OSCEs was completely new to me when I started working at UTEP. Since the onset, Dr. Robinson allowed me to work independently, but always took the time to mentor me when I sought her assistance.”
Now that Robinson is no longer occupied with the duties of an administrator, she will direct her energy and grant writing skills to chronic pain and pain management research.
In 2010, Robinson and Monsivais received a $419,147 grant from the National institutes of Health (NIH) to launch the RidCancerPain research project, which is testing a psycho-educational intervention in Hispanic cancer patients in the community who have pain. The goal of the research is to improve communication about pain management between cancer patients and their health care providers.
Robinson and Monsivais are looking to implement the intervention in other areas of chronic pain.
They also are working on a grant for a study that looks at individualized care for patients with chronic pain.
Robinson said that she and Monsivais are great collaborators because both bring different strengths to their projects. Robinson enjoys networking, while Monsivais is more focused on scholarship.
“The one thing you can’t do is research all by yourself,” Robinson said. “You need a team. We have different strengths and it’s important to play to your strengths and pull in people.”