Sandy Pennington PhD, RN, who currently works as the Senior Advisor to the President at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMUoHP), has served in a variety of roles at the University since 2002. In addition to her current role, she serves as the University’s Accreditation Liaison Officer to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). Following the summer 2021 semester, Pennington will be retiring from both of her positions at RMUoHP, leaving behind a vast and impressive legacy after 19 years of service.
Founding President and CEO of RMUoHP, Richard P. Nielsen, PT, DHSc, ECS, spoke to her time and impact at the university, “Dr. Sandy Pennington has been a powerful contributor to the growth and development and the stability of RMUoHP over the greater part of the past two decades.”
Prior to coming to RMUoHP, Pennington has had a prolific and varied career largely in nursing service and academia. She got her start in academia teaching in one of the programs at her alma mater. She also taught for 18 years at one of the few work colleges in the U.S. When she came to RMUoHP, she noted the difference.
“In bigger and more established institutions, there’s a tendency to have long standing routines and traditions that, because they are already established, makes change so challenging to come by,” said Pennington.
She added, “at RMUoHP there’s a strong set of core values which are almost palpable at the University. The people here live and breathe these values as they go about their day-to-day work and their day-to-day interactions.”
Part of the differences Pennington witnessed were a result of RMUoHP’s newer status when she began working there as one of its early employees.
“I originally started working for RMUoHP in 2002,” said Pennington. “I had been introduced to the University through my next door neighbors who both attended the school. I actually got directly involved with the University when I served as a member on one of their dissertation committees.”
When Pennington was participating on this dissertation committee, the University administration invited her to attend a visioning conference for the Doctor of Science in Nursing program.
“At that point in the University’s history, we were trying to decide what new healthcare programs should be added to the institution,” said Pennington. “One of the new programs ended up being nursing. So, from there I was appointed the program director, developed the curriculum, and ran the program for three years.”
Now, after working at RMUoHP for 19 years, Pennington described some of the fondest memories over the course of her time at the University.
“I have had a lot of positive experiences at RMUoHP. However, I would have to say that the most consistently moving event for me is commencement,” said Pennington.
“I love to watch commencement, I love to celebrate the work well done by the graduates, and I love how it brings together graduates and their families as well as the faculty, the staff, and the community to really commemorate those significant accomplishments that have been attained,” said Pennington.
Pennington described the very first RMUoHP commencement ceremony she ever attended.
“The first commencement I went to was back in 2003, and I hadn’t even started the program in nursing yet. I remember just sitting on the stage watching this process and the passion for healthcare and it brought tears to my eyes because it was such a moving experience for these students. At this point, I had been in academia for many years and yet I had never really felt that emotion at the institutions where I had been engaged.”
While commencement is one of Pennington’s favorite aspects of RMUoHP, the two things she is proudest of are the President’s vision and the University’s accreditation.
“One of the proudest times at the University, for me, was when I was part of the early team that really took the President’s vision and moved it forward,” said Pennington. “The implementation of that essence of healthcare quality and the focus on people by a small group of skilled professionals who translated that vision into reality was something that I am most proud of.”
Pennington also explained the accomplishment of the University in becoming institutionally accredited and her involvement in that process. “For a dozen years, Dr. Pennington spearheaded the long and arduous journey of RMUoHP towards securing institutional accreditation through the NWCCU. And over the past dozen years she has also served as the NWCCU Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO) to the NWCCU and has been on the front lines of the RMUoHP accreditation reaffirmation efforts,” said President Nielsen.
“I’ve been the Accreditation Liaison Officer for the NWCCU since 2012,” said Pennington. “And now, I can say that the Commission often uses RMUoHP as an example of best practice, which is something I’m very proud of because I know the village of committed people that had so much to do with our ability to demonstrate mission fulfillment.”
As Pennington prepares to move on to the next stage of her life, she leaves behind advice for those up and coming students and staff of RMUoHP.
“If they’re thinking about coming to RMUoHP,” said Pennington, “they need to learn all they can about the school and the type of educational experiences others have here. We deliver a wonderful educational product and we always focus on the most important aspects of the institution: the quality of our students, the quality of the faculty and staff, and the quality of the learning experience.”
For Pennington, RMUoHP is family for its students and staff. “The President always talks about employees as family and I really believe that we are a family,” said Pennington. “Each time I come to campus, despite never having lived in Utah full-time, it always feels like coming home.”
Pennington, as she retires this month, hopes that her time and service have created a positive difference for RMUoHP and the individuals who are a part of it.
“If nothing else, I hope to leave behind a culture of respect for people,” said Pennington. “A culture where everybody’s opinion and contributions are acknowledged and valued.”
President Nielsen added, “Dr. Pennington has created a legacy of compassion, empathy, humanity, consideration of others, civility, and kindness that surpasses all expectations and will forever be part of her legacy–not only as an amazing healthcare practitioner, author, and expert in higher education accreditation principles and practices, but more importantly as a loving, kind, considerate, and caring person who understands the importance of serving, lifting, building, and caring for ‘the one.’ Dr. Pennington is a true example of our core values, especially service to others.”
Pennington said, “I will miss the people and the work, and I know that there are many who will continue to elevate the RMUoHP experience. I’m excited to see what’s in store for RMUoHP’s future.”