Courtney Lyder was 5 years old when his family departed their native Trinidad and Tobago to seek the American dream in Manhattan. He said goodbye to his beloved grandmother, who had raised him since his birth. But he never forgot her wisdom.
"My grandmother taught me never to ask God for a lighter load, but to pray for a stronger back," recalls Lyder. "Challenges are lessons we need to learn from or we're destined to repeat them."
Lyder, 42, clearly took his grandmother's advice to heart. He was the first minority to earn tenure at Yale's School of Nursing and the second youngest member inducted into the American Academy of Nursing. As the new dean of the UCLA School of Nursing, Lyder is the first African-American male to lead a U.S. nursing school, and one of fewer than 3 % of U.S. deans under age 45.
"It took a university like UCLA to shatter some serious stereotypes about nursing and put me in the dean's suite," he says. "UCLA ranks in the top 2 % of nursing schools in the country, so sitting in this office is absolutely a highlight of my career."
Lyder comes to UCLA from the University of Virginia, where his five-year stint included appointments as an endowed professor, a department chair in the School of Nursing and director of diversity initiatives for the health sciences.
Courtney Lyder arrives as new dean UCLA Newsroom, August 2008
Lyder named dean UCLA Today, March 2008
Engaging and full of energy, Lyder punctuates his fast-moving speech with wide sweeps of his hands, frequently interrupting himself with "sidebar" references to related stories that neatly circle back to his original topic. Like Chancellor Gene Block, his former University of Virginia colleague, he thinks big, noting that the most effective way to create change is by working on a national and international scale.
Lyder is excited about the possibility of taking the School of Nursing global by increasing collaboration with other nursing schools throughout the world.
"We have to prepare our students to be citizens of the world, not just the United States," he says. "Nurses can provide care in any country."
Concerned that the U.S. nursing shortage will worsen as the population ages, Lyder proposes increasing the school's number of endowed faculty in order to accelerate recruitment.
"When UCLA reopened its undergraduate nursing degree program for enrollment in 2005, we screened 1,700 eligible students for 50 slots," he says. "There's no lack of student interest in nursing education, but we must expand our faculty's size before we can enroll more students."
Lyder seeks new partners in the business sector to help tackle the nursing shortage. For example, insurance companies share the nursing profession's focus on quality of life and chronic disease management.
"We need to think outside the box and our usual comfort zone," he emphasizes. "If we're going to act globally, we must partner with players on the world stage."