Maureen Tippen, Clinical Associate Professor Emerita of Nursing at UM-Flint, was last year’s recipient of the prestigious U-M Presidential Award for Distinguished Service in International Education. She was nominated for the award just a couple of months before she announced her retirement.

“I was very honored,” said Tippen, who is the first awardee not to be based out of the Ann Arbor campus. “My colleagues nominated me before they even knew I was retiring, so my award and retirement announcement came at about the same time.”

With this year’s nomination deadline quickly approaching, CSAS spoke with Tippen about her career-long commitment to global health education, a passion that’s helped her to facilitate international community partnerships in India and elsewhere.

How did you get involved with global health and international service learning?

I came to UM-Flint as a nursing professor in 1994. About a year later, I had the opportunity to join my children’s pediatrician on a medical service trip to the Dominican Republic. It was very out of the blue: I was taking my kids in for a check-up, and he sort of pitched the idea to me.

I did a lot of things before I landed in teaching: administrative work, hands-on nursing, pediatrics. After that first trip to the Dominican Republic, I thought, we should bring student nurses on trips like this. Once I got the approval to do so, I went back to the DR and brought three students with me. With help from alumni, I created a nonprofit that allowed us to travel over spring break, which worked best with my academic schedule as well as with students’.

For the next twenty-five years, I continued to model my trips after this one. I organized global health and service learning trips to Peru, Cambodia, Kenya, Laos, and elsewhere.

Can you talk a little bit about your time in India?

At a hospital in Flint where I worked with nursing students, I met a physician named Dr. Mukkamala. He and his wife had established a hospital in India; his wife managed an orphanage there, as well. He helped me organize the trip and make it a reality.

So, in 2009, I took three graduate students in our nurse practitioner program to Vijayawada to work at the NRI Academy of Medical Sciences. The hospital was huge: seven-hundred-fifty beds with an average daily census of about six-hundred. My students worked in the outpatient clinics, where they saw about twelve-hundred outpatient visits per day. For my part, I taught concepts related to pediatrics, which is my field of expertise. Mrs. Mukkamala’s orphanage was nearby, so I did physicals on all seventy-eight children who were living there at the time, with help from a nurse who worked at NRI.

The three students that came with me had never really traveled at all. It was a hard trip, too; we worked for three weeks straight. But I heard from every single one of those students in the months after we returned to Michigan, once they’d processed their work and recognized how much they’d learned. My daughter, who was only seventeen at the time, also accompanied me on that trip. It was really life-changing for her to see such immersive medical work at a young age, and she ended up becoming a nurse practitioner.

What was your reaction to winning the award?

It kind of took my breath away. My first thought was, “Why me?” But when I started to look back at all the files and folders I have, I realized how much I’d done; I was traveling every year with student groups to the point that I had to get extra pages in my passport. Still, it was sort of shocking. It’s such a prestigious honor, especially to be chosen from a pool of faculty members across all three U-M campuses.

Do you have any big retirement plans?

I hope to lead an alumni trip to the DR this fall, depending on COVID vaccine rollout and ability to travel. Either way, I look forward to working with the Alumni Association at the School of Nursing to facilitate trips back to the places I’ve established these community partnerships. Alumni trips are important, because many students aren’t able to travel during their undergrad years due to restrictions like money and timing. Now that they’re more established in their careers, having nourished their talents and developed their expertise, these trips provide an opportunity for alumni to engage with a community in a truly meaningful way. I’m happy to volunteer my time to do things like this. That’s why I’m retired: so I have more time to lead and organize international service trips.