Couple endows chair professorship to honor nursing career

Steven and Kathleen Irwin

Kathleen M. Irwin Endowed Chair Professorship in Outstanding Nursing Practice to support clinical-track faculty

Longtime University of Illinois supporter Steven Irwin, MD, has made a gift to the UIC College of Nursing to help support the work of an exceptional clinical-track faculty member active in nursing practice.

The endowment is in accordance with the wishes of his late wife, Kathleen, and establishes the Kathleen M. Irwin Endowed Chair Professorship in Outstanding Nursing Practice.

“This gift is extraordinary,” says Dean Terri Weaver. “We believe it is one of the nation’s few endowed positions at a Research 1 university for nursing faculty who are engaged in clinical practice. Also, education, practice and research have long been equal dimensions of our tripartite mission, so being able to elevate a clinical track faculty member to an endowed chair will be a source of great pride for us and will underscore the significant contribution of practice scholarship.”

Kathleen Irwin grew up in Chicago’s Bowmanville neighborhood with her immediate and extended family in a small house with a single bathroom.

According to Steve Irwin, this modest upbringing was one element that made his wife a unique person, with great empathy and insight he hadn’t found in anyone else.

“Kathy and I both saw patients at Mennonite Hospital in Bloomington, Illinois, and I was so impressed with her work that I hired her to work for my practice,” Irwin says. “Three years later, we were married.

“Kathy wanted to give to the College of Nursing after her passing. She knew the chair we would establish in her name would bring talented faculty to the college—faculty whose work honors Kathy’s many decades serving as an exceptional nurse.”

While they didn’t meet until much later, Kathy and Steve Irwin both attended UIC. For Steve, UIC made the possibility of attending medical school a reality. The degree he earned allowed him to transform his life. Together, the couple became advocates for excellent public education at a reasonable price. They also agreed to be philanthropic and began supporting the University of Illinois in 1983.

The Irwins had not focused on the College of Nursing over their years of giving but knew of its excellence. After research and discussion, the couple determined they wanted to support the College’s academic enterprise and discovered there wasn’t already a named chair in the clinical side of academic nursing.

After his wife’s passing in February 2021, Irwin established the endowed position based on Kathy’s wishes and to honor her legacy. Besides supporting a clinical-track faculty member, the gift supports the College of Nursing’s goals within IGNITE: The Campaign for UIC—which prioritizes developing resources to recruit and retain dynamic, accomplished faculty, as well as to provide them the means to excel as nurse leaders.

“I find it noteworthy that Kathy was not an alumna of UIC Nursing, but together, she and Steve decided our college was the one to entrust with her legacy,” Weaver says. “That is a testament to the outstanding reputation our faculty and staff have built for our college.”

According to Irwin, Kathy excelled on the clinical side of nursing and believed she could make her biggest impact in that area.

“This gift was of her volition and creation,” Irwin says. “The College of Nursing is already decorated with many fine academics and accolades, but Kathy and I felt this would add more to their ability to attract talent.”

In a message to faculty and staff, Weaver noted her appreciation to the Irwins on behalf of the college.

“We are proud and grateful that the Irwins selected UIC Nursing for this wonderful gift,” she wrote.  “I know we will make them glad that they did.”

A search for the inaugural Kathleen M. Irwin Endowed Chair Professor will begin in fall 2021.