A Lesson in Compassion

It all started in a grocery store, where Dr. Sheila Sharbaugh ran into a nursing colleague from Delaware Technical Community College. “She asked if I’d ever thought about teaching,” she says, adding that DelTech was hiring — in a week.  

Dr. Sheila M. Sharbaugh, Assistant Vice President, Academic Affairs

A successful ER nurse for more than two decades, Dr. Sharbaugh had to think quickly. “I said yes and ended up falling in love with teaching.”

She then chose WilmU to earn her master’s in Nursing Leadership with a focus on Education, and was the first student admitted to and to graduate from the program. Her first instructor was former Provost Dr. Betty Caffo. “I am where I am because of the fabulous women who preceded me, specifically Betty Caffo and Tish Gallagher,” she says. “I had the greatest role models for leadership that anybody could’ve asked for and they were instrumental in my ability to move forward in my career.”

“To attract someone so bright, inquisitive and professional into our first Nursing Leadership cohort helped me realize our program would be a big success,” says Dr. Caffo. “Sheila’s clinical acumen is very impressive, and she has always been one of my ‘go-to’ nurses for advice on health care issues. Since leaving WilmU, it was also my pleasure to work alongside Dr. Sharbaugh on the Quality & Safety Committee for Christiana Care’s board.”

Dr. Gallagher concurs. “Sheila was an excellent student,” she says. “As an educator, she was caring, consistent and creative. As a colleague, she was collaborative, dependable and always focused on the mission of the University.”

Shortly after graduating in 1999, Dr. Sharbaugh received a call from WilmU, asking if she’d be interested in a teaching position. “I took a chance and never looked back.”

But she did pay it forward. Now an AVP of Academic Affairs, Dr. Sharbaugh is a role model and advocate for students and faculty. Her 18-year trajectory included roles as assistant professor, chair, dean, and with Dr. Angela Suchanic, as co-chair of the self-study for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education assessment. She is a full professor now, and her AVP role feeds her passion for building solid curricula, an interest ignited at Widener University, where she earned her Ph.D. and took on extra coursework involving curriculum.

“What I enjoy most is being able to sit with a chair or a dean, look at new programs, and figure out how to offer that curriculum in a smart way that assures students will get what they need,” she says. “We strive to create programs that allow students to prepare for the workplace.”

The former ER nurse learned to assess situations quickly and discover solutions. Thanks to Dr. Jim Wilson, the vice president for Academic Affairs, her pacing has changed. “The beauty of working with Dr. Wilson is that we have the same value system but we come at it from different directions,” says Dr. Sharbaugh. “He has taught me to pause. I needed to learn how to take a minute and evaluate, instead of my usual quick nursing process.”

Dr. Wilson says the best decision he made as vice president for Academic Affairs was appointing Dr. Sharbaugh to her current position. “Our values pertaining to the University’s students, faculty and staff are the same; however, we often approach opportunities from a different perspective,” he says. “She brings numerous leadership strengths to the position which result in a more balanced and synergistic leadership team.”

Ultimately it’s about excellent communication. “The thing I’m proudest of is that faculty, for the most part, feel comfortable coming to me,” says Dr. Sharbaugh. “We all want to make sure our product is the best thing going, and our product is our programs.” Wu

—Maria Hess