The first-time meeting Steven J. Palazzo, you may notice a tattoo of a palm tree on his left arm and wonder if it was a souvenir from spring break in Florida. But no, Palazzo is a self-described palm tree fanatic. For him, the swaying evergreen shares some of his best qualities.
“They're majestic, stately strong, determined, tenacious. They kind of represent my personality very well.”
That determination will come in handy as UNLV School of Nursing’s new associate dean for academic affairs. Palazzo starts his new role under the specter of the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the challenge of tailoring a curriculum during uncertain times, he sees remote learning as an opportunity for growth.
“I think with disruption comes innovation, and nursing has struggled in the past to adapt and move their curriculum to more remote types of online learning. I think the COVID-19 situation has forced us to move in that direction (to a hybrid model).”
Palazzo previously served as the associate dean for undergraduate programs and tenured associate professor at the College of Nursing at Seattle University. An internationally recognized scholar and teacher, he emphasizes scientific research and practice through his passion for nursing education, and vice versa. Additionally, Palazzo is actively involved in the Teen Take Heart Health program, which gives teenagers the resources to learn about healthier lifestyles.
Define what an associate dean of academic affairs does.
You oversee all the academic programs. I think the responsibility falls on you to make sure you're aligned with the university and School of Nursing's mission, that faculty have the resources to carry out the mission, and we are delivering the education we promised our students, which ultimately needs to address the needs of our clients and patients in the care setting. To expand on that a little further: how do we provide a curriculum that is all-inclusive, equity-based, and anti-racist? Those are the things that are important to me.
What drew you to UNLV?
Dean Angela Amar, for sure, drew me to UNLV. I knew her through our Robert Wood Johnson Foundation connection. She is a tremendous person and leader. I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to work closely with her, I would like to do that. UNLV’s mission and values align with mine.
I liked that UNLV seem to be on the cutting edge of moving in a direction that I think other universities need to move to nowadays. Also, I just liked the new energy, and the new programs coming to campus. It is a great opportunity for us to think in innovative ways.
Any misconceptions about UNLV or Las Vegas you had?
I really didn't have any misconceptions. I was familiar with the area, aside from the oppressive heat in the summer. Actually, things have exceeded my expectations. Everybody's been extremely welcoming and accommodating. I have no regrets coming down here at all.
What are you missing while working remotely?
Those hallway conversations, dropping in next to somebody and bringing up a topic, solving something immediately in the hallway, hearing things going on in the background that you don't hear with Zoom. You miss all that ancillary communication, the chatter.
What originally inspired you to get into nursing?
Nursing was not on my radar growing up. When I left college, I went into veterinary medicine as an assistant, then got licensed as a veterinarian technician. I spent my time in the veterinary world, the animal world, and I was thinking that was the pathway I would continue. But I met a nurse while I was in practice as a technician. She opened my eyes to the profession. I wanted opportunities for education and advancement, and I wanted a pathway where I could make a difference for the profession. Now, it's part of who I am, and it's been one of the best decisions I've made in my life to go with this pathway.
Was there any type of a-ha moment that shaped your career?
I think there are so many of those moments that culminate into your pathway. I knew I wanted to go into education. I enjoyed teaching. I knew I wanted to work in the science end of the nursing profession. I can't pinpoint one thing. My life has been about all these moments together leading to a pathway. I learned to stop looking ahead and trying to create my pathway and let the pathway just present itself, which has led to all these opportunities. When you have blinders on and you're so focused on a linear pathway to where you want to be, you miss all these wonderful opportunities that are out there that could take you down these pathways that you never had imagined before.
What problem in the world would you like to fix the most?
Equity to resources. We all should have a roof over our head access to health care, food, water. Those are all basic things of survival, the physiological needs that should be afforded to everyone. We have an abundant, rich country, and there's no reason that people shouldn't have the basics of shelter and food and water and access to health care. Equality is not the same thing. You can have equality, but not equity. So, the goal is to get to equity.
Worst advice anyone's ever given you?
Anytime someone tells me to be cautious. You don't want to be reckless and irresponsible, but I don't think anything really happens unless there's some kind of innovation and some kind of risk-taking. I think when people tell you not to do anything, don't be disruptive, I don't like that. I don't operate very well in those systems.
Your biggest pet peeve?
People who are intolerant of others and intolerant of ideas and innovation. Naysayers and negativity, that's energy I don't like being around.
A movie or TV show that makes you cringe because they don't portray nursing correctly?
Almost every show and every movie I’ve ever seen. I think what came close was ER, back in the 90s. Representing nursing is how it was during that time, which is different than now. It still wasn't a great representation, but nurses were still part of the action, part of the plotlines, and they were part of the care. Many of the shows and movies — currently and historically — have (shown) nurses as ancillary staff.
What is an underrated part of nursing?
We sell the caring aspect of nursing very well, but that's just a component of nursing. We don't sell the science base of nursing. Students have to take chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology — all these hard science-level courses. You can't practice nursing without this science foundation. That is a piece that always gets lost. When I present myself as a nurse, I present myself as a scientist (with a Ph.D.), as a science-based nurse.
For anyone coming into nursing, what would be the best piece of advice you could give them?
I always tell students, “Enjoy the journey. Enjoy each day. Don't look ahead.” Many students are stressed in nursing school. It's a very rigorous program. This is the one time in life you’re with a group that are in the same situation as you. Enjoy those relationships, enjoy the journey. You're going to get there at the end.
The last book you couldn't put down or a show you couldn't stop watching?
The show I can’t stop watching is The Crown. I love that kind of British monarchy historical type of characterization. The book I'm re-reading now is called The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It is about the great migration in the early 1900s, African Americans that came out of the South and migrated north, and it follows the pathway of three characters to three different parts of the country. I'm re-reading it now to reawaken my awareness.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Shopping and anything sweet, like chocolate cake.
Do you think aliens are real?
I think there is intelligent life in the universe. Now, what is an alien? Is that a microbe? Is that a being that's more intelligent than us? But it seems the odds are there would be some other kind of life form in the universe, whatever that form would be. How it looks, I don't have any speculation.