Dr. Brenda Petersen has lived in Maine for less than one year, but she has been in love with the idea of becoming a resident of Vacationland for decades.
“I fell in love with Maine 40 years ago when my sister and brother-in-law, Janice and Thomas Daku, relocated up here and bought a dairy farm,” she said. “I started traveling to Maine in the 1970s. We bought our retirement home here in 2006. As my kids finished school, my desire to be in Maine before retirement increased.”
Fortunately, Dr. Petersen got her wish after being named associate dean of nursing at the University of Southern Maine in June 2019.
“The position I am currently in became open two years ago,” she said. “I didn’t apply for it then because it wasn’t the right time for me. I had just taken over a leadership role at a fledgling school of nursing.
“One year later, when the school was stable and strong, it felt like it was the right time for me to continue to pursue my dream and get to Maine. I saw the position again, and I knew it was a perfect fit for me.”
So far, Dr. Petersen and her husband, John, are enjoying being part of the vibrant community. Their children, Tyler (33), Victoria (30) and Erik (26), also live in Maine.
“We’re enjoying a new city,” she said. “It’s very exciting. I absolutely love it. Portland is a culturally diverse metropolitan community. It is so enriching. Not to mention that we were Bon Appetit‘s restaurant capital of the year. It’s magnificent.”
That feeling of excitement is carrying over to USM for Dr. Petersen. She is thriving in her new role after working as associate dean of the school of nursing and public health at Caldwell University for nearly three years.
“Here at USM, we have a strong, committed, deeply engaged faculty team,” she said. “Our students are our greatest assets, equal to our faculty. We have incredible students who reflect our values. It’s a very enriching environment.”
Head of the Class
Dr. Petersen was born and raised in northern New Jersey, where her mother, Alice Berner, was a trailblazing nurse.
“She was one of the first nurse practitioners in the state of New Jersey,” she said. “I did not follow her path immediately. I worked as a cost accountant for Fortune 500 companies. I started a business degree, but my education was interrupted when I got married.”
However, Dr. Petersen contracted a serious illness that required an extended hospital stay after she gave birth to her first son.
“The most incredible nurses cared for me during that month,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to do the work that they did. When my kids started school, I started school. I am a non-traditional nurse, pursuing it as a second career and as an adult learner with a lot on my plate.”
Dr. Petersen graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing – Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in 2005 and a Doctor of Philosophy in health sciences leadership in 2017 from Seton Hall University.
“After I finished my master’s degree and became a pediatric nurse practitioner, I started teaching,” she said. “I was inspired to pursue academia when I was a nursing student and was taught by professors who inspired me to impact people through education.”
After nearly eight years as a faculty associate and director of clinical placements at Seton Hall, Dr. Petersen left for Caldwell University in 2013. She received the Beacon of Light award from the New Jersey Institute for Nursing in 2018 for leadership, excellence and community impact.
“Academia is immensely rewarding and very challenging,” she said. “Having the ability to share part of the journey with future nurses through education is incredible. It’s deeply rewarding.”
As Dr. Petersen continues her first full year at USM, she is excited about being a part of the future while living where she loves and enjoying reading, the outdoors and her family in her free time.
“One of the things that is exciting is we have had a revision to the curriculum for the new Master of Science in Nursing Education program,” she said. “We have an innovative, responsive curriculum that prepares students directly for the roles that they are pursuing.
“We have also identified an important and critical need to integrate teaching on anti-racism and oppression of marginalized individuals and the impact of these social determinants of health. We are engaged in that important work now through the support of our incredible students.”
Both the MS in Nursing in Nursing Education and the MS in Nursing in Nursing Administration and Leadership programs at USM are offered online. Dr. Petersen has a special place in her heart for online education, although she was initially apprehensive about the concept as a student.
“Because I earned my MSN as a pediatric nurse practitioner, which was pretty much all online as a low-residency program, I am a strong proponent of the online platform,” she said. “After I planned that academia was the direction I wanted to go, Seton Hall was the school where I wanted to be.
“Then, finding out it was an online program, I thought to myself, ‘How can I learn at the graduate level online?’ I learned that well-designed, well-developed courses prepare you so well.”
Dr. Petersen also knows that online education opens the door to so many more potential students — especially nurses with work schedules that often include odd hours.
“I experienced the beauty of that platform allowing me to juggle my life, which included a full-time job and three young children, and barely missed a beat,” she said. “I was able to get online after my kids went to bed.
“When I look back and think about that, I’m not sure I would have been able to do it in a traditional classroom setting. Without the flexibility and the access, I honestly don’t think I’d be sitting here right now had I not had the door open to an online education.”Learn more about USM’s online MS in Nursing programs.