Skip to main content

Conlee named the College of Nursing 2022-23 Teacher of the Year

Janice Conlee

Unofficially, Janice Conlee was a nurse educator long before she joined the South Dakota State University faculty as an instructor for the College of Nursing at its Rapid City site in 2013.

Through her work in an emergency room and as a preceptor, she helped students in training or new to their jobs. It was those experiences that convinced her to go back to school and take her career into the classroom for SDSU, where she now serves as a lecturer.

Clearly, it was the right move. Last spring, SDSU College of Nursing students voted her as the college’s 2022-23 Teacher of the Year.

Three decades in nursing

Conlee’s start in nursing came more than three decades ago, when she enrolled in Presentation College. Growing up on a cattle ranch in the Badlands with 11 siblings, Aberdeen felt like a big city, but the move allowed her to be close to her twin sister, who attended Northern State University. Conlee said a couple of her aunts who were nurses helped her develop an interest in the profession.

After graduating with her associate degree in 1992, her first job was in rural nursing at the now-closed Belle Fourche hospital.

In 1995, she moved to Fremont, Nebraska, to work in the emergency department there until 2007. During that time, she also furthered her education in Nebraska, earning her bachelor’s degree from Midland University in Fremont in 1997 and going on to earn her master’s degree in 2007 from Creighton University to become a family nurse practitioner while taking nurse educator elective courses.

In 2007, Conlee accepted a full-time job at the Rapid City Medical Center as a family nurse practitioner in gastroenterology. She was there until 2013, when she became an instructor for SDSU’s College of Nursing. In 2022, she became a lecturer in the college.

Conlee says it was her work in the ER that helped her make the jump from nurse to nurse educator.

“I liked that role, to help new nurses or nurses who were new to the ER learn that role. I loved working with the student nurses, too, who would come to the hospital,” Conlee said. She also taught advanced cardiac life support courses to other health care professionals. 

“I knew that I enjoyed the teaching role with other nurses, health care workers, and I also liked teaching patients. … I get really excited about people learning things.” 

And she sees her excitement in the classroom rub off on her students. “Even though we’re teaching serious things, there’s always room for laughter in there.”

Teaching goals

Conlee initially taught quite a few nurse practitioner courses for SDSU, but now she focuses on undergraduate courses. She currently instructs pharmacology and patient-care concepts courses.

As an educator, she focuses on clinical judgement. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, that’s the process by which nurses make decisions based on nursing knowledge (evidence, theories, ways/patterns of knowing), other disciplinary knowledge, critical thinking and clinical reasoning.

“Nurses have so much responsibility these days, that we really want them to be able to think situations through critically and make good patient decisions,” Conlee said. “So, I think that’s one of my goals, to help students to learn to think through things, not just to memorize for a test. To have that thought process that helps them to keep patients safe.”

Conlee also teachers her students how to be people-centered, caring providers.

“I love seeing the students learn, and it makes me excited to see them come in as new nursing students, and by the time they graduate they just have gained so much. They’ve blossomed, and they’re so knowledgeable. I really enjoy watching that process.”

She said it’s wonderful to frequently run into former students in the Rapid City area. The Teacher of the Year award is even more meaningful knowing it’s a vote of confidence from those she helped along their career path. “I was really honored,” Conlee said.

Student comments

Anonymous comments from students who voted to give Conlee the award make it clear why they look up to her.

“Lecturer Conlee has gone above and beyond for my classmates and me from the time she started teaching my class. She is kind, compassionate and someone I can always depend on. While she wants us all to succeed as nurses and as students, she understands life outside of nursing school is a thing. She is compassionate by checking on us and how we’re doing outside of class. She pushes us to be our best selves while doing it kindly. She teaches in a way that helps us apply it to real life, and she will explain something 15 times over if someone doesn’t quite understand the content. She facilitates a classroom where questions and engagement are encouraged. She is hands down one of the best teachers (and nurses) I have ever worked with,” one student reported.

Another commented, “Instructor Conlee has been an exceptional educator! She is always objective and consistent with all my peers. She sets clear objectives for the assignments and learning goals while giving everyone ample opportunities to succeed in her courses. More importantly, instructor Conlee has been personable, caring and an all-around inspirational professional and human being.”

Also among the student comments was, “Janice Conlee is a fantastic instructor. She goes above and beyond to help and make time for her students. Her classes are fun and engaging, and she is also a good human being; she smiles at me in the hallway and legitimately cares about her students. She always asks me how I am feeling and can recognize my ‘off days.’ Give this lady an award.”

And: “Janice Conlee has gone above and beyond what could be asked of an instructor. The information she provides is relevant and straightforward. She keeps us engaged in lecture by sharing personal stories that we can apply. Nursing school can be heavy at times, so having a lecturer that still shows us kindness by having a sense of humor and compassion goes a long way.”

Conlee likes to spend time hiking, camping, speed walking and serving as a dog grandma and babysitter. She and her husband, Chuck, have been married for 28 years and have two grown children, Sarah and Carson.

Sarah has developed her mother’s caring nature. “She’s a nurse. So that’s kind of exciting for me to have my child follow in my footsteps.”