Associate Professor of Nursing Toni Vezeau will receive the Distinguished Teaching Award at the 2011 Alumni Awards ceremony on April 5. As a nurse and nurse educator, Vezeau has earned the respect of countless colleagues, students and patients. And yet the path she took to her profession was anything but a straight line.
Her father was a statistics professor at Saint Louis University. He passed away before Vezeau arrived at SLU as a freshman. Following in her father’s footsteps she took nearly enough classes to get a bachelor’s degree in math—and came very close to earning a bachelor’s in geography, as well.
That’s when a well-intentioned Jesuit at SLU, Fr. Paul Reinart, who was looking out for her in the aftermath of her father’s death, signed her up for nursing with the belief that it offered more career options than math or geography would.
Nursing wasn’t completely foreign to Vezeau. Her mother was a nurse, in fact, she was one of the first students to earn a bachelor’s in nursing at SLU. Yet Vezeau’s own foray into nursing was, at first, anything but a match made in heaven. She thrived in the classroom, consistently earning A’s. “I could memorize everything,” she says. But when it came to putting what she learned into practice, well, that was another story. “In clinical settings, I was not very good,” she says.
She actually dropped out of nursing a number of times.. Yet, ambivalent as she may have been about nursing, something kept pulling her back. And there are many here at SU and beyond who are grateful for whatever that something is—particularly her students.
“Dr. Vezeau is a master teacher who sets very high standards for students who work hard to achieve them,” says colleague Anita Jablonski, associate professor of nursing. “I have heard from students that she is a great teacher who is knowledgeable, organized, fair and respectful of them. She gives freely of her time both inside and out of the classroom. She holds special study sessions and has a constant stream of students in and out of her office. Students value her wisdom and guidance long after they have graduated. She often receives e-mails and visits from former students. She continues to work with them after graduation on their scholarship. She has helped numerous student groups get manuscripts published that were written as a course assignment their last quarter of the program.”
For her part, Vezeau gets a close-up view of many of SU’s nursing graduates. She works with many of them on the staff at Overlake Hospital—another of the many facets of her professional life—and is impressed with “how well they do and the passion they have for what they do. I’d match our students and graduates up against anyone,” she says.
After spending the better part of her formative years on SLU’s campus and attending a Jesuit parish with her family, Vezeau says “The whole Jesuit thing is very much ingrained. The day I walked in here in 1994, the (Garrand) building looked like the building where my dad worked. I felt very much like I was coming back to my roots.”