Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By SUSAN McMAHON
LOWELL When they visited Dean Janice Stecchi, UMass Lowell health students sometimes got to borrow her copy of The Little Engine that Could.
They sometimes got a teddy bear.
And sometimes, this nurse turned educator would get back her bears a little matted, wet with tears. She didn't mind.
Because, for Stecchi, the priority was always on the students helping them achieve their goals, helping them through problems in their lives.
Her motto is imprinted on a sign on her desk: "Students Don't Interfere with my Work They are My Work."
"You get to know students in college in a different way than in high school or elementary school. They're adults. They open up and let you know what's going on," she said. "They'd know I'd be there for them."
The dean of the College of Health Professions, Stecchi retired in June.
She spent the first part of her career as a nurse, working part time at Saints Memorial Medical Center while she raised her children. Then she moved to a full-time teaching position at the university, educating the next generation of nurses.
While her first love was nursing (inherited from her mother, a nurse), Stecchi believed she was able to touch more lives by becoming a teacher.
"I loved nursing, and I loved making sure patients have excellent care," she said. "I could probably provide more care to more people if I brought that love to students."
Sixteen years after she began her teaching career in the department of nursing at Lowell State College, she was named chairperson of the same department at UMass Lowell.
In 1992, she was named interim dean, and was officially appointed to the position two years later.
In that position, she often dealt with what she called her "reluctant scholars," encouraging them to work through their issues, offering support, and helping them to get back on track.
It was a career that brought many rewards, like the time a student on the basketball team, in danger of failing out of school, worked his way back with Stecchi's encouragement, earning Bs and Cs and making his mark in athletics.
After Stecchi was inducted into the school's Athletics Hall of Fame for her support of athletic programs, that student was there, greeting her with a hug.
"Those kinds of things are so rewarding," she said. "It's those memories that make you realize that you can live through the budget cuts, and you can live through the changes."
Stecchi plans to remain involved in both the university and Lowell communities despite her retirement. As chairman of the Board of Trustees at Saints Memorial Medical Center (the first woman to fill the role) and a commissioner on the Lowell Arena and Baseball Stadium Commission, her finger remains in many city pies.
Retirement will bring more traveling, the arrival of a new grandchild, and some time to explore an invention that helps patients with different language backgrounds communicate with care providers.
She also will remain as chairman of the university's accreditation committee. That process won't be complete until October.
"There's still a lot to be done," she said.