10 Minutes With…

Mary Lou Sole
Dean, UCF College of Nursing


Camille Dolan ’98 | March 2023

Mary Lou Sole is the dean of the UCF College of Nursing and holds the Orlando Health Endowed Chair in Nursing. She joined UCF’s faculty in 1991 and is a passionate researcher and clinical educator who has spent the past three decades focusing on preventing complications and improving outcomes of critically ill patients who are placed on a ventilator.

Heralding from a small town in Ohio, Sole has risen to national prominence in her field for her more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, for editing 8 editions of a best-selling critical care textbook, for her innovative teaching strategies to improve student learning in the clinical setting as well as the classroom, and for recognition as a fellow of both the American Academy of Nursing and the American College of Critical Care Medicine.

She is a true shining star of the nursing profession. In 2008, she was named a UCF Pegasus Professor, the university’s highest faculty honor. Sole continues to break ground — literally and figuratively. Last year, Sole announced the new home for the UCF College of Nursing will open in 2025, thanks to initial funding from the State of Florida, enhancing the college’s mission to bring quality clinical education to an ever-growing workforce.

What was one of the most memorable courses that you’ve taken in your educational career?

Believe it or not, it was a business typing course. I was in high school, taking college prep classes, and I knew I needed to learn how to type. Even though they had a personal typing course, the only class that fit with my schedule was business typing. I learned how to type appropriate business letters and memos and developed impeccable keyboarding skills. Every year, they would give an award to the top student in the class, and in my senior year, I received the award. I continue to use those skills to this day.

Pictured, left: artist rendering of the future 90,000-square-foot College of Nursing building at the UCF Academic Health Sciences Campus in Lake Nona, Florida.

In 1991, you took the leap from being a  little fish in a big pond to being a big fish in a little pond at UCF. 
How has that worked out for you?

Beyond my wildest dreams! Before UCF, I had my first university teaching position at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Nursing in San Antonio. In 1991, my husband and I relocated to Orlando to provide opportunities for him in the homebuilding industry.  I knew that I could get a job almost any place with a PhD in nursing and was hired as a visiting associate professor when UCF had approximately 18,000 students.  I am fortunate to have played a part in planning and implementing many new programs and initiatives as UCF and the College of Nursing have grown.

One of the many reasons you were named Dean of the College of Nursing in 2015 was your clear passion for improving patient care and outcomes.
One of the best ways to accomplish this, you said, was by promoting inter-professional education and research opportunities, and by relocating the College of Nursing to the UCF Health Sciences Center campus at Lake Nona in Medical City.
Tell us how that felt when the State of Florida announced its approval for the project last year.

Ecstatic!  I am so grateful for the legislative support to jumpstart plans to relocate to the Lake Nona Campus.  The College of Nursing cannot address the nursing workforce issues without additional space.  I am also grateful for the opportunity to share our vision to be the College of Nursing for the future with our community!  Even though we have always had generous, thoughtful support from the community through the years, the validation that the project has received since last year’s announcement is humbling and exciting! In November, Dr. Phillips Charities announced a transformational $10 million gift for our new building and in January we received $500,000 from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation. We are forever grateful to both foundations for their lead philanthropic support.

Pictured, left: artist rendering of the future 90,000-square-foot College of Nursing building at the UCF Academic Health Sciences Campus in Lake Nona, Florida.

When we spoke earlier, you indicated that when you were growing up, your parents never talked about money or philanthropy.
Can you talk about how your beliefs regarding philanthropy have evolved?

Growing up, my parents fostered putting money in the church envelopes and placing them in the basket weekly, but I never really thought about that as philanthropy. It was more of an expectation. We also never really talked about money or household finances, so even though my parents were charitable, it wasn’t something they discussed with me.

During my first few years at UCF, I was not philanthropic. I was focused on paying bills and saving for the future, and giving back to UCF just wasn’t at the top of my mind. But I observed what fellow faculty and staff were doing, and I realized that it was important to give back as well.  I started out small with my donations and later, I started giving to the Knightingale Society. In 2021, I started a family scholarship because I saw the generosity of previous faculty and deans doing starting this tradition and I want to be a role model as well. 

While that is a substantial amount from the state, it’s not enough to completely fund the project.
Can you talk about the role that philanthropy has provided and will continue to provide in this project?

We estimate the building will cost approximately $63 million. Aside from the capital costs — also known as the construction costs — philanthropy is critical to do one of the most important parts of nursing education, and that is advancing educational innovations, including simulation, when we move to Lake Nona.

To achieve high-quality simulations, we need state-of-the-art equipment and the faculty and staff to run them. And student fees do not cover the operational costs of simulation. We can fundraise for a mannequin, but then we must make sure we have an ongoing warranty to cover any malfunctions — and that can cost thousands of dollars per year. Additional personnel are also needed to provide the small group learning associated with simulation. As we gain additional equipment, our goal is to provide courses to generate revenue that can sustain the equipment, and we can also showcase these great resources to the community.

We are grateful for the ongoing private and national support that we have received, and we look forward to continuing this important component of our program. We are excited to partner with the community at any level and have so many ways to get involved with the College of Nursing, whether it’s by donating to one of our existing scholarships, or by providing the latest technology for our students that will help them throughout their nursing career.

Just Keep Swimming!

How Mary Lou Sole Has Navigated a Long Career in Nursing, Clinical Research and Academia

Mary Lou Sole, dean of the College of Nursing, says one of the greatest lessons she was ever taught was how to recognize traits in others that they may not recognize in themselves.
It’s something she learned from Nancy Martin, the director of the nursing school in Wheeling, WV, where Sole earned her nursing diploma. She was drawn to nursing because of her mother and grandmother, both of whom were in the profession.
Career options were limited where she grew up in rural Eastern Ohio, she says. “I could be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary,” Sole recalls. No one encouraged other career paths. That’s just the way it was back in the 70s; there were, of course, some glass ceiling breakers back then, but they were exceedingly rare.

Finances were a concern, too, Sole says. The nursing school in Wheeling was about 30 miles from her home, so she could reside at the dorm and commute home on the weekends to work. And tuition was extremely reasonable compared to a college education. 

The hospital-based diploma nursing school was literally next door to a community hospital.

“It wasn’t a big program,” Sole recalls. But Martin was also the director of the hospital, so she was always looking for nurses who could teach. “And I guess she saw something in me.”
Martin would go on to tap Sole for her first faculty job shortly after she completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing; and later, her first leadership job.

“The education I received at Ohio Valley was excellent,” Sole says. “It was a three-year program, and we were enmeshed in the hospital the whole time. The program ensured that we were ready for clinical practice when we graduated, and most of us stayed at that hospital to work.” Sole came out of the program with a better understanding of her desired career trajectory in critical care, but she knew that she would need to further her education.

Sole said her goal was to obtain a degree as soon as she finished her diploma program at the Ohio Valley General Hospital School of Nursing.  She went on to receive her bachelor’s degree from Ohio University in Athens immediately after graduating with her diploma. She quickly realized that she would need an advanced degree to accomplish her goal of teaching future nurses. She went on to obtain her master’s degree from the Ohio State University in Columbus, and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin.

When she was studying for her master’s degree, Sole says it was, ironically, the first time she had a “college experience.” “I lived in a studio apartment four blocks from campus, I rode my bike to classes, and I first encountered cockroaches,” Sole laughs.

She also describes the influence of nursing organizations in her career trajectory. As a student, she picked up a magazine published by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. She knew she wanted to work in an intensive-care unit, and it was cheaper to join the organization when she was in school, so she did that, and has been a member since then. She attended her first national critical care conference and began to meet people who wrote articles in the magazine. Their encouragement and career advice hit home.

We are doing everything we can to boost the number of students that we accept, so that we can offer admission to every qualified applicant who wants to be a nurse.

Mary Lou Sole

Dean, UCF College of Nursing

Two years after she received her master’s degree, she presented at their national conference. “That was a huge deal for me,” Sole recalls. “I didn’t have a clue what it was like to present at a national conference, and I just fell in love with it and the many opportunities for networking.” During the conference, she found herself on a bus next to Dr. Kathy Dracup, a prominent nursing author (and future journal editor), whose work she had admired. Dracup gave her many tips for successful authors, including working with a teammate who is supportive. Sole heeded that advice and has passed on this advice to others.

Soon after that, Sole remembered seeing a call for committees in the magazine. So, she applied. One of the perks of being on a committee was that she got to travel.

“For a rural Ohio kid who had barely been out of the state, that was an amazing experience,” Sole says. During one of the committee meetings held in San Antonio, she met Dr. Brenda Jackson, the committee chairperson. At the time, Sole was looking to enter a doctoral program, and Jackson told her that the University of Texas-Austin had one, and that it was an easy commute from San Antonio. The program would allow her to continue working full-time for a local hospital, while attending her doctoral program part-time. It also allowed her to get her “first glimpse of teaching” at a program that offered bachelor’s and master’s degrees when she took a joint appointment role with the local university.

Along the way, she also discovered her affinity for research. Since 1979, Sole has published over 100 articles. “I think it was just seeing the articles that were written, and then thinking, ‘if they could do that, I could do that,’” Sole says. “But I never had this dream that I was going to be a professor. I was just working and teaching and always believed in doing the best job possible.”

It was hard to have dual roles as a clinician and a teacher. She faced a conundrum: her clinical duties kept dragging her away from the teaching duties that she loved.

“I thought, ‘I just need to go into academia and do what I truly love,’” Sole says.

Ultimately, Sole combined education and nursing to make dreams that she never knew she had become a reality. Since 1991, Sole has seen the College of Nursing reach new heights in academic success, culminating earlier this year with state approval to begin the process for building a new home for the College of Nursing at Lake Nona’s Medical City.

We are doing everything we can to boost the number of students that we accept, so that we can offer admission to every qualified applicant who wants to be a nurse.

UCF College of Nursing at Lake Nona

When Sole was a nursing student, her “classroom” was almost literally next door to the community’s hospital. The head of the program was also the director of nursing for the program. The proximity between the school and the hospital created not only a natural synergy, but also a perfect learning environment for the student nurses, who received real-world training nearly every day of their program.

In 2022, Sole learned that the College of Nursing had received state approval and a commitment toward enhancing nursing education through the new proposed 90,000-square-foot home on the UCF Academic Health Sciences Campus.

 The approval was a cause for celebration, Sole says, and one that began more than ten years ago when the College of Nursing moved to its current location in Research Park.

“In 2010, it was our goal to get to Lake Nona,” Sole recalls. Sole was named dean of the college in 2015, but her predecessor, Dr. Jean D’Meza Leuner, had also advocated for the move.

Dr. Deborah German, dean of the College of Medicine, saw the addition of the College of Nursing to Lake Nona as the next logical step for the Lake Nona campus.  During the 2022 legislative session the building goals became a reality.  “Nursing became a priority across the state, and UCF College of Nursing benefitted greatly.” With the anticipated final cost of the building at around $63 million, Sole says the team was hopeful for an initial investment in funding from the state to begin the planning process.

“For the state to award not only an initial $29 million, plus a continued annual commitment of $6.9 million for education and training of our students was just astounding,” Sole says. “Our legislators recognized the critical nursing shortage and committed to investing in the state university system and the state colleges to address the issue.”

It’s not just the state that realizes the importance of strengthening our nursing program, Sole adds.

“We understand that we also have to do our part to raise the additional funds necessary to complete the building process,” Sole says. “We are so grateful for Dr. Phillips Charities for their recent $10 million gift; their partnership with UCF cannot be understated, and we appreciate their leadership very much.”
She adds, “our goal is to complete the new building in time to start the  fall 2025 school year, if all the stars align the way they did with the Dr. Phillips Charities gift.”

“We notice that people are inspired when they see the names on rooms of the individuals, families and organizations who have so generously provided for that enhancement to our already stellar program. It’s important for them to see that we are all in this together to help our students be better educated for the workforce and the rest of their careers.” Sole says.

Over the years, Sole has seen the “peaks and the valleys” of the need for nurses.

“I’ve seen  both shortages and layoffs of nurses,” Sole says. “But right now, we are on this trajectory that keeps trending upward. We have a shortage, and the shortage is not going away.”

In addition to population growth, the aging workforce, as well as the aging faculty workforce, is also a major component of the critical need for nurses, Sole adds.

“We are doing everything we can to boost the number of students that we accept, so that we can offer admission to every qualified applicant who wants to be a nurse.”

UCF was the first program in the state, and one of the first in the country to offer its RN to BSN program online, Sole recalls. Long before Zoom or Canvas, Sole and other faculty members instructed classes on television, and then would have the recorded classes available at local state college libraries. This was vitally important to rural Florida communities. Some of the early students were nurses who were working in a variety of places including prisons, or in other community-based organizations. These nurses wanted a degree to advance their careers.

At times, it seems like Sole is so busy that she might forget to breathe. Fortunately, thanks to her advanced certification as a SCUBA diver, she’s got that mastered, too. One of her favorite trips was a 110-foot-deep dive on the Cayman Islands that was breathtaking.

“Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to give that up,” Sole says. “But I still love to dive. It’s very therapeutic being underwater when all you hear is your breath and the bubbles. But then my mind starts to turn back to respirations and oxygen saturation levels, and I know it’s time to get back to work.”