Submitted by Virginia Weir, Assistant Director of Advancement Communications on November 2, 2012

I’m motivated to contribute in any way that I can so that other young adults—some who might not otherwise have the chance—have the same opportunity.

Elner Morrell ’81, P’03

Major: Nursing

Occupation: Business Solutions Architect, Healthcare Industry

Why Fairfield…

My decision to attend Fairfield was mostly based on its geographical location and size. I wanted to go to college in-state, not too far from home. I also wanted to go to a school where professors would know students by name, not as “a number.” My campus visit “sealed the deal”! I remember standing in front of Canisius Hall with my parents and the student tour guides, looking out over the beautiful campus and feeling a real sense of belonging. I think Fairfield appealed to my son Alex ’03 for some of the same reasons it did to me.

About being both an alumna and a parent of a Fairfield graduate

Being both a parent and an alumna feels special; it’s not something I planned on. I wanted Alex to choose the college that he wanted to attend. Although I was happy that he applied to Fairfield, I thought that gender and generational differences might influence his decision. There are so many more options and opportunities available to students now. I wanted Alex to feel comfortable in a setting he could survive and thrive in at one of the most important points in life. I wanted his choice to be the right choice for him. I’m happy that he chose Fairfield! I feel privileged to be able to share this common bond, as well as similar experiences from that part of our lives, with Alex.

Staying Involved and Connected

I have many fond memories of friendships formed and a variety of experiences that I often reflect on.

Alex and I both participate in alumni gatherings. I work in Hartford, Conn., and support the local club there. Alex lives in NYC and supports the Manhattan Young Alumni Chapter. I feel very strongly about staying connected to the University, so I’m pleased to see Alex build and maintain ties to Fairfield as well.

One of my favorite events is the annual Fairfield Awards Dinner sponsored by Alumni Relations to benefit the University’s Multicultural Scholarship Fund. It’s a great event for a great cause. The honorees are always impressive, the speakers inspiring, and a select group of current students are invited to attend. There is always a tremendous amount of positive energy and excitement in the air. Alex and I try to attend the event together every year. It doesn’t hurt that the event is held in NYC!

Aside from that, our family is comprised of athletes. While I was a student at Fairfield I was a cheerleader for the (club) football team and played intramural sports. Alex was on the football team, so it was fun to cheer him on. He also played basketball in grade school, so we’re Coach Cooley fans converted to Coach Johnson fans! We try to get out, meet the coaches and cheer on student-athletes when we can.

A Career in Healthcare

My career path has been influenced and shaped by both the progressive nature of Fairfield’s curriculum and the evolution of healthcare. I graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. In addition to fulfilling core academic requirements, nursing students complete extensive coursework in the science and principles of nursing. Aside from nursing theory, we learned about research and leadership. And, hours spent in the classroom were supplemented with hours spent in actual practice – in labs and different clinical settings.

The rigor of the four-year degree program appealed to me. Nursing science is much more advanced now, but when I graduated from Fairfield the BSN degree was one of the most advanced degrees an aspiring nurse could pursue. I fully expected to eventually assume a professional role away from the bedside and envisioned myself as a nurse leader working for a health maintenance organization (HMO), arranging managed care.

I started my career as a clinical nurse in the broader, general field of medical/surgical practice. I also briefly tried psychiatric nursing and worked in skilled nursing facilities. However, my interest in managed care led to an opportunity to work at the Traveler’s Insurance Company, which at the time was beginning to offer national and regional clients benefit plans with better cost savings based on their members receiving care from network providers.

An advertisement in the local newspaper said that they were looking for experienced registered nurses to serve as liaisons between the insurer, their clients’ enrolled members, and health care providers. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I enlisted the help of an agency that created resumes, went to the job fair, and was quickly hired as a patient advocate. I worked for the Traveler’s Insurance Company in various capacities within its group health insurance and managed care operations units, including the HMO, the Traveler’s Health Network (THN).

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions – eventually by UnitedHealthcare – my career path has taken me through many roles in business operations and technology, all bolstered by the foundation provided by my studies at Fairfield. As a HMO nurse consultant, I researched state-specific legislation to understand regulatory compliance requirements. I developed reimbursement policies, fee schedules, and medical claim review guidelines. I also have experience in business and systems analysis, project management, and systems engineering.

At UnitedHealth Group, Inc., the parent company of UnitedHealthcare and Optum businesses, in my current role as an enterprise solution architect I work with internal business and technology resources to design, develop, and deliver innovative technical solutions to business problems while also maintaining alignment with the strategic goals of the enterprise.

Influential Faculty: Flora V. Lavery & Barbara J. Sideleau

Two faculty whom I think of often are no longer with us: Mrs. Flora V. Lavery was an assistant professor in public health and nurtured my interest in (care) planning. Throughout my career, whenever I’ve had to develop a detailed plan – whether tactical or strategic – I think of her praise and words of encouragement.

Mrs. Barbara J. Sideleau taught psychiatric nursing and seemed to have a tough exterior to my 18-year old self, but she was so compassionate; really a saving grace. I met one of her daughters a couple of years ago and was thrilled to be able to share with her my feeling of gratitude for her mother’s support.

Alex had similar experiences as a both as a student and an athlete. We both sometimes see professors who influenced or were helpful to him at University events.

Life Lessons

The creative and critical thinking skills that I’ve developed and continue to hone have helped me succeed in many different personal and professional settings. In addition, the Jesuit values, which have always felt very natural and essential to me, have informed my life in more ways than I could have imagined when I first arrived on campus.

Why I Give Back

I’m in the first generation of college-educated members of my family; there was a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment when I graduated from Fairfield. When I think about how my career and my life have been enriched through my Fairfield education and continued association with Fairfield I’m motivated to contribute in any way that I can so that other young adults—some who might not otherwise have the chance—have the same opportunity. The future of our cities and towns, our states, our country, and our world depends on how well prepared and inspired our students are.

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