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2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards Honors Extraordinary Alum


Columbia Nursing alumni influence the delivery of health care, establish innovations in nursing education, and conduct groundbreaking research throughout the country and world. Each year, these outstanding individuals are honored as Distinguished Alumni for their professional achievements, service, and influence in healthcare.


This year’s awardees were presented at the 2017 Alumni Reunion on May 5, by the co-chairs of the Distinguished Alumni Awards committee, Joan Hagan Arnold ’69 and Angela Clarke Duff ’70.


“My time at Columbia Nursing was transformative, fueling a vision for the greater good, instilling an insatiable hunger for moving beyond my clinical practice into somewhat unconventional domains to mentor students,” said one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni awardees Lora Peppard ’08.


“I am one of only a few nurse scientists in the country with an active informatics research program that I integrate into my teaching in the classroom,” said another of this year’s winners, Rebecca Schnall ’09, who is now the Mary Dickey Lindsay Assistant Professor of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at Columbia Nursing. “I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a student at Columbia Nursing and am equally fortunate to serve in my current role where I can help develop future distinguished alumni.”


Another of this year’s winners, Dr. Jesus Casida said, “I am very thankful for this honor and I will forever hold Columbia Nursing in my heart.”


Columbia Nursing is proud of all of its extraordinary alumni. All nominee submissions are reviewed over the course of several months by the committee. As Arnold told Columbia Nursing before last year’s ceremony, “We wish we could acknowledge everyone, but in the end, we come to a unanimous decision.”


This year’s members of the Distinguished Alumni Awards Committee include: Sarah Sheets Cook ’05, Patricia Dykes ’04 , Chana Engel ’06 ’09, Rachel Lyons ’07, Maureen Murphy-Ruocco '80. A full list of past distinguished alumni awardees can be found here, and pictures from the all of reunion can be found here.


Learn more about this year’s winners below:


Award in Nursing Research: Rebecca Schnall ’09


Dr. Schnall ‘09 is an exemplary nurse scientist and informatician.  She has an impressive and varied educational background from Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Pace University and Columbia University School of Nursing where she received her PhD.  She has compiled a rich research program focused on the intersection of informatics and quality of care in systems, clinicians and patients.  In the eight years of her post-graduate research, Dr. Schnall has been awarded more than $10 million dollars in funding from multiple federal sources, including a current $7.5 million award, the largest one ever received at Columbia Nursing.


Dr. Schnall’s focus on the use of informatics to improve the quality of systems of care, support for clinicians and ways to improve patient outcomes, demonstrates an elegant use of new technical modalities and knowledge to improve nursing care for patients, especially those with HIV/AIDS.  Dr. Schnall’s commitment to HIV/AIDS is longstanding, and her program of research is characterized by its solid theoretical foundations and rigorous and innovative mixed methods.  Her mixed methods studies have resulted in greater understanding of the information needs of consumers/patients, clinicians, and case managers as the foundation for design of Web-based and mobile applications with demonstrated impact.  Some of these efforts include improving HIV-preventative behaviors in adolescents using mobile information technology, and a ‘smart’ pill box for people with HIV/AIDs to improve their adherence to antiretroviral therapy.  Not only does Dr. Schnall utilize multiple theoretical bases to inform new perspectives in her research, but she also involves experts in these areas to promote interdisciplinary collaborations.


In addition to her research efforts, Dr. Schnall is known as an expert and engaging teacher.  She mentors all levels of students, at Columbia Nursing as well as those from other health care disciplines such as public health, infectious disease and biomedical informatics.  Likewise, her academic contributions are multiple and distinguished. She has placed more than 65 peer-reviewed publications in top journals, as well as multiple presentations, podcasts, book chapters, computer applications and tools.  Dr. Schnall is a sought-after reviewer for many professional journals, especially those related to informatics and quality of care. Accomplished on many levels, Dr. Schnall is a stellar Columbia alum and distinguished nurse researcher.


Award in Nursing Education: Lora Peppard ‘08


As an eminent leader in nursing and academe, Dr. Lora Peppard ’08 is an outstanding educator.  She views pedagogy through clinical and scholarly lenses that prepare students, faculty and community partners to implement evidence-based, behavioral health practices in pursuit of sustainable integrated care models. Her clinical experience includes inpatient, emergency and outpatient psychiatric settings, and she develops, implements, and leads innovative programs for underserved, military and mental illness populations.  After graduating from Columbia Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, Dr. Peppard joined the faculty of George Mason University. As the first faculty member with a DNP degree, Dr. Peppard helped shape the school’s DNP Program and became its Director from 2012-2015.  In 2013 she also became the Director of Behavioral Health Services for the Mason and Partners Clinics. In 2016, she was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. 


Dr. Peppard is a Project Director for two grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Totaling nine million dollars, the grants support research related to reducing substance abuse and fatal drug overdoses.  Her innovative project -using participatory research methodology and service learning- provides an immersion experience for students that allows them to experience the impact of research on health care outcomes.  Students in the project participate in writing proposals, the implementation of the project, policy development and evaluations.  Dr. Peppard builds strong collaborations among the team and mentors each member.  She serves as a consultant to a variety of community and college-based initiatives, and has presented in multiple venues and written publications including case studies, articles and book chapters on developing and sustaining integrated care and other health care models. 


In 2016, Dr. Peppard received the Leadership Excellence Nurse Educator Award from the Virginia Nurses Association. She was also a recipient of its 40 under 40 Award in 2015.  Dr. Peppard received a Master Teacher Award from the College of Health and Human Services, George Mason University in 2013. Dr. Peppard holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Wesleyan College, a master’s degree in Advanced Practice Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing from Boston College, a DNP from Columbia University and is a PhD candidate at George Mason University.  Dr. Peppard is a distinguished nurse educator inspiring teacher, noted mentor, expert in curriculum design and innovative teaching methodologies, illustrious researcher and significant contributor to nursing education and nursing science. 

Award in Nursing Education, Jesus Casida ’96


Dr. Jesus Casida ’96 is an extraordinary teacher who has demonstrated his remarkable skill in nursing education across both clinical and academic settings for nearly two decades.  He has a      gift for mentoring students and orienting nursing staff, and has an ability to develop interdisciplinary programs and standards in the clinical setting, which has stimulated his pursuit of an academic career in health care education.  He earned his PhD from Seton Hall University in 2007.


Dr. Casida’s expertise is grounded in his real world knowledge of clinical experiences, and an intuitive sense of what is essential to build effective layers of learning for students.  He pioneered full fidelity simulation as a teaching strategy in the acute and critical care courses at Seton Hall University and at Wayne State University, paving the way for its use now customary in colleges and schools of nursing nationwide.  He revised six courses for undergraduates, masters and doctoral students at Wayne State and the University of Michigan where he also reviewed the nursing curriculum and led the restructuring of basic sciences and clinical nursing foundation courses, resulting in improved outcomes for student learning. He also revised the school’s pharmacology course, focusing on the deficits and challenges of students, thereby insuring safer medication administration and better understanding of side effects.


Dr. Casida was appointed to lead an undergraduate honors program at Michigan for exceptional students. He refined the coursework and actively engaged students in scholarly and leadership activities.  The results were transformative, and he gained prestige within the university and at other schools nationally.  His innovative teaching and positive influence on undergraduate curriculum helped support his selection as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar in 2009. Students and faculty have honored him with awards in Excellence in Teaching for his outstanding effectiveness as a mentor, teacher, and inspiration as a role model.


Dr. Casida’s scholarly excellence has been recognized by many publishers, particularly in simulation and critical care nursing.  He is an accomplished nurse researcher whose proposals have generated considerable financial grants for studies involved with tech devices for cardiac patients’ self-management, among other projects.  Dr. Casida exemplifies the ideal qualities of an academic nurse leader in the 21st century, for his passionate commitment to nursing education, science, practice and to his students.