The word "pioneer" has many meanings, but one of them is a person who is first to do something or leads the way for others.
At The University of Texas-Pan American, Dr. Carolina "Canie" Huerta fits that description.
Huerta, the Lillian O. Slemp Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Nursing, has been with UTPA since 1972 and was one of the first to get the nursing program up and running here.
"After graduating from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio in 1971 with my Bachelor of Science in nursing, a friend of mine convinced me to apply at UTPA," said Huerta, who is also the national chair for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committee. "I didn't think I'd be here for the next 40 years. During this time, I have seen the University grow immensely and our nursing program has come a long way since then."
She received her master's degree in nursing from UT-Austin in 1977 and her doctorate in education from Texas A&M University-College Station in 1990.
Huerta will be inducted into the American Academy of Nursing at its 39th Annual Meeting and Conference to be held Oct. 11-13 at the Hyatt Regency in Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
"I am very happy beyond words, really. It's a dream come true for me," said Huerta. "It's something you think and aspire for your entire career, to be recognized as a member of this organization, and it's finally happened."
Fellows can only be nominated by two peers or colleagues.
"I was nominated by two people at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio who are very well respected and well known in their field," said Huerta. "I feel honored to have been nominated and now I feel like I have a huge responsibility to mentor and see that some of our faculty get there as well."
According to The American Academy of Nursing's website, approximately 1,800 fellows are regarded as nursing leaders in education, management, practice and research.
An invitation to fellowship is more than recognition of one's accomplishment within the nursing profession. Academy fellows also have a responsibility to contribute their time and energy to the Academy, and to collaborate with other health care leaders outside the Academy in transforming America's health care system.
Academy fellows have been recognized for their extraordinary nursing careers and are among the nation's most highly educated citizens: more than 80 percent hold doctoral degrees, and the rest have completed master's programs.
Huerta acknowledges and credits her family, especially her parents, for her accomplishments in her education and career.
"I was fortunate because although we grew up in one of the poorest communities in South Texas at the time, Rio Grande City, I had brothers who were older who had graduated from college before me. I have a brother who is 80 years old and he graduated from Texas A&M back in the 1950s. My parents weren't educated, but they were very education focused and supportive."
Huerta's love for nursing is one that she takes to heart and has much passion for. She took her knowledge from the classroom to co-authoring the nursing student textbook, "Health Promotion in Nursing," along with Dr. Janice Maville, Lillian O. Slemp Endowed Chair and special assistant to the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
"This is the third edition of this textbook and it is an international version that is sold throughout the world, so obviously somebody thinks we are doing something that is good," Huerta said.
Along with her positions at UTPA, Huerta also makes time to serve as the national chair for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and president for the Texas Organization of Baccalaureate and Graduate Nursing Education. She also received the prestigious Mary Mahoney Award in 2008.
Huerta has also taught in Mexico, Canada and, this past summer, as a visiting professor at Naresuan University in Phitsanulok, Thailand.
"This is my third visit to Naresuan, the previous two trips I went as a UTPA faculty member in a study abroad role," Huerta said.
While at Naresuan, Huerta taught classes to master's students enrolled in nursing administration courses and nurse practitioner courses with presentations focused on health promotion and its application to clinical nursing practice.
Although her accomplishments have been many at UTPA, Huerta looks forward to the day of her induction to the academy.
"This induction means a lot to me. It's the culmination of a very long ride and career and an accomplishment of a dream that signifies to me, and hopefully to others, that I have done the best job I have been able to do here at UTPA," she said.