faculty poses with a car tag
(L-R) UAH Senior Development Officer, Dr. Helen Lien; Alabama Nurses Foundation Executive Director, John Ziegler; UAH Nursing Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs, Dr. Amy Lanz; UAH Dean of the College of Nursing, Dr. Karen Frith; UAH President, Dr. Charles L. Karr; Alabama Nurses Foundation board member, John Beard; UAH Vice President for University Advancement and Executive Director of UAH Foundation, Mallie Hale.
Michael Mercier / UAH

Dr. Karen Frith, dean of the College of Nursing (CON) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, knew she wanted to find a way to support nursing students.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with students who have financial struggles that block their dream of becoming a nurse,” she shares. “I feel an obligation to give back because I’ve had such a rich career, and that’s because I had good support from the beginning.”

When the Alabama Nurses Foundation (ANF) proposed a matching gift to endow a nursing scholarship as a way of encouraging other donors to support UAH nursing students, Dr. Frith saw an opportunity. “I thought, ‘why not me?’ We could have found another donor, but why wouldn’t I take the leadership of making that contribution and giving the CON the chance to get support from ANF right away?” Together, Dr. Frith and ANF have committed $100,000 to establish endowed scholarships for students of the CON.

Dr. Charles L. Karr, President of UAH, notes that both Dr. Frith’s and the ANF’s support are paramount to UAH’s success: “What a generous and impactful gift – one that will have a tremendous impact on our students. Dean Karen Frith has demonstrated her commitment to the students in the nursing program through her very generous gift of a scholarship. Then, to have ANF match the gift is remarkable. The two gifts together allow for UAH to support the outstanding students in our nursing program. Aside from having an immediate impact on our students, Dean Frith and ANF are having a positive effect on our community in that most of the graduates of UAH stay right here in North Alabama. I am very thankful to both Dean Frith and to ANF – their gifts will positively impact young people now and into the future.”

Despite her ardent passion for her profession, Dr. Frith divulges that she did not always want to be a nurse. As a native of Decatur, AL, “I grew up singing in the Oak Park Middle School and Decatur High School Chorus, so when I went to college, I started as a music major” she says. “It was a big part of my life. But when I got to college, I noticed a lot of people practicing and I didn’t feel that same draw to practice as much. I didn’t have the commitment it would take to be successful.”

As it happened, Dr. Frith was a member of a sorority, and it was in that sorority house where she discovered her future career. “Some older college students were studying in the common room with their Fundamentals of Nursing textbook. I asked them what they were studying, and they showed me the book and talked to me about nursing. I had always loved science as a student, and I had taken Anatomy and Physiology in high school. I remembered that and looked through the book and said, ‘Maybe I’ll be a nurse.’ That was my lightbulb moment.”

From that point forward, Dr. Frith excelled, as she first completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and then moved to Winston-Salem, NC, to pursue her master’s degree in nursing administration while also working full-time as a nurse. “I believe in leadership,” Dr. Frith explains. “The work [of being a nurse] is always there, but the environment and culture depends on good leadership.”

Dr. Frith then moved to Atlanta where she received her Ph.D. from Georgia State University in nursing with a concentration in education. “When I was an undergraduate student, I told my advisor that one day I wanted to teach,” she says. “I come from a long family history of K-12 educators, so it must be in my blood. I loved everything about college, and I wanted to teach.”

Despite knowing her long-term goal was to work in education, Dr. Frith first wanted to gain experience in the nursing profession, so she worked as a staff nurse and later as a manager. “I was the manager of a coronary and cardiovascular ICU for four years in Macon, GA. I was a member of a local nursing association and one of my former professors at Auburn was now at Georgia College and State University and she remembered I was a good student. She said, ‘If you’re ever interested in teaching, give me a call.’ I wasn’t ready yet because I wanted to do more in the ICU. When I was ready, I called her up and she had a position for me. I was there for 15 years and department chair for 10 of those years. I was an advisor, a chair, a faculty member – I played all the roles.”

That experience, Dr. Frith says, is what prepared her for the next chapter of her life: moving to Huntsville. “My mother lived in Decatur and her health was failing. I didn’t like living so far away from her, so I moved to Huntsville. I knew UAH had a nursing program. I interviewed for a position and got the job. Now I’m in my 16th year.”

In 2021, Dr. Frith was named the new Dean of the College of Nursing after serving as an associate professor, professor, interim dean, associate dean for graduate programs, associate dean for undergraduate programs and coordinator for the College’s Ph.D. and DNP programs. As she closes in on her first year of serving as dean for the College, she takes her role seriously, and she aims to strengthen academic programs and propel the College into the future. “I think augmented reality (AR) is going to be a big piece of nursing education,” she says. AR blends reality and digital images to simulate nursing situations and allows students to visualize structures below the skin. “You can project images over a manikin or a live person to make the concepts more concrete,” Dr. Frith explains. “So if a student is attempting to listen to a patient’s heart, the augmented reality projects the heart and the valves so students know what they’re listening to. It’s a more holistic approach.”

Dr. Frith anticipates a radical change in how treatments are administered to patients. “The use of genomics and the creation of precision medicine will be as revolutionary as the creation of antibiotics. For example, certain blood thinner medications don’t work as well on some patients as on others. It’s been determined that their genetic code doesn’t accept certain medication mechanisms. Now you can do genetic testing and determine the best treatment for that specific person before they receive it. They’re developing point of care treatments that can be used in a primary clinic or in the ambulance.” These advances, Dr. Frith says, have also been propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “For all the bad things COVID did, it also accelerated the work in vaccine development and the use of mRNA. Now they’re working on vaccines for cancer. This is how genomics will change health care.”

Dr. Frith and the CON faculty stay on top of these advances because, s he says, the nursing profession must also evolve. “Nursing has always been about assessing patients, understanding what’s going on with the whole person and educating patients on their treatments. These advances in technology will still need nurses to assess the patient, and misinformation is the enemy of health care. It will fall to the nurses to make sure people who are about to get these treatments understand what is happening.”

Nursing will also play a role in the anticipated longevity of people. “I think with these new treatments, people will live longer,” she hypothesizes, “but then a big role for nurses will be to help people age in place and live and function for as long as they can with a high quality of life.”

Michael Mercier / UAH

This means there will continue to be a lasting and significant need for nurses, a need the CON is working to meet. During her time at UAH, Dr. Frith has worked with countless students who dream of becoming nurses, but who struggle to pay for their educations. “I came from a family where education was important. I’ve met with so many students who have to work or take out loans.” Dr. Frith says her gift to the CON aims to lessen this burden for students, but it’s also for students who don’t often receive merit scholarship support. “There’s more money out there for students with high GPAs and ACT scores, but there’s less for the ‘good’ students who don’t have the top GPAs. These are students who excel in a nursing program because they become passionate about the role they’re going to play. This gift is my way of helping those students.”

As dean, Dr. Frith says she spends a lot of time focused on quality improvement in our College. “I see my role as a steward; I believe in working with my colleagues and students to develop a shared vision for the College. I hope the next person will do the same. I believe in what we’re doing, and it makes me want to do everything I can to further our goals and help our students.” She adds, “Different leaders have different strengths, and mine is to build a culture of welcoming and to develop a sense of belonging to our students, faculty and staff.”

ANF Executive Director, Dr. John Ziegler, says his strength has always been his creativity, which he’s used throughout what he calls his “checkered” background. Although he’s had a diverse educational and professional history, Dr. Ziegler says he’s always been drawn to causes. “When I was in high school, I joined the Key Club. I did community service and had the joy of making a difference,” he shares. Like Dr. Frith, he is motivated by a strong desire to give back. After retiring from a job in marketing, he served as the Executive Director of the Alabama State Nurses Association (ASNA) for 10 years and then transitioned to work with ANF in 2022. During his tenure at ASNA, he sought to bolster association membership using his previously honed marketing skills. In his current role as ED of the Foundation, the ANF has endowed scholarships at five universities so far, including UAH. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of things that help people get through tough times, and I hope my work will make and enduring contribution to my favorite professionals…NURSES!”

Dr. Ziegler cites two seminal experiences that drew him to champion Alabama nurses. First, his work as the former Public Information Officer for the Alabama Department of Mental Health from 2002 to 2012 with doctors and nurses who provided care for patients with mental illness. “Their skill and professionalism were inspiring and exciting,” he says. And second, an extended hospital stay when he was 11 years old. “When I was 11, I was in the hospital for two weeks, including over Labor Day weekend. I was sad because my friends were back home having fun, and I was missing out on the holiday. Then I realized my nurses were also missing the holiday, yet they were so cheerful and took such good care of me. Even at that age, their dedication made a lasting impression on me!”

One of his greatest accomplishments and proudest achievements for the ANF is the “Nurses Save Lives” specialty car tag. “The tags became very popular and have served as a main source of funding to fulfill the foundation’s purpose to support nursing through scholarships. Every year we could give $40,000 to $50,000 in scholarships, just from the car tags. Now the popularity of the nurse car tag is among the top 10 specialty tags in the state, and more than 10,000 residents display the tags on their cars.”

“Although nurses are by far the largest group of tag owners, anyone can have a nurse tag - you don’t have to be a nurse,” Dr. Ziegler assures. “We love seeing them on the road.”

Dr. Ziegler wanted to take it one step further: “I thought we could challenge the nursing schools to find a matching giver.” Bolstered by funding from car tag sales, Dr. Ziegler approached universities with this idea to endow scholarships with a matching gift opportunity provided by ANF to entice donors to double their impact. “With our momentum and ability to leverage some of our foundation money with partners, it becomes a double blessing and creates a larger nest egg for scholarships in perpetuity,” he notes.

Dr. Frith says she is incredibly grateful for ANF’s generosity. “This is their first big support of the UAH College of Nursing. Their foundation was established to support nursing and health care environments – they want to have an impact on our community and Alabama.”

“And we’re not stopping there,” he adds. Dr. Ziegler also says the ANF is pursuing a collaboration with UAH’s nursing program to promote research that would improve nursing practice.

Dr. Ziegler also recognizes the importance of gifts like Dr. Frith’s. “Nurses are like firefighters,” he explains. “They’re running into the burning building when the rest of us are running out. What could be a more significant legacy than to know you’re helping to grow nurses who will minister to the needs of people for decades?”

“We greatly appreciate the generosity of the ANF in matching Dean Frith’s donation to create an even more beneficial scholarship fund for the College of Nursing,” says UAH Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. David Puleo. “These combined gifts will capitalize on the outstanding accomplishments of the college, including being recognized by the National League of Nursing as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education, to help prepare high-demand nurses for North Alabama and beyond.”

That impact has been made all the stronger by Dr. Frith’s gift, which, she says, she is happy to make. “It’s a good legacy that will go on forever.

Everyone deserves the chance to become a nurse, and once I decided to make the gift, I never looked back.”

The Alabama Nurses Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established in 1984 for the purpose of serving the nursing profession in the state through educational support, research grants and benevolent assistance to nurses in crisis. Over the years, the ANF has provided scholarships related to nursing education and community grants. As a result of the 2015 launch of the “Nurses Saves Lives” specialty auto license tags, the ANF has been able to increase scholarship awards and will be adding new programs for research grants and benevolence assistance to nurses.


The College of Nursing educates and inspires individuals to become nurse leaders who act with integrity, discover through scientific methods, promote wellness and advocate for the best healthcare experiences for people and communities in a complex and evolving healthcare environment. In collaboration with our university colleagues and community partners, it is committed to excellence through our teaching, scholarship, practice and service.



Dr. Helen Lien

Russ Nelson