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Nursing faculty among best in North Carolina

Nursing top 100

Mary Knowlton (left) and Mariana Da Costa were both named as top nurses in North Carolina.

By Chaz Lilly

Western Carolina University faculty have been named among the best nurses in the state.

For the second consecutive year, members of the School of Nursing were listed among North Carolina’s Great 100 Nurses. Mariana Da Costa was chosen in 2023 and Mary Knowlton in 2022. The recognition is reserved for those with a commitment to delivering the highest standards of patient care and education.

“This accolade is a testament to the exceptional caliber of nursing professionals that WCU nurtures and employs,” said Terri Durbin, associate professor and director of the school. “We are immensely proud as their achievement underscores our institution’s dedication to fostering leaders in the nursing field. They serve as an inspiration to both seasoned professionals and those just beginning their nursing journeys.”

Da Costa, making the 2023 list, will be honored at the 35th Annual NC Great 100 Gala this October in Raleigh.

“I just feel so honored to have been nominated in the first place. Nursing is such a challenging career and it’s nice to be able to show our students the rewarding parts of our profession. I can only hope to inspire them to become nurse leaders and to be excited about the future of our profession,” she said.

As an assistant professor, Da Costa serves as the program director for the traditional BSN program and faculty advisor for multiple student organizations where she leads efforts related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. She also works as a float pool nurse and clinical educator at Haywood Regional Medical Center and Harris Regional Hospital.

Knowlton echoed Da Costa’s sentiments, noting the intrinsic value she finds in her career.

“This is a once in a lifetime honor. I am grateful for the recognition from my peers and colleagues; however, I can honestly say that the satisfaction I experience from being a nurse is a reward in and of itself. Additionally, having the opportunity to educate the next generation of nurses is truly a privilege that I cherish,” Knowlton said.

Since 2010, Knowlton has taught undergraduate nursing at WCU. Currently, she works in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program teaching medical-surgical nursing, pharmacology and pathophysiology.

Hannah Hawkins, who recently graduated in the 2023 ABSN cohort, said Knowlton was an engaging teacher and inspiring mentor.

“Outside of the classroom and in a hospital setting, Dr. Knowlton represented WCU and herself in the most professional manner. She established high expectations to follow while meeting our learning needs,” Hawkins said. “I am so thankful for the open-door policy Dr. Knowlton had, and the constant support and encouragement she provided. She was there in times of laughter, tears and uncertainty.”

Hawkins is now among the 2,000-plus School of Nursing alumni who practice in clinical and leadership roles nationwide.

“I can't speak highly enough about the nursing program. I am sad to see this chapter of my life close, but my heart is filled with joy to have met and experienced that journey with my family of cohort members,” Hawkins said. “I hope that one day I can be half the nurse that Dr. Knowlton is today.”

Since 1988, The Great 100, Inc. has existed to recognize and honor registered nurses in North Carolina for their commitment to excellence, to promote a positive image of the nursing profession and to support the next generation of nurses by awarding 35 scholarships to deserving nursing students across the state.

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