Retiring faculty reflect on Creighton experiences

May 13, 2024

We visited with four well-known professors who’re closing the book on their Creighton careers in 2024. They shared why the University and its students meant so much to them over the years.

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A collage of images of four retiring Creighton professors

Creighton, even as a faculty member, gives you the space and the motivation to grow and find your way. We can fulfill what we're put on this Earth to do. It’s this environment, the people and the culture that stimulate and inspire.

Joan Lappe Associate dean of research, College of Nursing

By Jon Nyatawa

Tom Purcell. Carol Zuegner. Joan Lappe. Charles Austerberry.

Combined, they have about 150 years of Creighton experience. They’ve interacted with thousands of students and left a lasting impact on campus.

But they’re all retiring in 2024. And they have some stories to tell before they go.

Hear from these four longtime faculty members about why the students, their colleagues and the culture at Creighton made their time here so special.


Two men pose for a photo while one holds an award

Tom Purcell
Heider College of Business

A tan fedora sat on top of the coat rack just outside the entrance to the Harper Center’s auditorium as students and other attendees took their seats for professor Tom Purcell’s final Accounting 521 lecture last month.

Someone knew the rules.

Purcell, the John P. Begley Endowed Chair in Accounting, only had a couple clearly defined bylaws in the classroom during his 47 years of teaching at Creighton. One of them: No hats.

At the final lecture, Purcell, BSBA’72, JD’77, PhD, spent about an hour one recent afternoon expressing gratitude for the people who’ve contributed to his incredible experience at Creighton — family, friends, colleagues, accounting profession peers, mentors, alumni and students.

He took attendees on a PowerPoint-assisted tour of campus history. He quoted poets. He talked about his many accomplishments, including his work leading Creighton’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

“For me this is the end of 60 years of being involved at Creighton,” Purcell said. “I don’t know what comes next. People say, ‘what are you going to do?’ I have no idea. But I’m going to contemplate, I’m going to wonder, I’m going to savor.”

Watch Purcell’s final lecture



A woman smiles as she holds a Creighton degree

Carol Zuegner
College of Arts and Sciences

There’s one thing associate professor Carol Zuegner won’t miss: the daunting, procrastination-inducing task of building a semester’s course syllabus.

Her house might miss it, though.

“I always say that syllabus time is the time that my kitchen floor gets the best cleaning ever,” she says with a laugh.

But everything else? Oh yes, she’ll miss it all. It’s why Zuegner is taking a canoeing and glamping trip with friends right around the time school starts up in August — so she can take her mind off the inevitable pining for her role as the Joella Cohen Endowed Chair in Journalism.

Zuegner, BA’77, MS’22, PhD, traveled the world with students as part of Creighton’s Backpack Journalism program. She advised the student-run Creightonian for 17 years. Her teaching style and subject matter helped her form strong connections with students — and those relationships strengthened well after graduation.

Zuegner’s dad, Chuck, was a longtime faculty member in Creighton’s journalism department from the 1960s through the 1980s.

“I’m not sure when I really found my voice as a professor,” Zuegner says. “But once I found it, and I felt comfortable telling students ‘I know this is right, but I don’t know everything, and we are all life-long learners — especially as journalists. ’ That is when I really appreciated doing this job.”

Read more: Zuegner details the ways she learned from students and recalls nervously reading new Creightonian editions.



A nurse talks to a patient

Joan Lappe
College of Nursing

Joan Lappe, MS’85, PhD, is one of the nursing profession’s most renowned researchers. Yet if she had her way when she first got hired at Creighton, she probably wouldn’t have participated in any research at all.

“Frankly, I was a little disappointed. I wanted to teach,” Lappe said.

That initial job offer required her to spend 50% of her time managing research projects. Lappe held Creighton in such high esteem that she wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity. Good decision.

Said Lappe: “It was one of the best things that could have happened.”

Lappe still taught many students over the years. But her skills as a researcher brought national recognition, especially as she and her colleagues began publishing new findings about the impact of Vitamin D and calcium supplements on osteoporosis treatments and cancer prevention.


There was the time Lappe received a call from a U.S. President’s physician. She once held her ground in tense conversations with an irate Navy base commander. She’s advised campus faculty as associate dean of research for the College of Nursing. Her curiosity and passion helped improve countless lives.

And she has Creighton to thank.

“Creighton, even as a faculty member, gives you the space and the motivation to grow and find your way,” Lappe said. “We can fulfill what we're put on this Earth to do. It’s this environment, the people and the culture that stimulate and inspire. There are places where they may say they want their employees to grow, but you can be stifled. But here, I always felt I had opportunities.”

Read more: Lappe shares more about the two research studies that mean the most to her.



An image of a man and an image of a wall sign

Charles Austerberry
College of Arts and Sciences

Assistant professor Charles Austerberry, PhD, was in the hospital with a broken collar bone when he recognized a familiar face evaluating his X-ray.

A former student!

And on a different day not too long ago, when Austerberry injured his leg, he quickly realized something about the individual who came to help.

Another student!

“I felt he was kind of a role model for success, and he was just working that night as patient transport,” Austerberry said. “It was just such a treat. I was still in a lot of pain, but what a lift.”

Every now and then, these interactions take place. Austerberry hears from colleagues about similar uplifting meetings. And it’s one of Austerberry’s many joys, to know Creighton alumni are thriving.

Because over the years, Austerberry met a lot of students.

Austerberry was part of a faculty rotation that taught maybe the largest lecture on campus for a general biology course. He helped transform the faculty-led Pre-Health Advising Committee into an office dedicated to mentoring and serving students interested in medical school. Austerberry was the director of Pre-Health Professions Advising for 10 years.

So, he met a lot of students over the years. And those interactions were what he most cherished while on campus.

“The students are wonderful, as are all of my colleagues,” Austerberry said. “The kind of people that come to Creighton to work and stay here are just really student-centered and intentional about serving the students. That sort of mission-focus means that people are eager to find ways to work together, and it tends to make for a really collaborative and collegial environment.”

Read more: Austerberry recalls a terrifying guest lecture, hallways packed with advice-seeking students and the importance of his experience with the pre-medical post-baccalaureate program.


Were you mentored by or did you take a class taught by one of these four professors? Do you have a favorite faculty member who left a positive impact on you? Send your memories to and we may use them as part of a future feature story.