Focused on Caring

Richard Sowell

Retired WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Richard Sowell was a funded researcher…

Georgia (Nov 18, 2014)

Retired WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Richard Sowell was a funded researcher serving as a department chair at a name brand college when opportunity knocked.

A former colleague was heading up the nursing program at a small Georgia university that was looking for a dean; he thought Sowell should apply.

“I had no intention of coming here,” Sowell recently reminisced. “The university had less than 14,000 students, and when you drove by it on the interstate, you didn’t even know it was there.”

With nothing to lose, and further cajoling from his former research partner, Sowell decided to throw his hat into the ring.

“During the interview process, I met a lot of nice people who talked about all of the possibilities here, and I got a real positive vibe about (Kennesaw State President Emeritus) Betty (Siegel),” he said. “I remember the first Opening of School address I attended, and Betty was talking about accomplishments of the various colleges, and at the end she said, ‘Oh, yes, and the College of Health and Human Services’ like it was an afterthought. It struck me right then that we had some work to do to raise our profile up on campus.”

Fast forward 13 years, and the WellStar College of Health and Human Services is home to the largest nursing program in north Georgia, offering baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Other programs include culinary sustainability and hospitality, exercise science, health and physical education, human services, sport management and graduate programs in exercise science, nursing and social work. The college is also home to the Academy for Inclusive Education and Social Growth, Georgia’s only post-secondary opportunity for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Nobody does anything by themselves,” said Sowell, who is returning to full-time faculty status. “I just appreciate having been a part of the college’s continued growth and progression and feel privileged to have worked with our faculty and staff.”

In addition to the growth in the number and breadth of programs under Sowell’s leadership, international programs and partnerships have also flourished.

When Sowell took the helm in 2001, there was one established study-abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico, where today’s nursing students can still spend a semester abroad working in local hospitals, and learning Spanish language and culture. Sowell’s office is full of alebrijes, brightly colored Oaxacan folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures he has collected over the years.

Today, the college also offers study abroad opportunities in Uganda and has partnerships with universities and organizations in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Thailand.

“I support international education because I grew up in a place where people were not expected to leave the two-county area you grew up in, much less the States,” said Sowell, recalling his Effingham County roots. “We live in a multi-cultural world; that rural, southern, homogenous community where I grew up is gone.”

The son of one of the county’s two doctors, Sowell originally eschewed the idea of a career in health care, but after many courses at several different colleges, a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, a stint in the U.S. Air Force (where he received a Meritorious Service Award), several odd jobs and a need to pay his rent, he enrolled in the nursing program at Georgia State University.

“I remember a guy coming to the door with a knife stuck in his head and Daddy telling me to help hold him down on the kitchen table,” Sowell said. “I didn’t want to go into health care. It was purely accidental that I got into nursing.”

Sowell would go on to become the head nurse in the pulmonary unit at Grady Memorial Hospital for eight years before returning to school to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees. He worked with AID Atlanta and on the AIDS unit at Grady for his dissertation before becoming a department chair at the University of South Carolina. His scholarship focused on the cost of care for case management for people with HIV, while his seminal research focused on HIV and women in the South.

“Some of the most rewarding and important times in my life I spent with these HIV positive women,” he said. “I credit them with giving me my career.”

As Sowell prepares to return to his research and the classroom, perhaps his most visible legacy is the nearly 200,000-square-foot Prillaman Hall that was constructed on his watch. And though its significance is great, Sowell hopes his tenure will be remembered for the intangibles as well.

“At the last President’s Dinner she presided over, Betty was talking off the cuff about college accomplishments, and each bragging point was about the College of Health and Human Services,” Sowell mused. “This is a college that is focused on caring for other people and helping. We are contributors to the community, and I’m very proud of that.”

-- Jennifer Hafer


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit