Kennesaw State alumna returns to campus as nursing faculty member

KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 14, 2024

Lisa Reyes-Walsh
While working as a substance use disorder counselor at Ridgeview Hospital, Lisa Reyes-Walsh’s supervisor told her, “You know, you’re a nurse through and through.”

That reset the course for Reyes-Walsh’s life, though she never fully left counseling behind. She earned a bachelor’s in nursing from Kennesaw State University in 2011, and, now an assistant professor of nursing in KSU’s Wellstar School of Nursing, Reyes-Walsh has applied her knowledge of substance use disorder and ability as a counselor to educate nurses who can care for patients struggling with substance use issues.

“From the first time I set foot on campus, Kennesaw State always felt like home,” said Reyes-Walsh, who joined the nursing faculty in Fall 2023. “Through my master’s and doctorate degrees and my experience, I’ve waited for the right opportunity to come back, and this was it.”

Early on in her life, Reyes-Walsh said she wasn’t sure if higher education was for her, either as a student or an instructor. While raising her two sons, her parents succumbed to the ravages of substance use disorders, prompting Reyes-Walsh to consider how to spare other families what hers went through. With the support of her family, Reyes-Walsh embarked on a 14-year career as a substance-use counselor.

“I loved it because it lit the fire of passion for me to continue on my career working with and helping people,” she said. “It was very rewarding, and I felt good about being able to help people in that way.”

She worked at Ridgeview in Smyrna, where she encountered the boss who changed everything. Reyes-Walsh said her supervisor’s comments hit home after observing the team of nurses who provided comfort and aid in her mother’s final days. Reyes-Walsh admired the nurses for their compassion and knowledge and wondered if she could do that herself.

After receiving that critical bit of feedback and at the urging of a friend, Reyes-Walsh went to KSU’s admissions office to start the process. She said the admissions staff was patient and understanding of a 30-something mother ready to attend college for the first time, and she started on her nursing classes in Fall 2007.

“KSU has the best nursing program in the state, so I definitely wanted to go there,” she said. “It was the best decision I could have made.”

Reyes-Walsh finished her bachelor’s and then earned a master’s in nursing specializing in becoming a family nurse practitioner in 2015 from Walden University, then earned a post-graduate certificate to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner before earning her doctorate in 2021 from Emory University. Through her education, she worked as a staff nurse at multiple Atlanta-area hospitals – while also maintaining a presence at The Zone, a recovery community organization in Marietta. She taught as a clinical instructor at KSU and Georgia Southern before doing the same at Emory.

At Emory she put her idea of nurses with substance-use disorder counseling expertise into action, and helped her mentor there earn a 5-year $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. KSU will receive a 5% subaward from this grant, which Reyes-Walsh will use to establish curriculum in a substance-use disorder fellowship for nurses.

In other words, it’s the best of all worlds for Reyes-Walsh.

“So I feel like I've been able to give my students a really good holistic view of mental health nursing from the aspect of my individual experience, which I don't really share with students much,” she said. “But sometimes I do because it gives me a deeper level of empathy and compassion for people who have mental health challenges, and I want to convey that to my students.”

Recently, Reyes-Walsh received approval from the University System of Georgia to establish a post-master’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certificate track at Kennesaw State, which will begin in Spring 2025.

Susan Dyess, Director of the Wellstar School of Nursing, said Reyes-Walsh’s knowledge in substance-use disorder treatment, personal empathy and drive to educate make her an ideal addition to the faculty.

“She holds vast expertise as a psych mental health nurse practitioner and will be taking the lead on developing the post-master’s certificate program for psych mental nurse practitioner,” Dyess said. “She continues to practice what she preaches, as she sees clients weekly as part of her advanced practice work. We are fortunate to have her, and she is an asset to our team.”

With the blessing of yet another supportive supervisor, Reyes-Walsh appreciates the opportunity to excel and innovate at Kennesaw State.

“From the day I came to admissions to now, I'm so grateful to be back at KSU,” she said. “This was always where I wanted to be, and I'm thrilled that we're starting a psych NP program and we'll be able to have an impact on the local community.”

– Dave Shelles

Photos by Darnell Wilburn Jr.

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. 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 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit