Survival Skills: Jan Gordon

Jul 23, 2018 | Survival Skills

In the midst of the medical corridor hub of Dupont Circle, Spencerian College just celebrated its 80th commencement with a new generation of nurses and other allied health professionals. Executive Director Jan Gordon has never missed a  commencement ceremony, held twice a year for the last 40 years.
“What’s cool is that even after all these years, it never gets old,” Jan says. “It’s so great to see that culmination. Many times, our graduates are first-generation college grads, and the average age is 26 to 28. We have a lot of moms and parents, so it’s the whole family that graduates together. They’ve done it as a team and sacrificed along the way.”

In her current role, listening and having people skills is critical to dealing with a wide variety of students from types A to Z, Jan says. “You have to be non-condemning and open with students or family members, even helicopter parents or controlling husbands,” she says. One responsibility of Jan’s position at the university is to evaluate and make decisions on academic appeals, a role that conjures up a memorable student for Jan.

“I had a nursing student who was struggling academically, and I decided to give her a second chance and grant her appeal. We met and worked out the best route for her to be successful. She worked hard and graduated and two months later, she appeared on my doorstep with her child in tow and her nursing license in hand. She had landed a good job at a local hospital. She looked at me and said, ‘Now I can provide for my daughter.’ That one incident stands out for me because I had been close to not granting her appeal. Just think how different her life might have turned out,” Jan says.

Jan and her husband like to take a leisurely ride down the river in their speed boat.
Upon her 30th anniversary with Spencerian, the president created a scholarship in Jan’s name that she gets to award annually to a student who has her diploma and wants to seek an associate’s degree. “It’s very personal and gratifying to me,” Jan says. “I try to look at a student who has had some life struggles to overcome but still has a high GPA — that’s who I will award it to.”

Changes Coming

Spencerian College, which offers programs in nursing, medical lab sciences, respiratory therapy, radiology, and phlebotomy, ranging in level from diploma to certificate to associates degrees, relocated to the Dupont location in December 2017. More change is imminent as the three separate entities — Spencerian College, Sullivan College of Technology and Design, and Sullivan University — plan to merge under the “Sullivan University” brand by July 2018.

For Jan, with the merger, her title has changed to Vice President, Sullivan University, Dupont Circle, but her responsibilities and location have remained the same — within walking distance of huge medical complexes including Norton Suburban Hospital, Baptist Health, and KentuckyOne Health Medical Center Jewish East.

“Louisville has really become a medical mecca,” Jan says. “Students love the atmosphere and being in the thick of it. They go to lunch and they wear their uniforms, and see medical professionals in their uniforms, so they feel like part of the medical community.”

How Did This Fashionista Get Here?

For Jan, her undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising was a far cry from allied health and nursing. Born in Eastern Kentucky and raised in Cincinnati, Jan says she has always been a fashionista, even as a child. “My grandmother had made me 10 new dresses to start kindergarten. On the 11th day I stood in the floor and said I couldn’t go to school because I’d worn all my new dresses,” Jan says.

She attended Georgetown College in Kentucky for two years and transferred to Ohio University junior year for its fashion merchandising program. Upon graduation, she was recruited on campus to work at Susie’s Casuals, a boutique chain and part of the Woolworth Corp. After managing stores in Ohio and Michigan, Jan relocated to Louisville to manage Susie’s Casuals stores here. It was then that Jan got connected with the school of fashion merchandising and design at Spencerian College to recruit students for externships and management positions. The director of that school asked Jan to teach a salesmanship and management class. “This quickly grew to two classes, then suddenly I was teaching full-time,” Jan says.

Over the next 20 years at the school of fashion merchandising, Jan advanced from a part-time teacher to become director of that program for the college. Ultimately, a few years after Spencerian phased out fashion merchandising, Jan became executive director of Spencerian, a title she held until the recent merger.

How did she move from teaching fashion merchandising to administration in nursing and allied health?

“When Spencerian was located downtown, we had medical programs in the same building as the fashion merchandising,” Jan says. “I interacted with all the department directors from the medical side for 20 years and gained a tremendous respect for that industry and what it does for people. I think it’s more important than ever for people in Kentucky to have a direct line to work. With our programs, you don’t have to wait. You can be making a good income in two years or less, and also are set up to build from there.”

With a 24/7, high-pressure job, Jan chooses to relax with fast cars and boats in her free time. Her flashy red convertible Corvette is her signature ride, and you can find her many weekends with her husband on their 40-foot cigarette-style speed boat. “It’s like a mini-vacation on the weekend,” Jan says.  

Top 5 Life Lessons

  • Enjoy the journey of life. If you fail, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and learn from the experience.
  • Spend time with your family. Unfinished work will still be there tomorrow. My  husband is incredibly supportive. I couldn’t do it without him. He’s suffered through lots of cold meals and fast food.
  • Visualize your goals and stretch to reach them so you have no regrets.
  • Faith is my cornerstone that keeps me grounded and positive.
  • Listen. You learn a lot that way. And remember, promises are sacred — keep them.


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