University Leadership

A career in leadership

Provost Margaret Callahan’s calling to leadership began as a first-generation college student at Loyola University Chicago.

By Christian Anderson

July 10, 2024

(Photo by: Lukas Keapproth)

Margaret Callahan steps down as provost of Loyola University Chicago this month to return to teaching and research. She will assist in the transition of Douglas W. Woods into the provost’s office and begin a new chapter in a career that has taken her from operating rooms to board rooms on a path to leadership in higher education and health care. 

Callahan arrived at Loyola in 2015 as provost of the health sciences division, bringing a wealth of academic leadership. She had just served seven years as Dean of the College of Nursing and two years as Interim Provost at Marquette University. Prior to that, she held faculty and leadership roles at Rush University for three decades.

Her affinity for Loyola and for leadership may have to do with her lifelong immersion in Jesuit education. After all, her career began here when she and her twin sister enrolled in Loyola’s BSN Nursing program. In many ways, hers is a prototypical Loyola story—a first-generation college student for whom education unlocked her talents and opportunities to use them. 

“My parents managed to put all of us through school, and to this day, I am not sure how they managed it,” she says. “My father in particular, having put my three brothers through Catholic universities, was determined that my sister and I have the same opportunity for a full college experience and the well-rounded education that a Jesuit university provides. I could have just opted for a two-year nursing degree and started my career.  But Dad wanted us to have a full liberal-arts education as well. That education opened up a world of possibilities for me.”

Leadership opportunities came early. As a senior at Loyola, she was accepted to the highly technical certified nurse anesthetist program at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center. After completing the program, she was named director of the Rush’s School of Nursing Anesthesiology department. “As director, most of the students were much older than me,” she recalls. She would go on to become a full professor and lead multiple units and programs at Rush University.  

In 2008, Callahan was appointed Dean of the School of Nursing at Marquette University. In 2013, she became interim provost at Marquette, a role she served until 2015, when she moved back to Chicago to become Provost of Loyola’s Health Sciences Division and Professor in the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. She was named interim provost and senior vice president for strategy and innovation in 2018 and has served as Loyola’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer since 2021. 

Creating the Parkinson School 

Throughout her career, Callahan has blended the practical and collaborative problem-solving skills of nursing with the creativity and insights of advanced nursing practice research and practice. 

As Health Sciences Provost, Callahan’s ground-level experience of the ways health professions collaborate in education, research, and care was instrumental in developing the concept and initial plans for a school of health science and public health, which would become the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health. “Jesuit education in the health sciences emphasizes an integrative approach among disciplines in research, education, and caregiving,” says Callahan. 

We needed a school that bridged disciplines around the care of patients and even whole communities to increase wellness and create more health equity.

— Margaret Callahan , provost and chief academic officer

Besides the mission imperatives, Callahan had been listening to health sciences faculty, students, and administrators, to their frustrations and aspirations. “There was a need in the world and here at our University to elevate and unify health sciences and to integrate their work more thoroughly with medicine,” Callahan says. 

Callahan worked with then Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney and a coalition of health sciences leaders from across Loyola and from across the country to lay out plans for a school that would become a leading interdisciplinary hub for education and research, with a broad range of programming and an ambitious agenda of translational research.  

Other achievements under Callahan’s tenure as provost include innovative new programs of hiring and onboarding faculty that have increased faculty strength and diversity across key fields; internal grant programs that promote interdisciplinary collaborations; expanded professional development programs for faculty and staff; increased resources for multicultural spaces and community, as well as for student wellness and mental health programs. 

A natural collaborator 

As the chief academic officer of a university and the second-most senior officer, the provost reports directly to the president and is responsible for many academic and administrative tasks, including academic planning, faculty recruitment, retention, and promotion. At Loyola, the Provost’s Office also oversees student academic services and success, ensuring that students receive the support they need to excel academically and thrive within the university community. 

Callahan brings an abiding Catholic faith and strong Jesuit values to all her roles. She has embraced and will be remembered for a no-nonsense, grounded Jesuit style of leadership, particularly in collaborations with faculty and other University leaders. 

“Throughout her time at Loyola, Dr. Callahan has embraced the Jesuit mission by promoting intellectual rigor, ethical reflection, and a strong dedication to a faith that does justice, says Fr. Thomas Neitzke, S.J., Vice President and Special Assistant to the President. “Her leadership has fostered a vibrant intellectual community, strengthened our commitment to service, and ensured that our values of faith, integrity, and respect are woven into the fabric of university life.”

“Margaret has always been a collaborative partner to me.” said Jim Devery, associate professor of Chemistry and chair of Faculty Council. “She immediately opened up to me when I became Faculty Council Chair. When I volunteered to take on the Chair, I knew that I was going to have to learn a tremendous amount about how thousands of faculty and staff operate. What I didn’t know is that I was going to gain one of the most impactful mentors of my career.”

“Dr. Callahan has exhibited the very best of the Ignatian spirit of generosity in her leadership of Loyola University Chicago,” says Claire Noonan, Vice President for Mission Integration. “She has carried enormous responsibilities for both cura personalis and cura apostolica and drawn upon a seemingly bottomless well of grace in meeting those demands.  I am personally grateful to her for her deep understanding of and commitment to the Jesuit mission of higher education that is at the heart of the University.”

Callahan emphasizes that stepping down from the provost’s job does not mean she is retiring. She hopes to spend more time with family and friends but is also eager to return to teaching and research as a professor of health care administration in Parkinson. Her research portfolio is extensive and ranges over studies and topics in pain management and assessment, nursing education, and clinical bioinformatics. She is involved in a large-scale multidisciplinary effort to advance the development of natural language processing (NLP) innovations in various healthcare domains.  NLP converts narrative text, such as physician and nursing clinical notes, to data for use in AI-assisted research and quality-of-care improvement.

Always a Rambler 

Callahan’s dedication to Loyola and its students remains strong. She is an alumni advocate and, along with her family, has established an endowed scholarship fund at Loyola in memory of her parents.  

“Loyola has meant so much to me and my family, and it is a place where each generation lifts up the next. The idea of Magis is part of our DNA at Loyola—our faculty are always looking to go deeper, to ask the next question, to do more to bring knowledge and understanding to the world. Loyola keeps getting better and has grown stronger and more prominent since I was an undergraduate here.”

“Margaret has been, and I know will continue to be, a great friend of Loyola Athletics,” says Loyola Director of Athletics Steve Watson. “She has been amazingly supportive to all our student-athletes and coaches. We’ll never forget when she showed up in St. Louis at the last minute to watch our women’s volleyball team win the Atlantic 10 Championship. She’s the best!”

“It was an absolute pleasure working with someone in such an important role who truly embodied the values of caring for others and striving for excellence both inside and outside of the classroom,” says Will Rodriguez, dean of students and assistant vice president of student life. “Loyola is a better place because of Provost Callahan.”

Callahan is assisting in the transition to incoming provost Douglas W. Woods, and she expresses confidence that Woods’ partnership with President Mark C. Reed will help to build on Loyola’s strengths to shape an impactful future for the University. “Doug Woods is steeped in Jesuit higher education and has fostered measurable improvements at the institutions he has served,” she says. “He has worked to create space for innovative research, fruitful collaboration, and engaged service. Loyola is in very good hands.” 

“Margaret possesses a deep understanding of the Jesuit educational mission, and her expertise and leadership has benefited Loyola in innumerable ways,” says Mark C. Reed, President of Loyola University Chicago.  “I am grateful for her steady vision and care. She has helped us find new and dynamic leaders for schools and disciplines across our campuses, and and I am happy that she will continue to be a member of the University community and engaged as a member of the faculty.”