University of California Seal

Marie Cowan


Marie J. Cowan

Professor and Dean of Nursing

UC Los Angeles

1939 – 2008


Marie J. Cowan accepted the position of dean of the UCLA School of Nursing in 1997 shortly after budget cuts had devastated the undergraduate program in the school. During the next decade, she determinedly rebuilt the school’s research program, led the effort to restore the school’s undergraduate nursing program, and collaborated with faculty to design an entry-level master’s program for baccalaureate graduates from other disciplines. Over her eleven year term as dean, Marie’s extraordinary commitment to academic and research excellence propelled the School to be one of the top nursing schools in the nation. Quoting Dr. Gerald Levey, dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical science, “Marie Cowan was a dynamo who loved UCLA and the School of Nursing. She was fearless about thinking outside the box, identifying what was best for UCLA and her school, and creating strategies to move purposefully forward.”


Born Marie Jeanette Johnson on July 20, 1938 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she met her future husband, Samuel J. Cowan, in Munich, Germany, while both were in their first year of college at a University of Maryland exchange program. When he later pursued his engineering studies at the University of California Berkeley, she obtained her nursing diploma in San Francisco. The couple wed in 1961, on the day after her graduation from Mary’s Help Nursing School. They were married for 46 years.


Dr. Cowan started her academic career in 1972 as an assistant professor at Seattle University’s nursing school. In 1979, she joined the nursing and medical schools at the University of Washington. She attained a rare triple appointment in the departments of nursing, pathology, and cardiology. She advanced from assistant professor to full professor in all three fields at the University of Washington.


Her mentoring talent blossomed when she was appointed associate dean of research. She encouraged faculty to attend “modeling parties”—line-by-line peer evaluations of their grant proposals—in order to increase the likelihood of funding. Her hands-on efforts boosted funding so measurably that other schools hired her to teach them how to create similar programs.


On a national scale, Dr. Cowan set the agenda for nursing research by serving on the first National Institutes of Health peer-review group for her profession. As chair of the cardiovascular nursing council of the American Heart Association, she also helped alter bylaws to enable nurses to apply for research funding and serve on peer-review and grant award committees. Dr. Cowan herself had been funded by the NIH since 1977 for her research on cardiovascular science. She published more than 110 articles in peer-reviewed journals and won dozens of professional awards.


In November 2007, the American Academy of Nursing applauded Dr. Cowan’s career long commitment to nursing research and presented her with their “Living Legend” award.


“Marie leaves a rich legacy through which her vision, innovation, leadership and commitment to public health will live on,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. We mourn UCLA’s loss of a beloved teacher, mentor, leader, colleague and friend.”


Marie Cowan passed away on February 22, 2008. She is survived by her husband, Samuel J. Cowan; a son, S. Joseph Cowan; daughters, Kathryn Harris and Michelle Schaffner; a sister, Dee Herrman; brothers, Jim Johnson and Jerry Johnson; and five grandchildren.



Adeline Nyamathi

Audrienne H. Moseley