University Mourns the Loss of School of Nursing Professor Emerita Marilyn Aten

Dedicated to Improving Health of Children and Families

May 01, 2014

Marilyn Aten's clinical and research work consistently reflected her passion for helping young, disadvantaged families

The University is deeply saddened by the recent loss of School of Nursing professor emerita Marilyn J. Aten, Ph.D., R.N., who left an indelible mark as a valued educator and a trailblazing researcher dedicated to improving the health outcomes of disadvantaged children and families. Aten died Wednesday, April 30, at age 72.

“Our lives, and the way we practice, teach, and conduct research, are forever changed by Marilyn’s legacy,” said School of Nursing dean and professor of clinical nursing Kathy H. Rideout, Ed.D., P.N.P.-B.C., F.N.A.P.

Aten—who held a master’s degree in Maternal and Child Nursing from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Cornell—worked for nearly 40 years as a maternal-child nurse, and was intimately aware of the need for better health care for families in poverty. She joined the faculty of the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s department of pediatrics in 1967, left the University briefly in 1972, then returned in 1975 to accept a joint appointment as assistant professor at the School of Nursing and assistant professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine. This role offered Aten fertile ground to explore and develop many collaborative clinical, educational, and research initiatives.

From her early studies, which were focused on the quality of interactions between mothers and babies, to her later community-based research to improve health care services within the Rochester City School District, her concern was always for the well-being of children and families.

“Marilyn’s clinical and research work consistently reflected her passion for young families, particularly those where children (teens) were having children themselves,” said Jeanne Grace, Ph.D., R.N., professor emerita of clinical nursing at the School of Nursing and current chair of the Research Subjects Review Board. “She sought to break the cycle of disadvantage for those families by supporting young people to become nurturing parents and make safe, healthy choices.”

In the late 1960s, Aten led the formation of the Rochester Adolescent Maternity Program (RAMP), which continues to provide specialized obstetrical care for pregnant teenagers.  The URMC Midwifery Group provides the program’s prenatal care, which is aimed at meeting the developmental needs of teen parents, while achieving healthier outcomes for infants. The program also provides social work, nutrition, financial counseling and case management services, as well as group prenatal care called Centering©.

Aten’s early research sought to identify the factors and behaviors that support the healthy growth and development of young moms and babies, and to better understand the motivational factors that protect some disadvantaged women from becoming mothers too early.

One of her key research involvements in the late 1990s was with the Rochester AIDS Prevention Program (RAPP), a five-year study conducted in collaboration with the Rochester City School District and Rochester General Hospital chief of pediatrics David Siegel, M.D. The study proved that sex education—delivered in a way that is meaningful to young people, and ideally before they reach middle-school age—can positively change attitudes and behaviors.

“Kids think they are invincible and invulnerable and that bad things can’t happen to them,” said Aten in an interview. “My interest has always been about how we can get through to them…and break through their denial, to help them realize how much is at stake.”

In 2001, Aten established and served as director for the School of Nursing’s Center for High-Risk Children and Youth, a collaborative team of investigators focused on testing a wide range of nursing interventions to improve health outcomes for vulnerable children and families. The center’s programs of research, many of which are ongoing, evaluated interventions for preventing youth violence, high-risk sexual behaviors, HIV transmission, and teen pregnancy, as well as ways to promote parental empowerment.

The work of the center’s nurse scientists reinforced the theory that the most lasting and successful health interventions begin in early childhood, and are best provided within the context of a child’s environment. Many of the protocols have not only helped improve children’s health in the Rochester area, but serve as national models of nursing intervention.

Aten’s most recent work was in 2005, when she supported the Rochester City School District in its effort to improve its health programming. Aten benchmarked with other districts, consulted with national experts, and visited schools to develop a proposal for improvements.

As a professor, Aten held high expectations for her students and was an early proponent of interprofessional research and education. 

“She set a standard for scholarship in her field that, as an educator, she taught and inspired fledgling researchers to emulate,” said School of Nursing professor and Ph.D. programs director Bethel Powers, Ph.D., R.N., F.S.A.A., F.G.S.A., adding that Aten served as a research methodologist for graduate students and fellows in nursing as well as medicine, nutrition, psychology and social work.

Aten also served as director of research (the only nurse in the country to hold the distinction) for the local chapter of the Leadership Education and Adolescent Health (LEAH) program, funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which prepares health care professionals to be leaders in clinical care, research, public health policy, and advocacy in relationship to adolescent health.

Administratively, she held several significant responsibilities during her tenure at the School, including Ph.D. program director and associate dean for academic affairs. She also served briefly as acting dean in 1993. 

So genuine was her commitment to children and families that when she retired in 2008, Aten asked that—in lieu of a gift—the School make a donation to the Sojourner House, a local women’s shelter.

 “Her rich legacy of caring is woven into the hearts and minds of all she touched in her career,” said Powers.

Friends may call 1-2 p.m. Sunday, May 4 at Anthony Funeral Chapel, 2305 Monroe Ave., where a service will immediately follow at 2 p.m. Contributions may be made to Sojourner House at PathStone, 30 Millbank Street, Rochester, NY 14619.

For Media Inquiries:
Christine Roth
(585) 273-4494
Email Christine Roth