Dr. Lucy Huckabay’s Monumental Legacy at The Beach

Lucy Huckabay

 Dr. Lucy Huckabay

This summer has been a time for Dr. Lucy Huckabay to reflect on her colossal legacy at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Huckabay has been on staff at The Beach for 43 years – she has served as the School of Nursing (SON) chair for 21 years.

 “This school has been my baby,” Huckabay says of the nursing program at Long Beach State University.

While Huckabay gets things ready for the new School of Nursing Director, Dr. Michael Williams, who officially takes over director duties August 17, she has been able to look back on her illustrious career.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Huckabay gained her own nursing diploma when she graduated from the American University of Beirut. At 19 years old, she came to the United States to pursue her advanced degrees from UCLA and the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She met and married her husband Jim, and they eventually settled in Santa Monica -- Dr. Huckabay has been commuting to Long Beach State from her Santa Monica home for 43 years.

“I don’t mind the drive,” says Huckabay of the 31 miles she has been driving each way for years.

That calm, relaxed attitude of Huckabay’s is other-worldly, and no doubt is the reason for her career longevity. Last year, Huckabay was given the Wang Family Excellence Award for her outstanding service to CSULB.

Lucy Huckabay and President Conoley

Dr. Lucy Huckabay with CSULB President Jane Close Conoley

During her four-plus decades at The Beach, Huckabay has seen the nursing program grow from four small classrooms to a 10,600-square-foot brick building, which includes three large classrooms, a 50-seat computer lab, a learning center, nursing library, and computer resource area. Huckabay raised much of the $6 million building costs herself, in collaboration with local hospitals, to establish what is now the number one leading nursing program in the state, and the number two school in the entire nation.

Lucy Huckabay

“Our school is a tremendously important part of this community,” Huckabay says. “Long Beach Memorial [Medical Center] depends on us, the VA Hospital depends on us, Hoag Hospital depends on us, and these three institutions have come to our rescue in the past as well.”

In 2003, the university faced reducing enrollments for the nursing program, until people from Long Beach Memorial Medical Center came to Huckabay to see what it would take to double her program.

“I remember them saying, ‘let money not be an issue,’” Huckabay recalls. “I looked up to Heaven and thought, ‘It’s like the blind man asking God for just one eye, and the Lord gives him two.’”

With the Long Beach Memorial Care funding, Huckabay was also able to start a trimester program for nursing students to finish their degree faster. Along with the regular semester system, the nursing program was able to accept 50 additional students to take classes all year around.

“And then the Long Beach VA Hospital funded us for second degree students who already had their bachelor’s degrees in another field, to get their masters -- and they sponsored four groups for $1.1 million. They told us whatever was left over from the money, it was ours to do with what we wanted.”

Huckabay wanted to build a new nursing building, and over a 10-year-period, she saved that money to accomplish that task. It’s not hyperbole when Huckabay says she built that structure herself, even relaying how she convinced her husband to go with her to pick up the giant granite slab that would be used for one of the nursing room conference tables.

Lucy Huckabay and Susan Herman

 Lucy Huckabay and Susan Herman, Chief Nursing Officer at MemorialCare Long Beach

A lover of gardening, Huckabay also helped plant the gardens that can be seen outside the state-of-the-art practicum rooms. The simulation rooms mirror actual hospital rooms for students to learn in simulations.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Huckabay was given one week to transfer all face-to-face instruction online. At that time, hospitals were restricting access to nursing students because of COVID-19. Before the health restrictions, nursing students were required to have 25 percent of their clinical experiences using simulations and 75 percent performing hands-on clinical experiences caring for actual patients in a hospital.

Huckabay and her faculty appealed to the state legislators to pass regulations that would enable the California Board of Registered Nurses to allow schools of nursing to increase their simulation hours for students.

“We increased [simulation hours] 50 percent for medical and surgical practices, 50 percent for pediatrics, and 75 percent for obstetrics. “We also spent a lot of money updating our simulations and software. We went to the [CSU] chancellor’s office to get that software at a reasonable price.”

Adds Huckabay, “Teachers were working double shifts, weekends -- we were doing anything and everything to get the students graduated during COVID.”

Huckabay recalls her first faculty meeting on Zoom.

“Nina, my youngest daughter – she is very good with computers – she left work to come get my Zoom set up at home. She said, ‘Mama, don’t touch the screen.’ Of course I clicked something and I couldn’t get back on to my meeting,” Huckabay says. “Now I pretty much have mastered Zoom,” she says with a chuckle.  

According to Huckabay, need is the mother of invention.

“You make things due, and no restriction or limitation should hinder you,” Huckabay relays. “I believe if the door is closed, you find a window to get in – I am not the kind of person who takes ‘no’ as the last word, especially if you have a good cause.” 

When Dr. Huckabay moves to the Health Science Department this fall, she will work with Dr. Kamiar Alaei to create the Western Regional Collaborative Center for the World Health Organization (WHO). She is looking forward to helping foreign countries develop nursing and health programs. Her work will be part of a $10 million grant funded by the American Rescue Plan that will enable CSULB to build a consortium to strengthen U.S. public health information technology efforts.

Meanwhile, Huckabay greeted Dr. Michael Williams at a recent meet-and-greet event held at the Japanese Gardens to welcome the new School of Nursing Director. Asked about what advice she would give the new SON director, Huckabay smiles and simply says, “To listen.”

“I think that’s key,” she says. “Listen to your faculty, listen to those around you and you will be in good shape.” [Dr. Williams] could not have gotten a better foundation, and he knows that,” Huckabay says. “He’s getting one of the top nursing schools in the nation and that did not come overnight. It’s important to value the past, build upon it, and move forward.” 

A lot has happened for Huckabay since she came to the States from her native Beirut. Today, she is the picture of contentment walking around campus. She greets students in the hallway, and they wave back, relaying their gratitude for her kindness and warmth given all these years. In the intermediate, Huckabay is looking forward to getting back to some of her favorite pastimes – swimming, gardening and walking in her Santa Monica neighborhood with husband Jim, a retired space engineer. She also says she will enjoy spending more time with her two daughters – Nina, a second-grade teacher in Manhattan Beach, and Christina, a physician in Huntington Beach.

“I am very blessed,” Huckabay says.