|Dena Jackson, Ph.D.|
TWU Health Studies alum
- Why did you pursue a PhD in Health Studies?
I decided to return to school after 12 years in health care administration. I got my Masters in Education in 1987, which incidentally was another time when the economy was not great (the stock market had a major crash in October 1987) and unemployment was around 8%. I essentially drifted into health care administration because that was where the jobs were as managed care was just being introduced to Texas. I learned a lot about business, finance, and health care but my passion was always working more directly with people. My Master’s degree was in Counselor Education so that was the first direction I considered. To be honest, I had not heard of Health Education or Health Studies. While perusing the catalog at my alma mater, UNT, I came across their program in kinesiology and health promotion. At that time, my passion was (and still is), health, nutrition, exercise, and how those behaviors impact our entire life. I could not believe that people actually went to school and got paid for doing what I was already so excited about! Reading about the program at UNT led me to begin researching similar programs around the DFW area. I looked at UTSW, UNT Health Sciences, UNT Denton, and TWU. The programs varied in their emphasis on public health, physical education, and population-based health education.
TWU has a great reputation for healthcare science programs, including nursing and physical therapy. I certainly took that reputation into consideration when choosing my program. Once I narrowed my preference for a PhD program (versus another Master’s) and a program that addressed both population and individual health from an educational, psychological, and sociological basis – TWU was the clear choice for me.
- How has your PhD in Health Studies helped you in your career?
While I certainly enjoyed the course work on cultural health, aging, and women’s issues, without a doubt the most valuable part of the program is the basic Health Studies emphasis needs assessments, program development, and evaluation. I have returned to these skills and techniques time and time again in jobs that were health focused and ones that were very different. For instance, I was a consultant in south Florida for two years helping nonprofit organizations design and implement comprehensive fund raising programs. The analysis process that I developed was very focused on the needs of the organization (both to external and internal constituents), their desired outcomes, and what type of actions would be needed to get them there. This is all the needs assessment, program planning, and evaluation that I studied at TWU with just a slight twist. The organizations ranged from foster care group homes and food banks, to elder care and immigrant healthcare facilities. I was able to draw upon my Health Studies knowledge repeatedly to help these organizations better serve their clients and communities.
- What is the most unique position you’ve held where your Health Studies degree played an important role?
Sometimes it seems my entire post-graduation career has been unique! One position I held that graduates might not thing about is Assistant VP of Research Development for The University of Texas at Dallas. This was an entirely new role at UT Dallas where I worked with professors across the University to help coordinate submission of large research grants to federal sources such as National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Department of Justice. These were not straightforward grants of one professor and his or her work, but larger multi-institutional, and sometimes multi-national, grants that required coordination of professors across the world, corporate partners, and K-12 education partners. It was my job to help put those components together and organize the process. These proposals often involved multiple submissions over 12 or more months. I had to be able to dissect the RFPs, be a strong writer, and understand research design in specialties ranging from behavioral economics, to nanotechnology, to mechanical engineering. Health Studies taught me about grant writing and research design and set the stage for me to then be able to apply that structure to new areas of science. It was a very exciting job and my degree was well used.
- You are currently the Vice President for Grants and Research at the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Has your Health Studies PhD helped you in that role and, if so, how?
Thinking about this question, I went back to the core skills that are required of someone in Health Studies. I was amazed at how many of them translated directly to what I am doing in this new position. For instance, I lead a team that looks at the issues that are impacting women and girls in north Texas (health, cultural, safety, and education) to determine what needs are being met and where the possible gaps in service are. I am responsible for both developing strong evaluation processes of our grantees as well as of our Foundation mission activities overall. I am developing a new advocacy program whereby Foundation staff and volunteers will increase recognition and action on policy issues impacting women and girls. All of this must be communicated to our grantees, donors, and the general public in a way that clearly shows the impact we are having and how they can become involved. Needs assessment, program planning, advocacy, communications – it is all there and in the PhD curriculum at TWU.
Since much of our research and programming is health and safety focused - domestic violence, sexual assault, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and how accessibility to health care impacts quality of life - I get to stay close to the field that I enjoy.
My coursework and degree in Health Studies gave me the translational skills to think critically, to develop, implement, and assess programs that address real needs, and to help guide others in the community in ways that grow services and make our social net stronger. I have never regretted the time I devoted to the program nor my choice of TWU.
Dena L. Jackson, PhD
Texas Woman's University, 2001
VP, Grants and Research, Dallas Women’s Foundation
Editor’s note: Dena was also selected to be part of TWU’s participation in the Op-Ed national initiative.
“TWU, the nation’s largest university primarily for women, is the first public university to be associated with The Op-Ed Project, a yearlong social venture founded to increase the number of women contributing to key commentary forums – newspaper opinion columns, television and radio talk shows, etc. – that traditionally have been dominated by men. According to the project’s website, 85 percent of the op-eds in the nation’s top newspapers and online sites are written by men.”
2012-2013 Thought Leadership Participants