What or who inspired you to become a health educator?
As a nurse right out of college, I worked in community health settings and soon recognized that my true talent and passion involved health education and prevention, not clinical care. I completed a Masters’ degree in education and worked in alternative schools that focused on preparing urban youth to live healthy, productive lives. I developed a popular curriculum called “Science for Survival” that covered everything from health to organic gardening to outdoor survival. Since I was a military spouse, many moves in the states and abroad resulted in what future employers would call an “interesting” resume. Finally, while teaching in a large public school with a mandate to “follow the curriculum,” I befriended a fellow biology teacher there who was happily enrolled in a doctoral program in Health Promotion and Education at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health. A lightening flash went off in my brain – THIS is what I am supposed to do! I enrolled the next semester and, as they say, the rest is history!
What is one of your most memorable career highlights?
Within one month of being hired as faculty at the Center for Pediatric Research at Eastern Virginia Medical School (I actually found the job at the 1992 APHA Annual Meeting in DC), I was tasked to develop an immunization coalition as part of a CDC Cooperative Agreement. That one opportunity opened so many doors for many years to come in improving child health in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and in launching my career as a health educator. That coalition became the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH) and is still a vital community organization 25 years later. And I continue to work to help coalitions and partnerships thrive to improve the health of their communities. I still derive tremendous energy and satisfaction from working with organizations and passionate community members who are working for positive change.
Who were/are mentors or significant champions for your career?
I have had so many mentors in this work. Bob Goodman and Abe Wandersman at the University of South Carolina encouraged me to focus on coalition building as a research and practice niche, which proved to be very sage advice. Several SOPHE members shared their professional expertise and nudged me to always keep learning and growing – stellar health educators like Elaine Auld, Larry Green, Kathleen Roe, Brick Lancaster, Karen Denard Goldman, Randy Schwartz, Vince Francisco, Rob Simmons, Sarah Olson, Stephen Gambescia, Kathy Meier, and Stephen Thomas were early mentors and heroes of mine. Of course, the friendships of many other SOPHE members continue to serve as reminders of why love this profession.
How were you involved in SOPHE or other health education organizations?
Since I was faculty in a medical school, SOPHE was my lifeline to the profession of health education. I have been a member of IUHPE, APHA, the American Evaluation Association, but I have given my time and energy to SOPHE. I have served in many positions at the national level from committee chair and member, to task force chair and member, to journal reviewer and associate/deputy editor, and up the leadership ladder from Vice President, President Elect, President to Past President. In each of these roles, I found challenges, rewards, new skills and knowledge, and many new colleagues and friends.
What motivated you to donate to SOPHE?
I have donated to SOPHE for many years because I see the value of what our organization has done and continues to do to promote our noble profession. I believe that we must each do our share and give our gifts, no matter how small, to allow SOPHE to do things that are out of the ordinary, beyond what our dues can accomplish. This extra funding allows travel to national meetings for students, special scholarships, an enhanced website, availability of continued education for all of us, and advocacy for our priority health issues and populations. It takes all of us to help promote the vision and values for the next generation – the best and brightest health educators who will come after us. That’s what this Legacy campaign is all about for me.
What advice would you give new professionals just entering the health education field?
First, dare to be innovators. Dare to learn something new every day, especially when you leave your academic training - that is when your real health education actually begins. Develop new approaches to solve old problems. Start by asking questions of the people around you – your leaders, your co-workers, your SOPHE colleagues. Then, ask the people in the communities you serve – their wisdom is vast and often under-appreciated. I have learned the most by being present to them and listening about how health is or is not a part of their lived experience.
Second, become involved in your professional organizations. Of course, I am biased about SOPHE, but just volunteer somewhere to promote health for all.
Is there anyone you would like to whom you would like to dedicate this webpage?
I dedicate this page to my mother – Mabel Duncan Dunn - her selflessness taught me all about how to give unconditionally and her love sustains me still.
“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” J.K. Rowling, author