Doctoral Students Create Buddy System For Incoming Students

July 20, 2012

The Doctorate in Public Health (Dr.P.H.) program in the department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health (TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health) has created a buddy system pairing continuing Dr.P.H. students with incoming students. Currently there are eight continuing students paired with six incoming students. Below are profiles of continuing students in the doctoral program. For further information, please see the Dr.P.H. Program Guide.

Continuing Doctoral Students.

Left to right: Soila Villarreal, Bernard Appiah, Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, Abdulrasul Ramji, Heather Clark, Regents Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D. (Doctoral Committee Chair), Richard Wood, Amber Elkins, Cara Pennel, and Brian Colwell, Ph.D. (Department Head)

Health Promotion & Community Health Sciences Doctoral Students

Bernard Appiah

Bernard Appiah

Bernard Appiah is a Graduate Research Assistant in the department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences. He is also the Director of the Centre for Science and Health Communication, a non-profit based in Ghana, with a mission of promoting public engagement with science and health issues. He is involved in two  main projects: 1) Building Bridges–The Health Professionals and Journalists MediaResource Project in Accra, Ghana, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom (as co-principal investigator); the AuthorAID project of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), United Kingdom, which provides networking, mentoring, resources and training for researchers in developing countries to publish and otherwise communicate their research (as graduate research assistant). In these roles, he combines his communication expertise in research and service.

In pursuing doctoral studies, his major research emphasis is global health and community health development with attention to using communication interventions to solve global health problems; using effective communication to develop communities, particularly those in developing countries; producing user-friendly communication materials to bridge the gap between health professionals or scientists and the public, including policymakers; and promoting scholarly communication, particularly among researchers in developing countries.

Previously, Bernard has worked as medicine information pharmacist and publication manager for the National Drug Information Resource Centre (NDIRC) in Ghana where he also co-edited the NDIRC’s National Drug Information Journal, and has served as the secretary of the Public Health and Editorial Committees of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana for four years. He holds a bachelor’s in Pharmacy from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana), master’s in development communication from the University of the Philippines Open University, and M.S. in Science and Technology Journalism from Texas A&M University.

He has been the author of a consumer-friendly book on rational use of medicines (now in its second edition), and co-editor of two medicine information books. Bernard has also written scripts for a television docu-drama series on rational use of medicines (“Let’s Talk About Drugs”), which was aired on Ghana Television, and for two years he educated the people of Ghana on safe use of medicines through a weekly magazine program presented live on TV3, a vibrant private television network in Ghana. As a freelance science journalist, Appiah has written many news and feature articles on agriculture, health,  and science in general. His articles have appeared in both local and international news outlets.

Bernard is an associate fellow of the Communication Research Institute, based in Australia, a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, a senior fellow of  Texas A&M University’s Graduate Teaching Academy, and a recipient of several awards including Ghana’s first Young Pharmacist Award in 2005, a Council of Science Editors (CSE) International Scholarship for editors from developing countries in 2007, and a Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST-10) conference scholarship from the Swedish Research Council in 2008. His hobbies are reading, writing, and editing.

Heather Clark, M.S.P.H.

Heather Clark, M.S.P.H.

Heather Clark, M.S.P.H., is the Evaluation Manager for the Center for Community Health Development (CCHD), a CDC-funded Prevention Research Center (PRC), at TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health. As Evaluation Manager she directs evaluation efforts, including program development, collection, analysis, and reporting. In her position she is responsible for data sets related to community leaders’ perceptions and opinions related to the Center’s community work, interorganizational network data which provides a snapshot of the community’s health related organizations working together to increase access to care, and center-level evaluation data such as community and faculty partners’ reactions to working with the Center on projects, and collection of data for required reporting. Heather has also managed a variety of contract projects for the Center including multiple HIV/AIDS client needs assessments for the local Brazos Valley Council of Governments HIV/AIDS Administrative Services, Evaluation of Steps to a Healthier San Antonio, and currently the Evaluation of a Shellbook Intervention to Increase Medication and Treatment Adherence in HIV-positive Ex-offenders from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System.  Heather also serves on the CDC Prevention Research Center’s Research & Evaluation Committee where she works with other PRC evaluators from across the nation.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in Health from Texas A&M University and received her M.S.P.H. in 2005 from TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health. Previously, Heather worked as an HIV prevention counselor and tester in the Brazos Valley and providing sexuality education to a variety of audiences. She worked for the Brazos Valley Council on Alcohol & Substance Abuse (BVCASA) for 5 years in several positions, including volunteer coordinator, manager of the Prevention Resource Center which served as a free resource for schools and community organizations for 30 counties across Central Texas, and Prevention Services Coordinator where she managed the day to day operations and evaluation of a variety of prevention grants held by the agency. During her tenure at BVCASA she became a regional trainer for the Southwest Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies at the University of Oklahoma through which she assisted in the training of substance abuse prevention specialists.

Of particular interest to Heather in her doctoral studies are community-based partnerships, program evaluation and network analysis. Her work at CCHD further developed her background in building community-based partnerships through the community health development model and evaluation of those efforts. This has led to a specific interest in the use of network analysis in the evaluation of developing partnerships. Heather has received specialized training in network analysis through the University of Kentucky’s LINKS summer workshops. This year Heather was inducted into the SRPH chapter of Delta Omega.  To date Heather has been an author on three book chapters and a couple of journal articles with several in progress. She also serves as a doctoral student representative on several SRPH committees.

A working woman who is married with eight-year old twins, Heather is a person who believes in a strong work ethic. “I have a job to do, but it is more than just doing the job, it is doing it right,” she says.  Heather hopes that her children will learn from her study habits and understand the importance of a good education.  Also, as a non-traditional student, she hopes they learn that one is never too old to learn.  Heather says she has been fortunate to have been mentored or taking classes from some prominent figures in public health, people with a vast experience. “The caliber of faculty that I have been able to learn from has really impressed and had a big impact on me. It has been an amazing privilege,” she says. “I am very happy to be in a department where everyone seems to care and advocate for their student to do well. For me, that was, and continues to be, an important part of choosing this program.”

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke is an accomplished technology entrepreneur, strategic marketer, and a published author with a passion for applying technology to support cancer and survivorship research. Deborah is a Director with Texas Life Science Foundation (TLSF) and the inventor of TLSF’s patent-pending Navi4Health bi-lingual case management software. She is currently working on her Doctorate in Public Health at Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health. Deborah recently developed AYA Healthy Survivorship, an iPhone app for Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Survivors in collaboration with her advisor, Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Deborah is a Texas-certified Community Health Worker and collaborates actively with Dia de la Mujer Latina in the use of Navi4Health to support Promotoras and Community Health Workers in client service delivery. Deborah’s experience in clinical and community-based healthcare includes leadership positions such as being: Chair of the Cancer Alliance of Texas (CAT); Board Member for LiveSmart Texas- a statewide policy effort to reduce obesity and increase exercise; American College of Surgeon Oncology Group (ACOSOG) Research Advocate; Susan G. Komen for the Cure Scientific Advisor; American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) Research Advocate; Vice President of Business Development for EmergingMed-an oncology clinical trials patient matching; Team leader for Eliminating Disparities in Clinical Trials (EDICT); and VP & Chief Corporate Officer for Business Development for the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) in San Antonio, Texas.

Prior to developing an interest in public health and technology, Deborah worked with early stage companies and in management consulting. She co-founded Zilliant, a successful enterprise pricing optimization firm and served as Executive in Residence of Entrepreneurship for the Business School at St Edwards University in Austin, TX. Deborah’s consulting history includes tours of duty at Deloitte & Touche and McKinsey and Company, Inc. Deborah received her B.Sc. degree from Indiana University and graduated with honors and an M.P.Aff. from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas in Austin.

Her varied background reflects her interests in public health: Cancer, disparities, and access to care, with particular attention to younger cancer survivors. What Deborah likes very much about the SRPH is the intellectual collaboration. “I looked at different schools before I came here. There is a sense of community and awareness in the school.” She enjoys challenges and opportunities and has many interests, including being a motorcycle rider, a jewelry maker, a gardener, and is a bee-keeper.

Amber D. Elkins

Amber D. Elkins

Amber D. Elkins began her career as a Certified Nursing Assistant in a long-term care facility. It became clear to her that the typical intervention approaches to stopping elder maltreatment failed to account for the complexity in interactions between the residents, the care providers, and the facility. This realization in part motivated her to pursue doctoral studies to enable her solve public health problems using a systems perspective.

Amber also instructed disaster preparedness courses for the American Red Cross for the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter, primarily at MCAS Miramar. These experiences and her bachelor’s degree in biology, bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as an M.P.H, shaped Amber’s main research, which is in using systems sciences to understand systemic problems in institutional settings. She hopes through her doctoral studies to advance her understanding of systems science methodologies to enable and to facilitate research pertaining to these issues, with particular reference to elder maltreatment in long-term care settings.

While in the doctoral program, she has undertaken directed studies in elder abuse in nursing homes with Catherine Hawes, Ph.D. and pursued policy issues related to long-term care. She has explored organizational influences on the incidence of pressure sores in nursing homes, and strategies for improving the quality of care.

In the past year, she has taken directed studies with Kenneth McLeroy, Ph.D., and Dennis Gorman, Ph.D., on applying systems thinking to behaviors in and by institutions serving vulnerable populations. She attended the New England Complex Systems Institute to gain a more in depth understanding of complex systems modeling. While there, she learned Python programming to be able to create Systems Dynamics, Social Network, and Agent-based models, all of which are dynamic models capable of adapting to changes imposed by the environment and its underlying components.

In addition to enriching her research interest, Amber has been instrumental in helping scholars from China adapt to academic life at the School of Rural Public Health through her one-year assistantship at the Office of Public Health Practice.  She, together with James N. Burdine, Dr.P.H, coordinated the activities of the China program.

Amber appreciates the flexibility of the doctoral program, asserting that the program allows students to take a variety of courses focused on their specific interests and research goals. She also believes the independence she has been provided in the program to develop her own research has been very useful.

In her free time, she takes her pets—seven in all— to parks.

Cara Pennel

Cara Pennel

Cara Pennel is the Manager of Public Health Practice Programs in the Office of Special Programs at the TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health. Her job involves management of the Texas Public Health Training Center (TPHTC), one of 37 Public Health Training Centers across the nation funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Resources, and a collaboration between the TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health, the University of Texas School of Public Health and the University of North Texas School of Public Health. Her responsibilities also include managing continuing education and career development activities for the existing and future public health workforce, as well as community engagement projects.

Since graduating with her Master’s of Public Health in 2003, her work experience has primarily been in community engagement activities and community health-initiative management. She has worked with broad stakeholder groups in rural communities throughout Texas to promote community planning and local policy development. She also staffed a community-driven health initiative in Alexandria, VA, in which public and private partners and community members worked jointly to improve a select number of health issues through coalition building, collaborative planning and community action.  This initiative, Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria, was composed of a steering committee and four work groups for overweight and obesity, tobacco use, mental health and substance abuse.

Cara serves as a board member for the Texas Area Health Education Center East – Waco Region and the Texas Rural Health Association. She is also the Texas Rural Health Association secretary and chair of the membership committee. She is co-chair of the School of Rural Public Health 5k Fun Run Planning Committee and a member of the City of College Station Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, the School of Rural Public Health National Public Health Week Committee and the National Public Health Training Center Network. Cara is also a member of the American Public Health Association, the National Rural Health Association and the Texas Rural Health Association.

Her research interests include community capacity, the built environment and social networks. More specifically, she is interested in exploring how built environmental characteristics and social networks enhance community agency and capacity. Further, she is interested in the dynamics that facilitate community capacity building and public health program sustainability and the systematic operationalization of these factors toward community health improvement.

Cara explains her motivation for her research interests. “I grew up in the countryside and spent a lot of time seeing nature, so I guess that has made me enjoy outdoors.” Her advice to incoming and fellow students is to develop social connections with students and faculty and explore courses available on main campus in addition to the courses at the SRPH to enable you to receive different perspectives in your research areas.

Soila Villarreal

Soila Villarreal

Soila Villarreal is a Doctoral Research and Teaching Assistant in the Department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences at Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health (SRPH). Soila has a bachelor’s in Psychology from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) and a Master’s in Public Health from Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health (SRPH).  Soila has been involved in the implementation, assessment, and evaluation of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission’s (TJPC) probation based pre-adjudicatory, specialized mental health diversion program probation-based diversion initiative, FEDI (Front End Diversion Initiative). She has also published on the effectiveness of specialized probation and intensive case management for delinquent youth with mental illnesses.

Currently, Soila is a recipient of the Gates Millennium and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Prior awards include the South Texas Rising Star Scholarship, Ford Salute to Education, SISTER’s award, Mano-a-Mano scholarship, Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Alaniz Memorial scholarship, LULAC South Texas Chapter Scholarship, Costal Bend Foundation Scholarship, and the South Texas Scholars Grant.

Soila’s previous work experiences include working as a QMHP-CS case manager at MHMR (Mental Health & Mental Retardation of Nueces County) in the South Texas Jail Diversion Program. She provided consumers with intensive rehabilitation services and coordinated integration of services. She collaborated with community stakeholders and other organizations to facilitate client access to psychiatric, substance abuse, medical, social, vocational, and other resources. As a QMHP-CS case manager, she received training in Motivational Interviewing and Crisis Intervention. She also interned at the BVCOG (Brazos Valley of Council of Government) HIV services department where she assisted in providing support for service providers, supervised the implementation of assessment and protocol tools, and disseminated evidence based practices.  For four years, Soila worked for the College of Education Institute for Second Language Achievement and Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC).

Her research interests include mental health, substance abuse, and young adult and adolescent delinquency. Her focus is how mental health and delinquency impacts life-course outcomes and health and how race, class, and gender further influences these outcomes.  She is also interested in evidence-based practices, multi-level interventions and quantitative methodology.

Richard Wood

Richard Wood

Richard Wood is the Project Director for CTxCARES, one of ten centers in the CDC and National Cancer Institute (NCI)- which is funded by the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network (CPCRN). In this role he has been working with colleagues at Scott and White HealthCare and Texas AgriLife Extension, as well as colleagues in the other ten Centers around the country. He has a particular interest in cancer survivorship, especially as related to communication with health care providers.

Richard is no stranger to the TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health, having earned an MHA here in 2007.  Subsequent to that, he worked for the State of Hawaii Department of Health in the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Division as a Public Health Administrative Officer before returning to SRPH to start the doctoral program in Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences.  He has finished his coursework and is beginning to refine his dissertation research area.

His research interests include prevention and control of chronic disease and cancer, integration of health behavior and safety, social ecological influences on health, dissemination and implementation, and multilevel health interventions. As part of his commitment to the Brazos Valley community, Richard serves on the board of directors for the Brazos County American Cancer Society. He is helping to implement and evaluate a cancer-specific evidence-based self-management program in the Brazos Valley. Additionally, he is working with the St. Joseph’s Cancer Center to help them plan for and implement an evidence-based cancer survivorship program.

Richard has diverse backgrounds. He was a biomedical science major, has worked in a microbiology lab, a hospital for humans, and an animal hospital. “All these experiences do reflect public health,” he says.

Richard says the courses he has taken so far, especially the four doctoral seminars, have made him understand why programs work or don’t work, what’s the theory, how to evaluate programs, the theory behind the programs, and the philosophy of who designed the program.

After graduation, Richard hopes to work for state, federal, or international agency. “I basically want to manage a program from a large scope. And if it’s in something I am interested in like physical activity, nutrition, or cancer, great,” he says.

Richard has advice for prospective doctoral students. “I think it is important to meet a lot of people, not only in your department but other researchers in general. It’s been very helpful to me personally. Even if they are not here, I can still ask them questions about research and others.”

Abdulrasul (Rasul) Ramji, D.C., M.P.H.

Abdulrasul (Rasul) Ramji, D.C., M.P.H.

Abdulrasul (Rasul) Ramji, D.C., M.P.H., is the Director of Global Initiatives at TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health. His current focus lies in forming mutually beneficial educational collaborations for the graduate school in both Asian and Arab regions of the world.

Rasul is originally from Kenya, East Africa, where his early career focus was on producing disease resistant varieties of coffee plants.  His international experience includes developing methods to control trachoma in children and young adults in Sindh, Pakistan; evaluating health and housing conditions in rural areas of Kabul, Afghanistan; improving agriculture methods, livestock production, and marketing strategies for farmers in India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Most recently, Dr. Ramji was the director of a multidisciplinary practice including chiropractic, neurology, orthopedics and physical therapy in Houston, Texas.

Rasul obtained his B.S. degree in entomology, with a minor in horticulture from the University of Sindh in Pakistan; a certification in dental technology; and a doctorate of chiropractic medicine from the Texas Chiropractic College in Pasadena, Texas. A life-long learner, Rasul also received a M.P.H. degree in Health Policy and Management from the TAMHSC School of Rural Public Health.

“Public health transcends borders more than ever before,” states Dr. Ramji. I’m glad to be building partnerships and mobilizing resources and efforts on a global platform to make a difference for mankind.

His research interests include global health and building partnerships to solve health and social problems. While he is concerned with promoting wellness across the life course, he is particularly passionate about improving maternal and child health, making the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 a reality.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell