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Lasting effects of positive influence

Former students write about the impact two public health professors had on their doctoral education and careers

Professors continually strive to have positive impacts on the students with whom they come into contact. One positive interaction can make a difference in a student’s education, and the results of that interaction can last for years.

The impact two Texas A&M University School of Public Health professors had on a pair of students is highlighted in articles those former students wrote for the journal Frontiers in Public Health. For its Aging and Public Health section, the multidisciplinary open-access journal put forth the topic, Women in Science: Aging and Public Health 2022, to highlight female contributions to public health, specifically in the field of aging.

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, who was a doctoral student from 2011 to 2014 in Health Promotion and Community Health Science, chose to spotlight the impact made by Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia G. Ory, PhD, MPH. Omolola E. Adepoju highlighted the impact made by Regents Professor Emeritus Catherine Hawes, PhD, who was with the School of Public Health from 2000 to 2013 and directed the Program in Aging and Long-Term Care Policy.

Marcia G. Ory, pioneer thought leader and scientist

Dahlke recounts meeting Ory for the first time while attending a conference on aging and cancer in 2010, calling it “one of those life-changing moments.” At the time, Dahlke said she was looking for a doctoral program in public health and was considering the University of Texas in Austin because that is where she lived, or the University of Texas-San Antonio, because she was working at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center and knew professors at the school.

Ory mentioned that Dahlke should consider Texas A&M and the School of Public Health and Dahlke said it took only one visit to the school to lock her in to driving the five hours round trip twice weekly to attend classes.

Although Dahlke said she never took a class with Ory, she said Ory took her under her wing as an advisor and mentor and that she made sure Dahlke’s experience at Texas A&M was everything it could be. Dahlke was 61 years old when she started her doctoral degree, the same age Ory was.

“The classic idea of a mentor/mentee relationship is one of a more experienced, usually older adult who supports and encourages a less experienced person in their professional endeavors,”

Dahlke wrote. “I was a well-experienced 61-year-old when I started my doctoral program. Academia was a foreign land to me, and I was lucky to have Marcia as my guide.”

Read Dahlke’s article here.

Catherine Hawes, a role model in aging and public health

Adepoju met Hawes in August 2009 when she started her PhD program in health services research at Texas A&M, and she said that Hawes taught health policy in a “manner that made one never want the class to end—something I cannot say about other courses taught by other professors.”

Adepoju said those Monday afternoon classes were like sitting with a former president and learning the inner working of how health policy is made, the role of interest groups, and how incrementalism over the years had shaped our current health care delivery system.

Adepoju writes that Hawes, to her, is one of the very best role models in the aging and public health sector. She penned that Hawes, who was born in East Tennessee and raised conservative, proved to be a non-conformist in her beliefs, challenging norms that tended to relegate women and persons of color to second-class citizens.

“Catherine was a trailblazer in treating everyone fairly, regardless of what or how they identified,” Adepoju wrote. “When it comes to issues related to aging and public health, there are no ifs, ands, or buts—Catherine’s mission is health equity for all older adults. Her passion for aging and public health is infectious.

“To the best of my knowledge, Catherine mentored more than 100 health services researchers currently studying aging and public health across diverse settings, including universities, health departments, Congress, and non-profit think tanks,” Adepoju continued. “Like me, many of her mentees have continued work in aging and public health.”

Read Adepoju’s article here.

Media contact: Dee Dee Grays,, 979.436.0611

Tim Schnettler

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