Mentoring success in junior faculty
Marcia G. Ory, MPH, PhD, has been a shining example for up-and-coming faculty members. A leader in the field of public health research and practice, Ory has both shown and taught junior faculty members—especially women—what can be achieved through a dedication to one’s own research coupled with a strong service ethos to support more junior colleagues.
Ory, who is nearing her 20th year at Texas A&M University, was recently selected by the Women’s Faculty Network (WFN) at Texas A&M as the winner of the 2020-2021 WFN Outstanding Mentoring Award.
The award, which Ory will receive during a luncheon on April 30, recognizes senior faculty members who have given selflessly of their time, knowledge and energy to guide and support junior faculty through the WFN Mentoring program and other university-based mentoring mechanisms.
“I am impressed by Dr. Ory’s scholarship and productivity. But even more, I value her generosity in mentoring others,” said Texas A&M School of Public Health Dean Shawn Gibbs, PhD, MBA, who nominated Ory for the award. “I believe she sees this as part of her role as a senior female faculty member and takes delight in such activities versus seeing it as a burden. Such activities have definitely strengthened faculty in the School of Public Health as well as others around campus.”
Ory added, “I am quite honored to receive this award. I am pleased to accept not just on my own behalf, but in recognition of all of the faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students I have mentored over the years, who are paying forward in mentoring others. The Texas A&M University’s Women’s Faculty Network is an excellent forum for connecting and supporting both mentors and mentees.”
Ory, who is a Regents and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the School of Public Health and the founding director of the Texas A&M Center for Population Health and Aging, also received The Association of Former Students’ Distinguished Achievement Award in Research for 2021 earlier this year. Receipt of these dual awards emphasizes the synergistic value of research excellence and research mentoring.
Working with interdisciplinary teams, Ory’s primary goal is to conceptualize and implement innovative projects to reframe healthy aging as the new normal. Junior faculty, post-docs and graduate students have always been an integral part of her research team.
“I recognize that aging is everyone’s business,” Ory said. “There is a need to foster strong ties across different sectors bringing campus, community, clinical and corporate perspectives to determine the best prevention and intervention strategies for healthy aging. Mentoring the next generation of faculty will be critical in building a research, education and practice workforce that can address the rapid aging of our population.”
Ory’s research output has been prolific. As a leading gerontological researcher, much of her work has focused on women as they age, and the varied roles they take on throughout a lifetime, such as being the family caregiver. She has authored or co-authored 10 edited books; 50 book forewords/chapters; 20 edited issues in professional journals; 440 articles published in peer-reviewed journals; and contributed to more than 500 presentations at international, national, state and local venues. Her substantive expertise is expansive and includes pioneering applied and translational research on women’s health, health behaviors and environments; chronic disease management; dementia care; doctor-patient interactions; falls and injury prevention; community engagement; and health disparities.
Prior to coming to Texas A&M in 2001, Ory spent 20 years in federal service as chief of social science research on aging in the National Institute on Aging’s Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institutes of Health. Ory is a distinguished alumna of Purdue University, from where she holds a doctorate, and she has a Master of Public Health and postdoctoral fellowship from The Johns Hopkins University. She was previously awarded the Gerontological Society of America’s Distinguished Mentorship Award for her efforts in attracting and inspiring more junior scholars in multidisciplinary aging research.
“I recognize the importance of understanding multiple interacting genetic, biological, behavioral and social determinants of health,” Ory said. “The potential of intervention is possible at any age, with no one strategy being the right answer—there is a need for multiple intervention strategies.”
Such intervention studies that Ory has conceived and conducted include lifestyle health promotion programs to encourage active living; chronic disease management programs around Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and diabetes; and environmental and technological innovations including wearable assistive technology.
Currently, she is leading a Rural Health Care Moonshot initiative to examine innovative diabetes education programs that can be scaled up and sustained over time to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. She is also leading public health efforts to advance research and practice about emergent public health crises such as the opioid overdose epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each of my research projects is enriched by having input from junior colleagues,” Ory said. “In turn, there’s mutual benefit as my junior colleagues engage in hands-on activities that help build independent researchers, educators and practitioners.”