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Ruby Hernandez and Jacquita N. Johnson selected as Bill Anderson Fund Fellows

School of Public Health duo joins diverse group of individuals working on completing graduate degrees in more than 30 disciplines from nearly 20 institutions
Ruby Hernandez and Jacquita N. Johnson

When Ruby Hernandez and Jacquita N. Johnson embarked on their college careers, they both did so with the intention of earning their nursing certification. Johnson’s mom was a nurse and she wanted to follow her footsteps, while Hernandez saw herself working as a nurse in an emergency room.

Along the way, however, their plans changed, and there was a detour on their career paths. After finishing their undergraduate degrees, the pair enrolled at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health to pursue their master’s degree, and now they are both working toward their doctorate in public health with a concentration in environmental health.

Hernandez and Johnson are the School of Public Health’s newest fellows of the Bill Anderson fund, joining TyKeara Mims, who was selected for the honor in 2021.

The Bill Anderson Fund (BAF) was founded in 2014 by Norma Anderson. The mission and vision of BAF is to expand the number of historically underrepresented professionals in the fields of disaster and hazard research and practice so that the diversity of the hazard and disaster field is reflective of American society.

The BAF Fellows are a diverse group of individuals working on completing graduate degrees in more than 30 disciplines from nearly 20 institutions which will position them to become tomorrow’s leaders in the fields of hazard and disaster mitigation, research, emergency management and practice. Texas A&M is one of the satellite campuses of the BAF.

“We are able to help each other set goals and really push ourselves,” Hernandez said. “It is a supportive group.”

“I love going to our workshops and engaging with people who look like me, people who are so diverse in so many ways,” Johnson added. “I really think that helps to sharpen the tools in your toolbox. That is one of the unique aspects of BAF.”

Ruby Hernandez

Hernandez earned her bachelor’s degree in allied health and in 2020 began working toward her master’s in environmental health, which she is also pursuing her doctorate in.

While taking core classes she met Garett Sansom, DrPH, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. Sansom, who is part of the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Center, introduced Hernandez to environmental health, which piqued her interest.

“I wanted to know more about environmental health because I was very intrigued, and he was so engaged in the community, and I respected his work,” she said. “I got to work with the Superfund Center, do community outreach, and realized the impact of their work.”

Hernandez also points to Benika Dixon, DrPH, MPH, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics who is also part of the Superfund Center, for opening her eyes to disaster research.

“I realized it wasn’t just doing environmental health, there was more to it, and Dr. Dixon brought in the disaster perspective,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez, who is on course to complete her doctorate in 2025, sees herself in a career position that affords her the opportunity to be hands on.

“I think my main goal would be working directly in the community,” Hernandez said. “Anonymous people have done the greatest things, and they quietly dedicate their lives to improving others; I aspire to serve selflessly.”

Jacquita N. Johnson

Johnson, whose mother is a nurse, grew up around the health industry and always had the intention to enter the field, figuring she would become a nurse like her mother. But Johnson’s plans changed, she said, thanks to anatomy and physiology, classes that quickly led to her changing her mind.

She shifted her focus to health administration, earning her bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University, setting her sights on a career in hospital administration. While completing an internship with Harris County Public Health, however, she again felt pulled in a different direction.

“That internship introduced me to public health, and I fell in love and have been here ever since,” Johnson said.

Particularly Johnson said she has become enthralled with the area of disaster research and environmental justice while working with Sansom and Dixon on environmental projects in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

“I knew of it as a concept, as a term, as a movement, but I had not had experience actually practicing and getting to engage with individuals who have experienced environmental injustices,” Johnson said. “They really introduced me to the practicality of environmental justice.”

Johnson, who is on course to complete her doctorate in 2026, has received multiple internship offers, which she credits the BAF Fellows program with helping her secure.

“The opportunities have been rolling in,” she said. “I want to continue to sharpen my disaster skills because I think it’s so important because as we continue with climate change, we are all going to have to face disasters in some shape, form or fashion.”

Media contact: Dee Dee Grays, grays@tamu.edu, 979.436.0611

Tim Schnettler

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