Increasing research levels is a goal of the University and the School of Nursing.”
– Dean Debra Barksdale
We’ve designed the building thinking futuristically, since we know that we’re going to expand our research and we needed the space to do it.”
– Associate Dean for Academic Programs Heidi Krowchuk
Serving the Underserved
As they launched their PhD program in 2004, nursing faculty decided to focus their research on health disparities in vulnerable populations.
A major initiative within the School of Nursing has been the TRIAD Center of Excellence in Health Disparities, which the National Institutes of Health funded with two grants totaling $11.5 million. Wallace served as principal investigator on the project.
Interdisciplinary teams operating through the center examined self-management of diabetes among Hispanic populations, nutrition and blood pressure control among African American adults, risky sexual behavior among teenage girls, and more.
The grant that launched the TRIAD Center of Excellence in Health Disparities is one of the largest NIH research grants in UNCG’s history.
Faculty from NC A&T, NC Central, and Winston-Salem State as well as local community partners and agencies collaborated on center projects, which were ultimately, says Wallace, “about the impact we can have on our community to improve health.”
The research trajectory chosen by faculty in the early 2000s is no less relevant today.
“We are much more aware of health disparities than we were 30 years ago or 25 years ago or 20 years for that matter – the literature has just really expanded,” says Krowchuk.
“Now everybody is talking about social determinants of health because we know that where you grow up, how you grow up, what kind of neighborhood you lived in, and what access your family had to resources – that really impacts your health down the road.”
The new dean’s own research interest in stress and heart disease among African American adults aligns perfectly with the school’s focus.
Barksdale became interested in the ways stress negatively affects the body after a dentist told her that she had developed temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ, from being stressed as a graduate student at Howard University. She was clenching her teeth at night.
Later, when she was working at a Maryland clinic, she noticed that many of her patients were young Black men who had high blood pressure.
“They weren’t obese and didn’t have other risk factors traditionally associated with high blood pressure, but they frequently indicated that they were under this tremendous stress as Black men,” Barksdale says.
Recent research projects at the School of Nursing
a collaboration with Cone Health examining how hospitals assign work to nurses, with the goal of improving quality of care and safety, led by Dr. Cindy Bacon
weight management interventions for young Black women that address chronic psychosocial stress, negative emotions, and eating behavior patterns, led by Dr. Stephanie Pickett
a study of long-term cardiovascular health risks experienced by women diagnosed with hypertension and other cardiometabolic complications during pregnancy, led by Dr. Forgive Avorgbedor
a school-based therapy program study to help children cope with asthma, conducted by Dr. Colleen McGovern and the University of Rhode Island and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio
Health disparities are prevalent in our state and in our community, and our faculty are committed to alleviating and trying to remove those disparities.”
– Senior Associate Dean for Research and Innovation Debra Wallace
We’ve got to go out and start recruiting at middle school and high school levels. Actually, high school might be too late.”
– Department Chair Pamela Johnson Rowsey
Barksdale decided to become a nurse as a kid growing up in rural Virginia when she watched the TV sitcom “Julia.”
The show is often credited as the first weekly TV series to star an African American woman in a non-stereotypical role, with the title character played by Diahann Carroll working as a nurse.
In 1967, one year before “Julia” premiered on NBC, Dr. Ernestine Small became UNCG’s first minority faculty member when she joined the School of Nursing.
Now in 2021, Barksdale, the daughter of a sharecropper, has been hired to lead the School of Nursing into the future.
“It’s important for students to have faculty that look like them who understand their experiences,” Barksdale says. “This gives them hope and encouragement that they too can reach their goals and potential.”
The impact won’t end there, Johnson Rowsey adds. “Barksdale’s hiring sends a message for faculty as well that the University is committed to having diverse students, faculty, and staff.”
It’s a new chapter, in a new building, at the UNCG School of Nursing.