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Dr. Leila Wood
Dr. Leila Wood

We are thrilled to celebrate Leila Wood, PhD, for receiving a prestigious National Institute for Justice (NIJ) Award. Her grant titled, "Safe Transitions for Teens: Assessing the Impact of Intimate Partner Transitional Housing on Adolescent Residents" explores the need to develop and test community-level interventions like transitional housing offered by agencies focused on intimate partner violence, for youth who have been exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) within their homes.

This study will build upon its parent project, Safe Transitions, which examines the long-term impact of intimate partner violence-focused transitional housing can have on survivor health, safety, and economic mobility. The Safe Transitions study is led by Dr. Bethany Backes at the University of Central Florida and supported by co-principal investigator Dr. Leila Wood, and Co-Investigators Drs. Julia O'Connor and Rachel Voth Schrag.

The NIJ award for the Safe Transition for Teens project will capitalize on recruiting participants involved in the parent study. These two important projects will build upon each other to further examine how transitional housing offered by IPV focused agencies impact family risk and protective factors.

This work is a broad look at structural and community factors on violence prevention, says Wood. We haven't spent enough time on this group of adolescents and the power that housing may have on disrupting violence.

This study, which will longitudinally follow adolescents living in transitional housing, has the will provide vital information about preventing intergenerational cycles of violence. By focusing on risk and protective factors, communities can enhance their abilities to support the structure and resources necessary to support families enrolled in transitional housing following IPV.

Existing research tells us that housing is one of most powerful forms of violence prevention, Dr. Wood explains.

While we understand housing, we don't know the importance and significance this factor has on survivors, let alone their children. This specific population of teens exposed to IPV that we will study is a group that needs more attention, says Wood.

Dr. Wood, Professor at the UTMB School of Nursing in Galveston, Texas has worked in this field for more than 21 years and continues to influence policies related to intimate partner violence prevention both regionally and nationally.

Congratulations, Dr. Leila Wood, on this achievement and thank you for your dedication to this work!

A Parisian holiday and nursing education may seem like an unlikely pairing, until you witness the combination of fashion and philanthropic support in one room! The UTMB School of Nursing's annual Holiday Style Fashion Show and Luncheon was a resounding success this year. This sophisticated daytime gala features a professionally produced runway show, exclusive silent auction packages and a gourmet meal to gather our supporters in a formal setting and recognize our student scholarship recipients.

Held on November 17 at the Galveston Island Convention Center, 2022 marked the tenth year of the event, attracting more than 640 individuals from the greater Houston/Galveston area. The 2022 Holiday Style Show not only had record attendance but raised a record amount of funds for our nursing students and the leadership opportunities that the Scholars Program provides. Through the silent auction, table sponsorships, ticket sales, and the last two years of donations, generous supporters helped raise $400,000 and counting!

All funds raised at this event go toward the UTMB School of Nursing Scholars Program, financially supporting soon-to-be nurses who will deliver outstanding patient care regionally and nationally. Students who enter the School of Nursing Scholars Program are top performers who go above and beyond to become leaders in their field. The education they receive at UTMB will prepare them to fulfill critical roles in patient care, leadership, advocacy, and policy. Edima Bassey, a fourth semester BSN Honors student, spoke at the event about what the scholarship has meant to her and her nursing education. Being a McGovern Scholar has been the highlight of my nursing school career. It has given me numerous opportunities that have shaped and enriched my education to give me the tools necessary to be a competent, well-rounded nurse. I am extremely appreciative of all the donations that made my education as well as all the experiences I have had in the Honors Program possible. Being able to attend school without the hinderance of a financial burden is something I will always be eternally grateful for.

UTMB School of Nursing takes great pride in the students and faculty that we educate, elevate, and employ to create and contribute to the nursing profession. Thanks to our generous donors, strong alumni, successful students, incredible faculty, and supportive staff, UTMB School of Nursing has paved the way for nursing education throughout the state of Texas for more than 130 years.

We are so grateful for this year's event and the unprecedented levels of financial support, and we are excited for its current and future impacts. These gifts go far beyond the individual students who benefit; Investment in these brilliant students will yield great rewards for the patients, families, and communities they will serve.

UTMB School of Nursing faculty member, Dr. Jacquelyn Svoboda (SON '99), was named a recipient of the 2022 University of Texas (UT) Regent's Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA). This prestigious award is offered annually in recognition of faculty members at UT System's eight academic and six health institutions who have demonstrated extraordinary performance and innovation in instruction. The ROTA awards are the Board of Regents' highest honor and are among the largest in the nation for rewarding outstanding faculty performance.

Dr. Svoboda, assistant professor, currently serves as the Director of Educational Innovations and as the coordinator of the BAMBI Advocacy Student Scholars (BASS) program at UTMB SON. Alongside her faculty role, she continues her clinical practice in the UTMB OB/Gyn department as an Advanced Practice Nurse. Dr. Svoboda has a special interest in maternal health equity, social justice in healthcare, correctional health care, telehealth, and policy related to women's health.

Dr. Svoboda is a passionate advocate and innovative visionary who has dedicated her career and work to improving quality health access for vulnerable populations and educating and empowering student nurses to do the same.

This is a tremendous honor to be recognized by the UT Board of Regents, Svoboda shares. I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities UTMB has provided me over the past 15 years and to each mentor, leader, colleague and student who has supported this work.

Dr. Svoboda credits the dedication that UTMB and the School of Nursing have provided to create the space for educational innovation and in supporting faculty work. We are so proud of Dr. Svoboda's work and excited to see the UT System recognizing our outstanding faculty.

Congratulations, Dr. Jacquelyn Svoboda, on being named a recipient of the 2022 Regent's Outstanding Teaching Award. This extraordinary honor further exemplifies your passion and love of the nursing profession, the students that you mentor, and the patients you serve.

To learn more about the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards and how faculty members like Dr. Svoboda are selected, please enjoy this short video.

Dr. Cindy West
Dr. Cindy West

The University of Texas Medical Branch's School of Nursing, under the leadership of Dr. Cindy West, the inaugural Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Assistant Professor in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, was 1 of 50 schools selected by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to participate in a national initiative designed to foster inclusive learning environments and build a more diverse nursing workforce.

The project Building a Culture of Belonging in Academic Nursing, was launched in January 2022 to help schools of nursing create environments where students, faculty, and staff possess a strong sense of belonging and are encouraged to thrive, according to a national release sent in late July.

As a nursing professional for the past 26 years, Dr. West credits her passion for nursing to her late mother and her father who always told her that she must work hard, play hard, but keep your eyes on the prize, she said.

I was completely shocked yet overjoyed with excitement when I got the news about being selected to participate in this project, Dr. West said. I periodically reflect upon my work and self-evaluate what I can do better as a nurse and how I can give back to the nursing profession. This acknowledgement/opportunity was one of these moments.

This opportunity is a prize, yet I remain humble and grateful thanking God for it all knowing this is just the beginning of many new things to come at SON.

As the new leader of DEI at SON, Dr. West, who currently serves on local, state, and national DEI focused boards and organizations including the UTMB Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetist Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce just to name a few, has always been an advocate of doing the right thing and advocating for the underrepresented, fairness, and ensuring that everyone has a voice at the table, she said.

As an active listener and diversity leader, Dr. West hopes to bring awareness and equity while creating a safe space for a sense of belonging to the SON community.

We strive for a thriving, inclusive environment where our graduates are a part of a diverse nursing, workforce making an impactful change on the local, state, national and global levels, Dr. West said. It is critical to advance nursing education to our students so they can provide high quality culturally appropriate care to our communities.

One of the major initiatives that will soon be launched is the AACN LAMP-Culture & Climate survey, Dr. West said.

This special initiative will create the foundation that will garden new diversity efforts focusing on inclusive language, a safe space, and transparent communications, as well as identify gaps to integrate diversity within the nursing curriculum.

DEI work cannot be done solely by one person, Dr. West said. The adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child' is an example of the need for every individual to create change. This is what makes this new diversity program dynamic. To move forward we must acknowledge the past.

Since her start here at the SON, Dr. West has developed a new DEI Advisory Committee comprised of members committed to the vision of achieving excellence and professionalism through Diversity & Inclusion, Respect, Accountability and Transparency at SON.

The committee will include incentives for completion of the Culture & Climate survey, which will launch in late September, as well as promote a T-shirt contest seeking a DEI symbol recognizing those who will be doing/leading diversity work on campus or in the community, Dr. West said.

All voices should be heard here at the SON, Dr. West said. Students, faculty, and staff must work synergistically to create a sense of belonging. If there is an idea or matter focused on diversity, we welcome you to the table for an open discussion. Everyone a part of SON is invited to become involved.

Dr. West received the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace certification from the University of South Florida-MUMA College of Business in 2021 and is currently completing her DEI certification from Cornell University.


Dr. Heidi Luft is pictured at a panel discussion about how health promotion supports democracy with fellow Fulbright Alumni, César Fernández, left, and Dr. Luis Bonilla del CDC, at the Fulbright 75th Anniversary Conference in the Dominican Republic.

Before making an impact in nursing and health care, Dr. Heidi Luft, Ph.D., RN, lived and breathed gymnastics from ages 4 through 18 – and even was highly recruited to pursue that dream in college – until a higher calling came.

That higher calling has led Dr. Luft into a career of nursing for nearly a decade in which she teaches on health ethics and policy, team science, peace and conflict, determinants of health, cultural humility in health care, global health, and study abroad in Latin America.

My first experience abroad was in 2008 as a student in Nicaragua, Dr. Luft said. The health inequities that I saw, but did not yet understand, left me curious and wanting to learn how I could help. Now, almost 15 years later, I would say that I choose this focus because I feel it is my ethical and moral responsibility.

Dr. Heidi Luft at a focus group discussion on violence prevention with Sabana Pérdida firefighters in the Dominican Republic.

Through that experience, as well as her current stay in the Dominican Republic, it has taught Dr. Luft that much of the inequity we see across the globe today is the result of historical and present-day exploitation of countries in the Global South by countries in the Global North for political and economic gain, she said.

I know I cannot 'fix' the situation, but I think it is my imperative to leverage the privileges and power I have as a white female scholar from the Global North to these countries in advancing the health priorities they have identified for their communities, Dr. Luft said.

Dr. Luft, who is a tenure-tract Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Medial Branch School of Nursing and an Associate Researcher for the Center for Violence Prevention, is an implementation science pioneer in Latin America, leading some of the first studies in the region that have involved rigorous application of D&I (dissemination and implementation) methods and theories to design implementation strategies for school-based evidence-based interventions in the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Luft, center, stops for a group picture after a partnership planning meeting between the Dominican Republic Institute of Mental Health and Telepsychology, the Institute for Collaboration in Health, Universidad Central del Este and the University of Texas Medical Branch. Pictured from left is Angelina Sosa, Julio Canario, Abraham Pichardo, Kara McArthur, Dr. Eugenia Gonzalez, and Dr. Matt Dasco.

It is through this work which has led to Dr. Luft being named a 2022 Fulbright alumna of the Dominican Republic U.S. Scholar Program.

Being named a scholar has opened so many doors and expanded my partnerships in the Dominican Republic exponentially, Luft said. It has allowed me to create some exciting new opportunities for exchange and collaboration to UTMB faculty and students in research and education. It has showed me how much is possible through international collaboration.

Those collaborations have allowed Dr. Luft and her Dominican mentor to develop and co-teach a course on team science to students and faculty at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo – the first established university in the Americas, she said.

Dr. Luft is pictured teaching a course on team science at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

And although work-life balance can be a challenge, Dr. Luft, her partner and 4-year-old daughter take it all in stride by having Pizza Friday's, playing music together, and exploring the mountains, countryside, and deserts of the Dominican Republic to reconnect and rest, she said

Dr. Luft and her team are currently working on setting up the structure for UTMB students and faculty to engage in quality international educational experiences and conduct rigorous, high-impact research in the Dominican Republic.

It has not always been the easiest path, but I’m most proud that I followed my passion for global health, Dr. Luft said. The love I have for what I do, and my supportive, brilliant research team keep work fun, exciting, and productive. Really wonderful things are in the works... stay posted!

Dr. Luft is pictured with Angela Henriquez, Vice Mayor of Santo Domingo Este, where they discussed opportunities for collaboration on violence prevention efforts in the Dominican Republic.

SON Shout Outs

Dr. Verklan

​Congratulations on being selected as a committee member for the American Association of Critical Care Nurses 2021 Acute and Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist Practice Analysis Task Force to review the roles/responsibilities of the critical care CNS.​

Congratulations to our Nursing PhD students for receiving the following awards: Emily Blumenthal, Doctoral Program of the School of Nursing Scholarship; Angela Mcgaskey, J. Michael Leger, PhD, RN Family Nursing PhD Scholarship; Keili Peterman, Lois E. Nickerson, R.N. Endowed Scholarship; Emily Blumenthal, Mariann Blum, Ph.D. Endowed Presidential Scholarship; Lisa Letz, Marie and Talbert Aulds Scholarship; Megan Steele, Michael Tacheeni Scott Endowed Scholarship; Colleen Villamin, Regina R. and Alfonso J. Mercatante Memorial Scholarship; and Lisa Wagner, SON Alumni Assoc. Fund

Lisa Wagner

Congratuations to Ms. Lisa Wagner on the successful defense of her dissertation titled Planting Seeds: A Naturalistic Inquiry into the Perceptions and Experiences of WIC Peer Counselors as they Interact with Mothers Making their Infant Feeding Decisions.

Dr. Cheyenne Martin

Presented the Sr. Charles Marie Endowed Lecture (virtually) at Incarnate Word University, San Antonio titled Profiles in Courage: An Exploration of Nurses and Physicians Engaged in Resistance Efforts in Europe During Nazi Occupation. This special lecture was given after evacuation from Tropical Storm Beta and severe rainstorms in Wharton.

Dr. Virginia Chandlee

Congratuations on the successfull defense of her dissertation titled, An Exploratory Study of Pediatric Oncology Nurses' Perceptions of and Advocacy Responses to Ethical Issues in Securing Informed Consent in Adolescent and Young Adult Patients..