Q&A with Shelby Flores-Thorpe, PhD

Published: December 12, 2023

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On October 26, Shelby Flores-Thorpe, PhD, MEd, CHES, successfully defended her dissertation: “Assessing Effective Communication Styles and Preferences Between Health Researchers and State Policymakers.” Shelby was a Center Dell Health Scholar and focused her student research on the Center’s Texas Research-to-Policy (RPC) Project.  Read on to learn more about Shelby’s journey in public health. 

Q: What first interested you in public health? 

I first became interested in public health when I was in my master’s program, which was in health education.   

However, even before applying to my master’s program, I was working for a small nonprofit in New Mexico, where I helped to coordinate and program after-school activities for Native American tribes and schools. It was there that I became more interested in health disparities, in general, but especially in populations that needed more support.   

My bachelor's in kinesiology helped me become interested in how biology/science and sports were all intertwined, which was how I came to work with the nonprofit. From there, I became more interested in how programs were designed and how you could work with communities to provide them with the support and changes they wanted to see, which led me to my master’s program, and eventually into my doctoral program. 

Q: What degrees do you have, and where did you receive them from?  

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology from St. Edward's University in Austin, a Master of Education in Health Education from Texas State University, and, more recently, a PhD from UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. 

Q: You recently defended your dissertation and now have your PhD. Congrats! Tell us about the research you conducted during your time as a doctoral student.  

When I first started at UTHealth Houston, I was working under Dr. Sandra van den Berg's FRESH Austin project, which was an evaluation of farm stands and mobile markets across the city of Austin.  

However, after a year or two I transitioned to working directly for the Center under Dr. Deanna Hoelscher as a Dell Health Scholar, and eventually began working with the Texas Research-to-Policy Collaboration (RPC) Project. In that time, I have conducted baseline and post-evaluation interviews with legislators, developed and disseminated health policy resource reports and newsletters, and helped maintain the Center’s Legislative Bill Tracker we use to track child-health related legislation in Texas. 

Q: What drew you to UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin?  

I was interested in joining the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health program as a doctoral student because of Dr. Hoelscher and van den Berg's experience with nutrition security. As mentioned, I came in with previous experience in the nutrition security and access realm and wanted to continue that work, which I did, thanks to both Drs. Hoelscher and van den Berg.   

When I was looking at other programs, the School of Public Health’s program really stood out to me because the faculty and staff were engaging, and it felt like they truly had your best interests at heart. When I met with Dr. van den Berg during the application stage, she was very welcoming and interested in determining how the program could also support me in my educational and research journey. 

Q: What opportunities did working at the Center for Healthy Living afford you?  

The Center has provided me with many opportunities, including teaching, research, and conference experience. Coming into the program, I did not have much research and presentation experience under my belt, but Drs. Hoelscher and van den Berg made sure to provide me with experience, if I wanted it.   

As noted, they both have provided me with the opportunity to flourish and grow when working with our state legislators, but they have also helped me to develop professional skills, including how to submit and present at conferences, and how to publish papers.  

Q: Now that you have your PhD, what’s next? 

Right now, I am looking forward to continuing to support the TX RPC Project in any way that I can and growing as an academic. 

Q: What’s a day outside of your academic endeavors look like?   

I guess I'm going to have to figure that out since I don't have my dissertation hanging over my head anymore. I typically enjoy traveling or exploring new places, especially if I can take my pup, Landry.

Written by Kirsten Handler, communication specialist at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.