KU doctoral student earns national fellowship

Thu, 10/19/2023


Savannah Rattanavong

LAWRENCE ­— Maggie Swenson, doctoral candidate in the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs & Administration (SPAA), has won a competitive Dwight D. Eisenhower/Clifford Roberts Graduate Fellowship from the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College.

Maggie Swenson

The institute awards the fellowship to doctoral students from select institutions who are studying topics related to the role of government in a free society, public service, public policy and an improved understanding of the U.S. role in world affairs. The $10,000 stipend will support Swenson in the completion of her dissertation, “Collaboration Toward Health Equity: Exploring the Drivers, Success, and Strategies of Cross-sector Collaborations on the Social Determinants of Health.”

Swenson’s research is informed by the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) framework, which examines how factors outside of health care affect health and well-being. This approach emphasizes public health departments working with non-health sectors, such as education, housing, employment and planning, to address health disparities. Swenson is exploring what makes these collaborations feasible and encouraging partnerships between non-medical entities to better serve communities’ health needs.

Swenson said when working in health-focused nonprofits, she observed disparities in health based on race and socioeconomic status that held true across disease and stages of life. She saw differences in every health outcome, from birth weight to mortality rates.

“As a nonprofit professional, I also saw gaps in the research on interventions local organizations could use to alleviate health harms to marginalized groups,” Swenson said. “The persistent health disparities and lack of knowledge on how to address them inspired me to come back and get my Ph.D. and study how local government, nonprofit and private organizations can better promote health equity.”

Dorothy Daley, professor in SPAA and Swenson’s dissertation adviser, said a collaborative approach is imperative in advancing health equity “where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to achieve their highest level of health.”

Daley said public health scholars and practitioners regularly call for multisector collaboration to achieve their programmatic goals, but the recommendations often lack a deep understanding of collaborative decision-making or collaborative governance.  That is an area where public administration scholarship can help, according to Daley.

“Maggie’s dissertation will generate high-quality and impactful interdisciplinary scholarship by linking these two areas in clear and transparent ways. It has been really wonderful to see her grow as a scholar and pursue important work that has both theoretical and applied significance,” Daley said.

Swenson is currently conducting interviews with public health workers across the country to inform her research, as well as performing data analysis on factors that predict whether local health departments partner with non-health sector organizations. Her data analysis also looks at the success of those partnerships.

At the conclusion of her research, Swenson said she hopes to provide information on how to better design and implement partnerships that promote health equity, as well as disseminate the results to health departments and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States.

“I feel extremely honored and fortunate to be a recipient of the Dwight Eisenhower and Clifford Roberts Graduate Fellowship,” Swenson said. “I have collected and analyzed secondary data on how local health departments collaborate across sectors to promote health equity, but the perspective of frontline workers is vital. Having research funding allows me to complete interviews with local health officials to gain their perspectives on health equity collaborations. I also am excited that the Eisenhower Institute sees the value in my work.”

Swenson, a Fulton, Missouri, native, earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit leadership from William Jewell College. She expects to complete her doctorate at KU in 2024.

Thu, 10/19/2023


Savannah Rattanavong

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Savannah Rattanavong

Office of the Provost