North Dakota is one of the larger state offices. What advice can you share on effectively managing a team?

My advice on how to effectively manage a team is to build the team with individuals who are smarter than you. I am blessed to be surrounded by individuals who are not only intelligent, creative and dedicated but more importantly positive thinkers and real team players. They possess the self-confidence to not only share their own ideas and thoughts but also sincerely engage and learn from others. That makes it much easier to effectively manage the team. As my responsibilities have expanded I would say trust is the key word. I trust that the team members are capable and accountable; will keep me informed and will ask questions as needed. The trust should go both ways. I hope they trust that I will support them in their work; provide constructive guidance and direction and view mistakes as learning opportunities.  I try to (gently) push them beyond their comfort zone with the intent of helping them to learn, gain confidence and recognize their potential. I learned that from Dr. Mary Wakefield, our director for a number of years. When I was very new to the CRH, she often asked me, and others, to take on things way ‘outside our comfort zone’. At the time, it was stressful; however, many of those opportunities turned in to areas of comfort. Finally, in working with a team it is vital to not take ourselves too seriously. We should laugh and have fun – no matter the deadlines and workload.

One thing that sets North Dakota apart from many other states is its Native American population. Tell us about your work with the tribal communities.

The Center for Rural Health (CRH) has three notable national programs focusing on Native American population. The oldest of which is The National Resource Center on Native American Aging, funded by the DHHS, Administration on Community Living(ACL), formerly Administration on Aging. This program has been in existence for over 20 years and focuses on conducting Native Elder health and social needs assessments with tribes/villages and homesteads around the country, to include Alaska and Hawaii. To date, 70,000 completed surveys have been completed representing up to 342 of the federally recognized tribes. The results of the assessments are used at the local level to apply for the Title VI nutrition and caregiving grants, as well as to plan and develop other programs to address issues impacting Native Elders.

Two additional national programs, newer to the CRH, are the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI) funded by ACL; created to provide research, education, and training for the identification and prevention of elder abuse in Indigenous communities; and the third national program is Seven Generations Center for Excellence in Native Behavioral Health (SGCoE), funded by HRSA, that supports Native Americans working toward becoming, or currently serving as, mental health professionals. The success and strength of these programs is attributed to having experienced and dedicated staffs such as Jacque Gray PhD and Paul Carter PhD who are both registered tribal members which gives them a natural advantage of knowing the population and cultural practices that facilitate the development of trust relationships within the Native American communities. They, along with others within our office and around the state, use the programmatic focus of these three national programs to cross-mentor and train a number of Native American undergraduate and graduate students to develop future workforce and leadership to serve tribal communities.