Sharon Jalene, the School of Integrated Health Sciences’ assistant dean, speaks candidly about her life — from being homeless to opening for acts like Alice Cooper, David Lee Roth, and Kansas, to ending up in a career in academia. She says that succeeding at the last has been one of her biggest challenges so far.
Tell us about a time in your life when you were daring.
I’m not sure I ever felt daring in the midst of something, but there have been some immense challenges. I tend to be transparent about my life because, well, it is my life. I was in an abusive home, made worse by a careless legal system. I was homeless and trafficked; I've experienced a lot of physical, mental, and psychological violence.
There is a podcast produced by our students called “UNLV Groundbreakers,” where I share some of these life situations and how this impacted my experience as a college student. A few students listened to that podcast and thanked me for being transparent. I guess it helps to hear that you are not the only one, and that you can still have a great life. My goal is always to support our students and let them know that regardless of their background they belong and they are not alone.
On a cheerier note, becoming a professional musician was one of the most challenging things I ever did. You have no idea how hard I worked to get on stage and sing a song. So I would say in restrospect, the most daring thing was becoming a professional musician and the second was getting my Ph.D. after leaving the school system in the eighth grade. My education took a long time and it was hard. I had to take all of the remedial classes before I could earn credits. I share this because I think it is crucial for people to know that you can come from literally the streets to a good life through hard work and education.
What’s your role now?
I completed my undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees at UNLV (’12 BS Kinesiological Sciences, ’14 MSK Kinesiology, ’19 PhD Interdisciplinary Health Sciences) I joined the department of kinesiology & nutrition sciences in 2013 as an instructor. In 2019 I was appointed to my current role as assistant dean for the School of Integrated Health Sciences. I do a lot of administrative and support work in that role and I still get to teach. Although, some of my family and old friends understand what I do, someone will usually chime in and say, “It’s college, I think she teaches at a college.” My daughters, Alana and Trish, are super proud, and that means everything.
What has been your greatest and toughest day on campus?
The greatest day of every semester is commencement. The darkest days are when we have lost students to suicide or other mental health-related incidents. This is one of the reasons I was so motivated to conduct research related to college student depression. College students report eight times more moderate to severe depression than the general public and I wanted to know why.
How can we help? My area of research is college student depression and relationships with cardiorespiratory fitness, race, ethnicity, sexual gender minority status, and willingness to seek help. COVID-19 posed even greater challenges for student health.
What are you passionate about?
Students! Student well-being, and supporting students to reach their goals are a constant source of motivation.
In 2014, I was searching for student wellness apps. I saw the this YOU @ College app, so I called them. YOU @ College is a third-party company that integrates a university’s resources with 2,500 other evidence-based support systems into one app. YOU @ UNLV identifies where the students might need help. The app also helps students make smart goals. Fast forward to 2022; I am thrilled to partner with Student Affairs and CAPS (Student Counseling and Psychological Services) to bring the YOU app to UNLV.
What trait do you most like about yourself, or what would you change?
The trait I most like about myself is that I’m an extremely hard worker, and the thing I would change is that I'm an extremely hard worker. The whole work-life balance makes me laugh. I think it is a disservice to tell people that they are wrong to work hard. It’s OK to be so intensely focused on a goal that you give up sleep or parties or movies. But you can't do it all the time.
Tell us about a lesson you learned from a student.
Back in my non-traditional undergrad years at UNLV, I had an 18-year-old lab partner who taught me how to study. There was a sophomore young man in another of my classes that really supported my ideas. Truth be known, I am here because of the GAs who mentored me through biomechanics and gave me advice about research and dreams. It was the students that got me where I’m at right now.
The truth is, I learn something from my students every semester. My favorite assignment of the semester is coming up — and it’s the mission and vision statement personal essay. I get to read about our students as humans, about what they have gone through, and the things they have to go through every day just to show up to class; it is the stuff of heroes. I am reminded about perseverance from my students every semester. Honestly, the graduate students who helped me and mentored me when I was an undergraduate student all the way to now. Students teach me how to have purpose every day and how to prioritize.
Fill in the blank on this sentence, A place on campus I feel most __ is ___.
A place I feel most hopeful is in the lobby of Bigelow Health Sciences. It may seem simple, but we took a room that needed care so the students had a place to just be, and we did it. We cleaned it up and got new furniture. It makes me happy every time I walk through. ”You’ve gotta take what you got and make what you want,” a quote from Alan Cohen. It’s one of my guiding principles. Things like this give me hope.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Streaming old sitcoms. At the moment I’m watching Arrested Development, then switching over to Golden Girls and anything with Betty White. Right now I’m a huge Betty White fan.
Jalene has received six awards for teaching and service, developed several courses, and the semester-end event Fitness4Finals. In addition to working with graduate assistant Trey Curtis-Brown to promote You @ UNLV, she now is collaborating with the office of the provost and others to bring the Nevada Science Olympiad to UNLV.