Working in public health was always School of Public Health Alumna of the Year Tracy Donnelly’s path, but it was as a college administrator that she truly found her calling. As dean of workforce training and continuing education at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, Donnelly is an international advocate for public health.
At Northern Lights, she has created systems to support access for members of indigenous communities to go to college, developed unique training opportunities for those 55 and older, and created and managed multiple education initiatives. Donnelly also created a licensed practical nurse program while at Klamath Community College and managed 10 credentialed health science programs during her tenure at Clackamas Community College.
Having started her journey at Southern Oregon University, Donnelly earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training and health education before receiving a certificate of teacher education from the University of Idaho in 1993. In 1995, she relocated to Las Vegas and took a job with the Clark County School District as a health educator and department chair, working with at-risk groups while also developing and implementing health-and-wellness programs for diverse students.
Shortly after relocating to Las Vegas, Donnelly enrolled at UNLV and began pursuing her master’s degree in public health at the School of Community Health Sciences. During her time at UNLV, she studied the lead levels of imported candies, and when certain candies were determined to have toxic levels, she worked to get them removed from local grocery stores to protect the community. Donnelly also organized a health and wellness seminar for Native American community college students to show them the higher-education options available to them in the fields of science and public health.
After earning her master of public health degree from UNLV in 2007, Donnelly and one of her UNLV professors, Shawn Gerstenberger, were invited to share their research in a Food and Drug Administration laboratory. In 2011, she received the Community Lead Poisoning Prevention Award. An accomplished grant writer, Donnelly was part of a team that wrote a National Institutes of Health grant, and she’s authored grants to support health care education, community health engagement, and minority students in their pursuit of doctorate-level research positions.
Working toward her master’s degree at UNLV profoundly changed Donnelly's view on the power of education. “I hold precious the ideals of public health as a lifelong calling to create better outcomes, both in our individual communities and across the global landscape,” she says. “And I know for a fact that education changes lives.”
What moment or experience during your time at UNLV had the most profound impact on your life and career?
I was sitting in a lab, surrounded by piles of candy, and while that may sound like every 8-year-old’s Halloween dream, it was serious business. I had the privilege of working with Shawn Gerstenberger and Chad Cross, trying to find ways to screen large batches of imported candy for lead contamination. Knowing that if we found a solution it could stop a child from eating tainted candy, it was life-changing for me.
I became, and remain, convinced that our actions large and small really do impact lives. Even when we don’t have the answers, we have a responsibility to try our best, no matter the obstacles — like a true Rebel. In fact, as Rebels, we should be looking to challenge the status quo by rising up, creating meaningful change and making a difference. Now, more than ever, the world needs the heart of a Rebel.