Pascale C. Jean ’99, MPH ’01, Ph.D. ’15 was destined to work in a position that gives back to communities in a meaningful way.
Jean was born to Haitian parents and spent her childhood and early teen years living in Haiti. She credits her mom for instilling in her the drive to help people.
“My mom is a nurse, and she used to take my sister and me to the clinic she worked at to help pass out water, food and other necessities needed by the community,” Jean said.
It was moments like these that led her to ultimately pursue her bachelor’s degree in dietetics and nutrition, as well as master’s and Ph.D. degrees in public health at Florida International University to help build healthy and strong communities.
Today, Jean is a program analyst at the United States Department of Agriculture, working with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to end hunger and obesity through federal assistance programs.
She recently shared more about her experience at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and where she is today.
What appeals to you about community nutrition?
What I liked about community nutrition is that you could educate people. I get the opportunity to teach something simple like the importance of clean water or eating healthy, or how to properly wash your hands. These are actions that can help prevent diseases and even death. Something in me was like, ‘oh, I can help by doing something that I love, which is talking to people and instilling basic knowledge that some of us take for granted—especially in the underserved populations that may not have access to this knowledge.’
Tell us about your career after your master’s degree in public health at FIU.
When I finished my master’s, my dream was to have an impact on the masses. During this time, I was working at the Miami-Dade County Health Department and providing one-on-one nutrition education services at Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). When I expressed my desire to do more, my mentors and leaders encouraged me to look into a Ph.D. program. This led me to pursue one in public health at Stempel College, as it would help me get a federal job – a place where I could help put policies in place.
While working on my Ph.D., I worked full-time for the Miami-Dade County Health Department, where I planned, implemented and evaluated the employee wellness program. My roles and responsibilities included creating an annual wellness strategy plan providing services such as nutrition education classes, health screenings services and input policies to promote employee wellness. That led me to work for Cigna HealthCare in the Health and Wellness department and provided similar strategies to multiple companies. These jobs helped me learn about motivating individuals, how to implement policies and put wellness strategies plans that would impact a larger population to support healthy lifestyle habits.
Tell us more about your Ph.D. in public health and landing a job at the USDA.
My first nutrition job was at Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in Miami-Dade, and as a nutrition educator, I provided one-on-one counseling and nutrition education. I always knew that I wanted to continue this type of work but on a larger scale. When I finished my Ph.D., I worked on my resume and started applying for federal jobs.
I eventually got a job at the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture as a program specialist and moved to D.C. in January 2017. As a program specialist, I built up experience with grants and currently work as a program analyst at the Office of Community Food Systems at FNS, managing the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
USDA’s Farm to School grants are an important way to help state, regional and local organizations initiate, expand and institutionalize farm-to-school efforts. As a program analyst, I write the request for applications and facilitate the awards of competitive farm-to-school grants that support planning, developing and implementing farm-to-school programs.
What advice do you have for current and future Ph.D. students?
Don’t give up! The obstacles are just a bump in the road. Dr. Jessy Dévieux, my former public health professor and Ph.D. advisor, used to say something to me, and I may misquote her, but she would say that the Ph.D. program doesn’t test your knowledge but instead tests how you handle the barriers. She reminded me that all those little bumps and things that you deal with, like the headaches from losing paperwork or missing a deadline or not registering for the correct class or whatever it is, all build character. I always tell people that a Ph.D. program will test you. You will question pursuing it and everything about your life. But keep at it, and one day you’ll say, “Oh, I did that. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.”
What are you most proud of?
I need to appreciate my journey. I think more people are impressed by my degree than I am. Not that I’m showing off, but I worked hard for it. I worked full time and went to school part-time. And most of my classmates either didn’t work or worked part-time and went to school full-time. And I couldn’t do that. I had a house, a dog to feed and a lifestyle I needed to keep up (I love to travel). So, I appreciate that, with the help of my support system, I was able to pursue my dream and goal to obtain my Ph.D.