Timothea Vo ’15 (NUR) was an undergraduate student when she first discovered what would become her doctoral topic of research, though she didn’t know it at the time.
“I was reading a research article from 2006 and I stumbled upon this phrase ‘cultural alienation,’” she says. “The researchers explored Asian immigrants’ childbirth experiences in western countries — specifically the U.S., Canada, and Australia — and found that Asians experienced cultural alienation. Ever since then, I’ve been grappling with that term. It’s been in my head every morning when I wake up.”
Now, as a Ph.D. student at the School of Nursing, her research focus has caught the attention of Jonas Philanthropies, which has awarded her a $15,000 grant toward her studies.
The leading national philanthropic funder of graduate nursing education hopes to improve the quality of health care by investing in nursing scholars whose research specifically address the nation’s most urgent needs. The grant will empower and support Vo, and other nursing students like her, with financial assistance, leadership development, and networking to expand the pipeline of future nursing faculty, researchers, and advanced practice nurses.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Vo spent five years giving bedside care in a medical/surgical unit at a Massachusetts hospital. She continues that work now, while also pursuing her Ph.D. under the guidance of UConn Board of Trustees distinguished professor Cheryl Beck.
“It truly has been a pleasure, and so rewarding for me, to see the tremendous growth in Thea over her years at UConn,” Beck says. “We started together when Thea was an undergraduate honors student and I was her honors advisor. Her scholarship is so thoughtful, cutting edge, and impeccable. She will definitely be one of the upcoming leaders in the profession of nursing. Thea is such a valuable gift to Asian childbearing women as she focuses on improving the care they receive during childbirth.”
“If I didn’t have Cheryl in my life, I don’t think I’d be in this program,” Vo says. “It was her work that opened my eyes to the fact that women can be centered in research and care. We need to treat everyone, whether male or female, whether it agrees with our cultural beliefs or hospital policies, based on what they feel and how they see their experience.”
Vo, as UConn’s Jonas Nurse Scholar, is part of the new 2021-2023 cohort of more than 75 Jonas Scholars pursuing Ph.D., DNP or Ed.D. degrees at 49 universities across the country whose doctoral work will focus on such critical health priorities as environmental health, vision health, psych-mental health, and/or veterans health. She joins more than 1,000 Jonas Scholar alumni, including some from UConn, representing 157 universities across all 50 states.
“Each year, we grow more in awe of all our Jonas Scholars have achieved. It is with great honor that we welcome and celebrate this new cohort of nurse leaders,” says Donald Jonas, who co-founded Jonas Philanthropies with his late wife Barbara Jonas. “With more than 1,400 Jonas Scholars to date who are committed to meeting the greatest health needs of our time, we look forward to continuing our work with our partner nursing schools and expanding our impact to advance care for the country’s most vulnerable populations.”
For Vo, that means working to improve care for Asian immigrant women, who tend to underreport how they feel to health care providers. Vo wants to explore how nurses can change that and provide culturally relevant maternity care, whether it be at the bedside or through community programs. She recently received her basic Certification in Transcultural Nursing, a CTN-B, from the Transcultural Nursing Society.
“There was so much more for me to learn and I wanted to have that advanced training in cultural-affirming care,” she says.
It also pairs well with the program of research she is trying to develop and her studies at UConn.
“This Ph.D. program is right on the pulse of what I want to do with my life, for my family, for my community — not just Vietnamese people, but all Asians,” Vo says. “I’m so honored to have received this grant.”
The Jonas Scholar at the UConn School of Nursing is made possible by a grant from Jonas Nursing and Veterans Healthcare. Follow the UConn School of Nursing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.