To pinpoint the source of Jane Steffensen’s passion for public health, one must go back to the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry. While pursuing her degree in dental hygiene, Steffensen spent several summers working in a special program between the Michigan Department of Health and the dental school to provide oral health care to children of migrant farm workers.
“The university talks about transformative experience, and that’s what this was,” she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a terrific experience for me. When I was involved with this summer program as a very young person I didn’t know how that would grow to influence my career. You just never know the twists and turns your life will take.”
Since that time, Steffensen has worked in a variety of programs on the local, state and national stage. Now, as Associate Professor and Director of External Relations for the Department Public Health and Community Service at TUSDM, she hopes to bring her skills to the East Coast.
Steffensen has found her way into public health all over North America. After completing her degree in dental hygiene in 1981, and another in dental public health in 1985, she made her way to Ohio for a public health internship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and concurrently worked with the Cincinnati Health Department learning about the development of a new program to bring sealants to children in Cincinnati Public Schools. She then went on to serve as coordinator for oral health education with the Ohio Health Department. At the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio she worked on a national initiative promoting maternal and child oral health, as well as the Head Start program and local and state oral health surveys. At Simon Fraser University near Vancouver she studied public policy differences between the United States and Canada. She has also taught courses in public health, behavioral sciences and oral health care systems. Finally, when she and her husband, Dr. Bjorn Steffensen, were offered positions at TUSDM, they moved to Boston to further expand their horizons and started at Tufts on October 15.
“We’ve been everywhere – to the midwest, the southwest, to Canada,” she said. “We thought we’d try the northeast as a change of pace.”
Dr. Steffensen is now the Professor and Chair of the Department of Periodontology, and they are both working at different levels to improve oral health. Steffensen said her first few months at Tufts have had her exploring the connections between community service learning and interprofessional education, and considering opportunities within current sites to build more robust community programs. She is especially excited about the opportunities in TUSDM’s location in the heart of Chinatown.
“We’re looking at how we can leverage existing student organizations and volunteer activities to become more engaged with Chinatown,” she said. “Part of both the school’s and the university’s strategic plans are about community engagement, and it’s terrific to have that kind of focus.”
When she’s not working, Steffensen fills her time with reading, and experiencing music and art. She also enjoys lifelong learning, and exploring new places. It’s something she says her career has helped make possible.
“I didn’t really think I was going to go into academia,” she said. “It just kind of happened. And 20-odd years later here I am! I think for me, when I feel burned-out, I look back at what I’ve been involved with throughout my career and how much good has been done since then. You have to look at how far we’ve come, but also how far we have yet to go.”