For Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Terri Shelton, it comes from collaboration, working as a team and supporting many others at UNCG and in the community.
“I’m much more comfortable working behind the scenes,” she says. “I take the concept of steward leadership really seriously – it’s about supporting other people’s work.”
This week, Shelton will receive one of Triad Business Journal’s 2017 Outstanding Women in Business honors. She will be recognized at a luncheon on Thursday, April 27, and in a special publication later in the week.
Shelton is passionate about efforts that translate research into policies, programs and community initiatives and efforts that involve the collaboration of stakeholders. “How can we ask the right questions, how can we develop tools and methodology, how do we correctly analyze our data,” she asks, “if we aren’t partnering with the folks that are using the services?”
As a result of this focus, parents, teachers, police departments, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, youth, policymakers and researchers worldwide are all partners in UNCG efforts to make an impact in Guilford County, our state and beyond.
“We co-create the research with community partners,” Dr. Shelton explains. “It always generates really great questions.”
In addition to supporting the research, scholarship and creative activity of UNCG faculty, staff and students, Shelton guides community and economic engagement efforts on campus, as well as eight interdisciplinary research centers. Every initiative Shelton oversees is a multi-angled project, attacking problems from multiple directions, and always asking the next big question.
“I’m interested in how we address big issues,” says Shelton.
The approach has guided her own extensive work as a researcher, and the work she has supported over more than 20 years as a leader and mentor at UNCG.
As a researcher and a supporter of research, she effects change through evidence-based interventions. It’s not a simple type of research. In examining a problem, the work doesn’t only analyze one aspect of the equation, but many, and the research is meant to be applied.
“I often say UNCG is good at ‘messy’ research,” she says. But she doesn’t mean it’s disorganized.
“Sometimes the best practices you identify under controlled conditions don’t work in the real world,” she explains. “You have to look at the implementation piece. We look at what the research really means in the real world, and how to tweak it within that context. I think that’s where you end up getting better outcomes. That’s what I call the messy work, but it’s also the fun work. … We have a number of researchers on this campus that are really smart about doing that applied, implementation work. It’s one of the nice things about our research and scholarship.”
Shelton is the author of more than 70 publications, including the landmark “Family-Centered Care for Children with Special Health Care Needs.” The report, published 30 years ago, laid the foundation for an initiative by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to make services family-centered, culturally competent and community-based.
For that initiative, Shelton had the opportunity to interview thousands of families in order to examine the elements of family-centered care. It showed her the importance of respectful communication and acknowledging the expertise of families as the architects of a patient’s health care. As a continuation of that work, Shelton cofounded the nonprofit Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care in Bethesda, Md. The center is now in its 25th year, and implements its principle across the country and internationally, to produce better health outcomes.
Since she came to UNCG, Shelton’s research projects have brought around $30 million in grant funding, and her policy and program work in Guilford County and across the state is extensive and diverse.
Before becoming vice chancellor, she served for nearly a decade as director of the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnership, where she focused on early childhood issues and getting kids off to the right start. In that role, she was part of a group of passionate advocates who created the nonprofit North Carolina Infant and Young Child Mental Health Association, which brings together scholars and community collaborators to support the social and emotional development of young children.
Shelton has also contributed to a 20-year-long focused deterrence effort with partners across North Carolina. It’s part of a national initiative to reduce violence using evidence-based, collaborative approaches. The project, which has received national recognition, has addressed gun and gang violence, drugs, and, more recently, domestic violence.
In explaining the success of those initiatives, she says, “For me, everything comes down to relationships and partnerships. … I often use the phrase ‘ask better questions, get better answers.’ I think the collaborative process really gets you to that.”
Another program that Shelton has been instrumental in developing is Beyond Academics, now celebrating its tenth year. The program, which is part of a growing national movement, enables young adults with intellectual disabilities to participate in a college experience on UNCG’s campus for four years and to earn a certificate, while moving toward more fulfilling lives. It’s the first and only four-year program of its kind in North Carolina, and one of the largest in the nation.
“We’re charting new ground,” she says.
Recently, Shelton volunteered at “Mentoring Monday” on UNCG’s campus. She says she took something away from the mentoring sessions as well. In all cases of good mentorship, she explains, “everybody learns.” Among her own mentors are her parents, who she says taught her to be fearless and to give back.
Shelton’s many projects and initiatives are ongoing, and meant to be sustainable — to have an impact on generation after generation. One thing that keeps her inspired is witnessing the differences, whether it’s encountering a young person she knew through a Head Start program who is now in college, or a Beyond Academics student who is excitedly planning his or her future.
“I’ll hear an individual story, where you can see something was changed, the needle was moved, and it’s extremely powerful,” she says. “But almost immediately as I hear that story, I say, ‘But the work’s not done.’”
By Susan Kirby-Smith