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Jennifer Daniels has been honored for her contributions to the field of diversity, equity and inclusion in public policy.
Jennifer Daniels has been honored for her contributions to the field of diversity, equity and inclusion in public policy.

From policy to practice

Doctoral student Jennifer Daniels recognized for her work in advancing social justice

Completing doctoral-level coursework, a research assistantship and a dissertation proposal — while simultaneously coping with the weight of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and a powerful social justice movement—is a big enough feat. For Jennifer Daniels, former associate director of the University of Delaware’s Office of Equity and Inclusion and current doctoral student in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration, it’s also an opportunity to make an impact in her field. In 2020, Daniels has earned recognition for her dedication to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion work nationally, locally and at UD.

Daniels earned a master’s degree in social work from Delaware State University and began her career working one-on-one with individuals as a counselor. Her counseling experience informed her role as associate director of UD’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, where she worked to bring change at an organizational level by developing and delivering training sessions on diversity, equity and inclusion topics.

Daniels relied on the current research in the field to inform her work, and realized she wanted to participate in both creating the research and helping practitioners with implementation. In the fall of 2018, she began pursuing a doctorate in urban affairs and public policy in the Biden School. She is working on her dissertation proposal to study social and racial equity in the administration of social programs, such as SNAP — the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

In August, the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) named Daniels a 2020 Equity and Inclusion fellow. This fellowship supports students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds working in the field of public policy. Daniels was one of the 20 chosen for this competitive fellowship out of a national pool of applicants.

“Jennifer is also the first student from the Biden School or UD to be selected,” said Sarah Bruch, Daniels’ supervisor. “It is a fitting honor because Jennifer is an exceptional young scholar who has a very bright future.”

Through this year-long program, Daniels partners with an experienced professional in the field to serve as her mentor and help her create connections in this community.

In March, Daniels was selected to attend a week-long dissertation proposal workshop co-sponsored by Howard University’s Center on Race and Wealth and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty. The workshop supports doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds who are focusing their dissertation proposal on poverty or inequality in the United States. In talking about her experience in the workshop, Daniels expressed a deep appreciation for the connections she was able to make with other junior scholars of color and the sense of community that was developed among them.

Locally, Daniels received a Rising Star Award from the Delaware ACE Women’s Network (DAWN), the Delaware chapter of an organization that is committed to the advancement of women in higher education. Each year DAWN recognizes one woman from each of its member organizations who shows promise as a future leader. This year, Daniels was chosen as the Rising Star from UD for her work in education, training, research, and community engagement on and off campus.

“Jennifer Daniels is a skilled researcher, workshop facilitator and speaker committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Latoya Watson, assistant dean of UD’s Associate in Arts Program, who nominated Daniels for this award. “When Jenn enters a room, she changes the room. She challenges the status quo and encourages those in her presence to do the same.”

Daniels didn’t know she was being nominated and was surprised when she was notified that she received the award.

“It was really special to have the work I’ve done here at UD appreciated and respected,” Daniels said.

Daniels has also been recognized for her outstanding academic achievement at UD and potential to make substantial contributions to the field, receiving the University Graduate Scholar Award for 2020–21 and a summer Graduate College Funding award.

“Jennifer has consistently displayed high quality scholarship, leadership, and personal drive and is one of the best students in our program,” said Bruch, an associate professor who nominated Daniels. “I have no doubt that she will become a productive and impactful scholar.”

Daniels has finished her program’s coursework and will defend her dissertation proposal in December. For Daniels, receiving these opportunities and recognition over the last few months is motivation to continue her research.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “But I’m fueled by the thought that what I’m doing is going to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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