Born to succeed

Dominique Earland used grants provided by SMU’s Community Outreach Fellowship and Engaged Learning Program to create and share a 36-page life-saving toolkit for women who may become mothers.

By Denise Gee
SMU News 

DALLAS (SMU) – Sunday, May 14, will officially launch a week of celebrations for SMU senior Dominique Earland.

Dominique Earland with motherDominique with her mother Linda Earland

Not only is that her birthday, but it will fall on Mother’s Day – just as it did in 1995, the year Dominique was born. And after she receives two undergraduate degrees at SMU's May Commencement, her academic accomplishments and the life path she has chosen to pursue will track directly back to the lessons about love, nurturing and vulnerability that she learned from her mother.

More World Changers bar

After Texas’ maternal mortality rate spike last year made international headlines, and the state's family-planning resources continued to decline, Dominique focused her Community Outreach Fellowship, funded by SMU's Embrey Human Rights Program (EHRP), to create a 36-page life-saving toolkit for women facing motherhood. “Your Right to Health,” completed with input from Dallas County’s Fetal-Infant Mortality Review program at Parkland Hospital, is filled with medical advice and community resources. (See related sidebar.)

Also, her 2016 research on anemia in pregnancy in western Jamaica has been accepted for peer-reviewed publication – a remarkable achievement for an undergraduate student.  

Dominique says her ongoing efforts to strengthen women’s health rights and education will forever be linked to “the unbreakable bond that exists between mother and child.”  Her mother, Linda West Earland, will be at Moody Coliseum with the rest of her Philadelphia family May 20, to see Dominique earn one undergraduate degree in biology (pre-med track) and another in human rights.

While she and her mother have never been closer, they’ll be geographically closer in June, when Dominique begins a yearlong research position at the University of Maryland in Baltimore – where she hopes to continue studying birth outcomes.

Hearing that elicits a big smile from her mother.

“One of the greatest gifts I could ever receive is to have a daughter who’s so caring not only about me and others in our family – but so caring about everyone,” Linda says. “I can see that the combination of science with human rights has become her signature recipe for success.”

Earland is quality assurance manager for GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines division, and Villanova University’s first African American Presidential Scholar, Dominique proudly notes.

“The unconditional love my Mom has shown to all of us – especially when she took care of my grandfather during his battle with Alzheimer’s – helped me realize the importance of being there for your family in their time of need,” she says.

Her mother experienced her own moment of need when Dominique was 10. “I remember people suddenly started asking my sisters and me if they could do anything for us. I didn’t understand what was happening – or what cancer was, really – until I began accompanying my mother to radiation therapy at nearby Chestnut Hill Hospital.

“I began to understand on a personal level what my mom was going through when, after a surgery, she asked for my help in removing some bandages,” Dominique says. “In that moment I could see how vulnerable she was. It was an immensely bonding experience.”

Over the course of her visits to the hospital, Dominique learned about others in need of care and comfort: The preterm babies in the maternity ward, where specially sized blankets were lacking.

To help, Dominique enlisted her Girl Scouts troop to help make several boxes of no-sew blankets – which she delivered during one of her mother’s follow-up treatments.

Dominique’s interest in science, and her desire to help others, had all the makings of a socially engaged scientific researcher. That was made clearer in summer 2008, when, prior to her ninth-grade year, she arrived on the SMU campus to join what would become known as the Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP), a federally funded program that encourages minority youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math through participation in college-level classes and research projects. As a result, she also discovered SMU was a leader in a field of academic study that aligned with another passion: human rights.

“Hearing Prof. Rick Halperin talk so passionately about important issues made me see there was another world of learning opportunities out there, ones relevant to me pursuing a career in global health,” she says. Once SMU began offering an undergraduate degree in human rights in 2012 – becoming only the fifth university in the nation to do so – “that really sealed the deal that I would attend college here.”

Dominique EarlandDominique’s PSTP commitment put her on a 10-year research track for which she has presented research papers in San Diego and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and held internships in Vancouver, British Columbia; Dallas, Bethesda, Md.; and Philadelphia.

Her time as an SMU student, from 2013 through 2017, also has yielded a number of well-received, self-motivated research projects.

One of the first, conducted as a Hamilton Scholar, focused on teen pregnancy. Inspired in part by a medical anthropology course taught by SMU sociology professor Neely Myers, the project was overseen by professor Sheri Kunovich. “Did you know a person’s health outcome can be predicted by their zip code?” Dominique says of the work. “Race also plays a factor; African-American women face harsher healthcare disparities.”

As a McNair Scholar, Dominique’s interest in researching anemia-in-pregnancy would be conducted in a partnership she arranged with the Western Regional Health Authority in Montego Bay, Jamaica. And her “Your Right to Health” toolkit produced for women who may become mothers followed the same line of interest in maternal health.

Improving understanding of the human condition and human rights has been a defining path for her SMU college experience, allowing the Engaged Learning Fellow to participate in EHRP Student Leadership Initiative and SMU Alternative Breaks programs involving service projects ranging from McAlester, Okla., to Costa Rica.

Dominique was especially moved by the Civil Rights Pilgrimage she took through the deep South last year, which followed a course taught by Political Science Prof. Dennis Simon just prior to his death.

“Prof. Simon powerfully conveyed the truth of the Civil Rights movement while also challenging me to see myself in context of African-American history,” she says.

Dominique developed an early education-focused Civil Rights service trip earlier this year that was sponsored by the Alternative Breaks Program and guided by SMU Dedman School of Law’s Chante Prox, director of the new Van Sickle Family Law Clinic.

Dominique’s academic and service work has been supported by myriad grants and scholarships from SMU and sources closer to her home, including her family’s place of worship, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and the Pennsylvania-based Black Women’s Educational Alliance.

The Phi Beta Kappa Scholar has garnered a host of academic awards, including the highest recognition SMU gives to its students, faculty and staff – the “M” Award.

She’s also held leadership roles with SMU’s Association of Black Students, the Embrey Human Rights Program Student Leadership Initiative and Alternative Breaks program. She’s been a SMU Mustang Academic Bridge Program mentor and supported the University’s Stampede of Service. Additionally, she has volunteered with the Heart House after-school program for refugee children, Readers 2 Leaders, Genesis Women’s Shelter and Habitat for Humanity.

“Her passion and skills are incredible,” says Embrey Human Rights Program Associate Director Bradley Klein, Dominique’s SMU mentor for the “Your Right to Health” project. “It’s wonderful to see the contributions she’s making, and how much good they will do for women not only in Dallas, but all over Texas and beyond.”

# # #