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Health and gender issues priority for Woman of the Year

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If women's health issues are in the forefront today, it's because people like Alice Dan have pushed them for the last two decades.

Dan is a researcher who studies women's hormonal cycles, the effects of hormone therapy and causes of osteoporosis. She is a mentor who teaches graduate-level courses on women's health and advises doctoral students.

Director of the Center for Research on Women and Gender, which her persistence helped establish, she encourages scientists from different fields to work together. For her tireless efforts Dan, a professor of nursing, was named Woman of the Year by the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Women.

"It is a special thing that means a lot," said Dan. "The nomination by itself was wonderful.

"You work on things for a long time and people don't tell you what their reaction is."

The award's criteria include service to women at UIC while on the job; response to issues affecting women; service to women through voluntarism; and public support of women's programs. Dan easily exceeds those criteria.

Halfway through her three-year appointment as director, Dan has proven that the center is a viable entity.

"The center can encourage collaborative work and crossovers between departments; it offers the possibility of flourishing between disciplines," she said.

The center recently applied for a $1.3 million, five-year multidisciplinary grant from the National Institute of Health that would train pre- and post-doctoral students in mid-life and older women's health.

The College of Nursing, School of Public Health, College of Medicine, Jane Addams College of Social Work and the School of Behavioral Sciences are all part of the project; sociology professor Richard Campbell is co-director.

"This never would have been done before if one college dominated," she said.

Dan is planning a two-week summer institute on women's health for next July.

"It is an opportunity for real definition of women's health," she said.

The conference will build on last year's "Reframing Women's Health: Multidisciplinary Research and Practice," the first national conference to focus on specialization in women's health.

The center helps faculty get grants for studies related to women and gender. It sponsors a faculty colloquium series, workshops on grant writing, a graduate student writing support group and a seminar series on "Work/Health/Culture." Dan, who earned a doctorate in human development from the University of Chicago, grew up in New Jersey in a family committed to involvement in education.

"My family was active in the community; my father was active on the school board.

"They were great examples to follow. It is part of my identity." At the University of Chicago, she started a citywide research support group.

Soon after she came to UIC in 1968 as a resident in the department of psychiatry, she met Helen Grace, former dean of the College of Nursing.

Grace became a mentor and in 1975, when nursing started its Ph.D. program, the college asked Dan to help develop a research methods curriculum.

Now Dan herself is a mentor to students.

"I enjoy teaching very much and it would be difficult for me to give that up," she said. "Dissertation students you get to know really well over a period of years."

Dan takes her research in women's health seriously. She is an expert on estrogen replacement therapy and alternatives to hormonal therapy.

She has studied menstrual cycle changes for many years, recently focusing on premenstrual syndrome and the effects of stress on menstrual symptoms. She spent a year in Japan investigating the laws on menstruation leave for working women.

Dan is developing a questionnaire for studying sexual harassment in nursing work settings.

For the last six years, she has been working with a group of UIC faculty members studying bone density in mid-life women, especially related to physical activity.

"The College of Nursing has been very supportive, a fertile place to do this work," said Dan.

Right now, the center takes most of her energy, but in a positive way, she added.

"It is the kind of energy you give to a new baby."

It's satisfying to help develop a project with so much potential, she said.

"I like to bridge different groups of people; I find interdisciplinary groups very interesting. I like to see different approaches to a problem."

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