Human Science Alumna Directs Aspen Institute Center

JANUARY 28, 2013 - A School of Nursing & Health Studies alumna has combined her love of health and policy to help better the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native youth.

Erin Bailey, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human science, currently serves as executive director of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute – an initiative founded by former Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

“We work to partner with the 566 federally recognized tribes,” says Bailey, who grew up in North Dakota. “Our goal is not to tell the tribes what to do. They know what works for their communities. They know what the challenges are for their youth. Our goal is to shine a spotlight and drive more resources to the table for tribes and young people in Indian Country. Being a value-added partner is the most important thing to us.”

From the Hilltop to the Hill

After Georgetown, Bailey went to work on Capitol Hill, where she served as a health policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which Dorgan chaired.

In this role, she focused on health care, youth, and food and nutrition.  The focal point of her work was serving as the lead staff member on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and leading Dorgan’s efforts to prevent youth suicide and expand access to mental health services for Native Americans.

She notes that Georgetown helped cultivate her desire to serve.

“The things that really fuel my fire are at the base of Maslow’s pyramid – things like health, food, water, and shelter,” Bailey says. “That’s what led me to NHS. It has a strong focus on vulnerable populations.”

Finding Her Path

Bailey has enjoyed politics since childhood. “I was knocking on doors when I was 12,” she says. “I grew up totally enthralled with politics and public service. I really wanted an education in areas that I was passionate about.”

At NHS, Bailey honed in on that passion. She points to Joan Burggraf Riley, MS, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, FAAN, assistant professor of human science and nursing, who helped her secure a government relations position at the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

She also highlights Allan Angerio, PhD, associate professor of human science emeritus and interim associate dean of academic affairs. “Dr. Angerio was a huge part of my Georgetown experience,” she says. “Through his courses, I was really learning scientific information I could walk out of the classroom and apply.”

Helping Youth

In her leadership role with the nascent center, Bailey works to secure funding and direct programmatic initiatives.

“We have a small team, and we’re pretty much all hands on deck,” she says. “The idea was to create a forum on a national level that would shine a spotlight and really generate attention and resources for Native American youth in areas of health, education, and juvenile justice. Our goal is to increase opportunities for the kids, to promote hope, and to prevent suicides.”

Though relatively new, the center has already gained notice. This month, for example, the American Indian Society honored Bailey and Dorgan with its first-ever Daniel K. Inouye Indigenous Spirit Award.

The alumna says that Georgetown has positioned her well.

“One of the things I love about Georgetown is that it really encourages people to ride the ride and not make decisions right away,” she says. “Being around really smart people, hearing from different speakers, and studying in the nation’s capital were really transformational for me. The education I received at NHS was an amazing knowledge base that is still really valuable.”

By Bill Cessato