Ninfa, a public health educator at heart, has a strong passion to serve vulnerable populations. A native Texan, she lived in Georgia and Wisconsin as a young adult but returned to her home state in 1994. At that time, she relocated to El Paso, Texas, from Atlanta, Georgia, where her family made plans to settle down and put down roots. In 1997, she completed her masters in kinesiology with a focus in worksite health promotion from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Following her graduation, she secured an adjunct faculty position in the health science department at UTEP. Through this work, she was engaged in community health promotion programming that included addressing the health needs of a multi-ethnic community where nearly of 90% of the population are Hispanic/Latinos. This work spurred her desire to pursue a Ph.D. in health studies from Texas Woman’s University (TWU). Her first post-doctoral appointment was visiting Assistant Professor at TWU from 2005-2007. In 2007, she was awarded a one-year Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections fellowship and was among the first cohort to complete this program.
Ninfa has focused most of her scholarship activities in chronic disease prevention and management, cultural competency, and health disparities research. Applying her expertise in curriculum development and adult learning, she created two culturally competent diabetes self-management education programs: ¡Si, Yo Puedo Controlar Mi Diabetes! (Si, Yo Puedo) and Wisdom, Power, Control. These programs are delivered through the leadership of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county Extension agents and their community partners.
Ninfa’s position with AgriLife Extension has brought her professional and personal life in full circle. To her amazement, the Si, Yo Puedo program is now serving the South Texas community where she was born and raised. Ninfa says, “I always believed my life had a purpose, but this becomes more real and meaningful when I am able to give back to a place that played a part in the person I’ve become.”
Ninfa firmly believes in building community relationships to better serve diverse audiences, especially with underserved groups. She notes, “When Extension and community partners work together, this synergy becomes a catalyst for positive change.” Having completed a one-year, grant-funded initiative piloting Wisdom, Power, Control, she witnessed first-hand how these collaborations benefit individuals with diabetes, their families, and other close networks such as their church connections.
Looking ahead, Ninfa envisions that Si, Yo Puedo and Wisdom, Power, Control will expand into new areas, both in-state and nationally, largely due to using partnerships as a delivery mechanism. She is also broadening her professional horizons to explore opportunities to provide diabetes and other health education services in worksites and applying technology as a platform to reach a broader audience.
Ninfa Peña-Purcell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Extension Health Specialist
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service