Above one of many overflowing bookshelves in Professor Bobbie Jean Perdue's College of Nursing office is a colorful poster displaying the Maya Angelou poem "And Still I Rise." Perdue is an eloquent, soft-spoken woman who conveys an air of passion when she discusses her work. The Angelou poemabout strength in the face of overwhelming oddsfits as perfectly in her office as the piles of paperwork, an ever-ringing phone, and a door that receives frequent knocks.
College of Nursing professor Bobbie Jean Perdue helps people improve their lives by connecting them with resources available in their communities.
She shares her enthusiasm for helping others with classes and as a faculty advisor to the ALHANA (African, Latino, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American) Student Nurses Association. Perdue, who has been with the College of Nursing since 1993, likes to do what she calls "research in action," connecting her interests to making a difference in people's lives. She is currently on the second phase of a project involving chronically ill mothers and how they and their families cope with illness and the changes it causes in their lives. At this point, she is focused on providing resources for these families. "I'm trying to discover what keeps chronically ill people from parenting as well as if they were healthy," she says. "I'm looking in terms of intervention, trying to find what community organizations can and cannot do to help them."
Perdue's research with the chronically ill began with a six-year examination of women with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and asthma. In the study, completed in 1993, she looked at the women's psycho-social adjustment in dealing with these diseases. She also considered how their children, who ranged in age from 6 to 14, adjusted to the mothers' illnesses.
Perdue's interest in this area began with her own mother's chronic illness. Growing up in a household with two parents and seven siblings, Perdue knew the pressures of having a chronically ill parent and how a family deals with it. There was a significant urgency to family life, a lot of learning to care for each other, and considerable parenting, both directly and indirectly. "That was primarily how I became interested in what keeps other people from parenting as well," she says. "That's where you get into single-parent families, the income. My family didn't have a lot of money, but I grew up in a community in rural Kentucky where we took care of each other."
Perdue's original hypothesis turned out to be correct-chronically ill women who adjust well to the illness will have highly competent children. Now she is refining the data to consider race, single-parent and double-parent families, and types of illness. Over the long term she wants to determine the best methods of intervention and the role that community organizations can play.
As part of a postdoctoral research project at the University of Pennsylvania last year, Perdue studied single mothers who had troubled relationships with their sons. And for five years, Perdue has worked with more than 35 African American mothers who have adult children with AIDS. These mothers not only have to deal with caring for children, but also with a loss of status, and a sense of victimization. Perdue's research looks at the community support networks available to these people to see what's working and what needs improving. Taking an active role, she works with African American churches, challenges people to embrace these families, and tries to strengthen families by strengthening their communities. "When I first started working with the mothers, they were very angry," she says. "Now they're not as inclined to see themselves as victims."
Perdue hopes her work with the AIDS project and chronically ill mothers will serve as a model for future research with vulnerable families. "We need to know what the positive resources are in a community," she says, "what they can do for populations at risk, and how we can get the resources in touch with the people who need them most."
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