SPIA Strong

By Caroline Paris Paczkowski

Dhruti Contractor 

In 2017, “Wonder Woman” hit theaters around the world. We are here to tell you, Diana has nothing on Dr. Dhruti Contractor.

Dhruti began her career at UGA as a political science undergraduate student. Within five years, she had completed both her BA and MA in Political Science and International Affairs, and she had traveled the world as a Foundation Fellow, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship awarded at UGA. Upon graduation, Dhruti attended Yale University to receive her Master of Public Health.

“I’ve always wanted to help people. With my political science degree, I wanted to help with policy, and eventually I became interested in health policy,” she said, thinking back on her career path.

After Yale, Dhruti came back to Georgia to work at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It was exactly what she wanted to do – helping set policy so that everyone can have access to quality healthcare. It was her work experience at the CDC that led her down a path she never expected: medical school. “I saw that the decision makers had MDs, and there would always be a glass ceiling. [Without an MD] I wouldn’t be the one shaping that policy, I would be the one writing about it,” she said.

While working full-time, Dhruti went back to school part-time to take the pre-requisite courses needed to apply to medical school. She took the MCAT and was accepted into George Washington University Medical School. Right before starting her first year, she joined the Army.

“I always knew I wanted to serve my country,” she said. “It’s a great scholarship and the best training. Being in the federal government, I thought this was a great way to serve and pay for med school.”

In the summer between her first and second year of medical school, Dhruti attended a six-week basic training. When medical school ended, active duty began. For the next four years, she completed her residency in orthopedic surgery at Eisenhower Army Medical Center on Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia.

In her second year of residency, Dhruti and her husband had their first son, born with special needs. “I was a second-year resident when I had my first. We were at Egleston having 30 seizures in a row…it was 3 in the morning, and I drove to Augusta and did an 8 hour spine case. In times of crisis, you can rise up. If I can do that, I can do anything,” she said.

After four years of residency in Georgia, she completed a hand surgery fellowship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Now, as a staff surgeon back at Eisenhower in Augusta, Dhruti spends the average day in the operating room or clinic in the morning and with her family by mid-afternoon.  It is important for her to be present at each of her son’s therapy sessions to help his progress, so Dhruti works until about 2 pm each day to give her enough time to be with her sons. As a working mother of two children, she is truly a champion.

Being a full-time mom and full-time surgeon is demanding, but she loves every second of both. Being in orthopedics, one of the most competitive and male-dominated medical specialties, Dhruti is passionate about encouraging women that they can have the job of their dreams while building a family at the same time.  “My biggest advice is to women. No matter what your career, you can still have kids. If I can do it in my career, you can,” she said. “Being a mom is fabulous and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. What I’m most proud of is being a working mom.”

She is grateful to her SPIA professors for helping her understand the importance of policy in the real world. Because of their influence, she is still very active in her political participation. She hopes to one day pick up where she left off in the policy world.

“There’s such satisfaction and quick fixes in orthopedics – the exact opposite of the slow change in health care policy. But I still want to give back to health care policy because I never lost the passion and importance of it so I try to do things on the side to help,” she said. “When I get out of the military, my dream is to work as a part-time surgeon, part-time policy maker, and full-time mom.”

Jason Dozier 

“Are you a smiley guy or a serious guy?” the photographer asked Jason Dozier as he prepped for his photoshoot. “I think I am pretty serious,” Jason replied before showing us a preview of his million dollar smile. Jason is a pretty serious guy with a lot to smile about.

Jason S. Dozier graduated with bachelor degrees in history and education from Denison University in 2005. Upon graduation, he moved back to Atlanta and found his calling: the US Army.

“It was a yearlong decision and self-reflection process, but in April of 2006, I raised my right hand and was off to Fort Benning for basic training.”

He was commissioned as an Armor Officer stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana. Three months after arriving, he deployed to Iraq with a platoon of 20 scouts for 14 months.

“It was actually my experience in Baghdad that shaped my worldview in terms of where I go from here in my life and my career. I was in this place that had been on this earth for 2,000 or 3,000 years – I was just fascinated!  There I was in wartime, and I was fascinated about the urban planning and the flow of the city,” he said. “I am from Atlanta. It is a city that has only been around for 150 years, and I thought, ‘Will it be around 2,000 or 3,000 years from now, and what can I do to help us shepherd our city in the right direction?’”

When he returned to the United States from Iraq, Jason started looking at different graduate school programs that focused on urban development and public administration and policy, when he realized his home state of Georgia had the #4 public affairs school in the country. He applied and was accepted into the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program in 2010, but his plans were quickly interrupted – his unit was being deployed again, and this time to Afghanistan.

After a year abroad and another round of applications, Jason finally made his way to Athens, Georgia, in January 2012.

While pursuing his MPA with an emphasis in local government, a fateful opportunity arose. He was offered an internship at Hire Heroes USA, a (then small) nonprofit organization based in Alpharetta, Georgia, that empowers US military members, veterans and military spouses to succeed in the civilian workforce.  

“Hire Heroes USA chose me,” Jason said, smiling as he remembered his first coffee interview with Executive Director and fellow MPA graduate, Nate Smith.

Quickly, Jason rose through the ranks from intern to transition specialist to his current position as Director of Programs Operations.

In 2012, when Jason started at Hire Heroes USA, the organization helped about 470 veterans find jobs. Last year, they helped 6,320 find jobs. When we interviewed Jason in September, he said they were on pace to assist 8,000 veterans and their family members find jobs by the end of 2017.

Jason’s position requires him to oversee the day-to-day operations of the organization. When clients seek career services, Jason ensures that each new client is assigned to a transition specialist the following Monday. He oversees the processes that make the organization run efficiently – in fact, he created most of those processes.

“When I first started, the transition specialists used a Word doc to keep track of their work. I would then take that and put it into a spreadsheet and calculate the weekly productivity. There was so much room for human error,” he said. “I started using Salesforce to refine the processes week over week. We now have specific reporting and dashboards to ensure the organization is doing what it needs to do to accomplish its mission.”

This move towards data-driven decision-making is one of the lessons he took away from his time in the MPA program, and it is also the reason he has moved forward so quickly in his career with Hire Heroes USA. Data quality is how he ensures the right decisions are being made in order to serve as many clients as possible. Now, other nonprofits are looking to Hire Heroes USA as the experts on data-driven decision-making.

Jason says that his greatest accomplishment is being a part of the overall growth of his organization and the role he has been able to play in that growth. “As I have grown professionally, I have learned my way around these systems, and to see Hire Heroes USA grow with me and be able to grow together with the company has made me take a much bigger ownership stake in the health and future of this company.”

As Jason reflected back on his career path, he left us with a piece of valuable insight for those choosing a track through the military.

“There are a lot of times that there will be self-doubt and personal reflection about why I made this choice, but it’s a hard decision to make and a hard thing to do when you are in it,” he said. “But what you get out of it will positively impact you for the rest of your life.”

Sarah Howard

Sarah Howard has known the keys to success since she was a little girl. Step 1: Become a Georgia Bulldawg. Step 2: Serve her country. “My dad has being talking to me about the military since I can remember,” she said. “And when I rang the [Chapel] bell for the first time when I was 14 years old, I promised myself I would come to UGA.” Her father served, her uncle served, and both of her grandfathers served. You can say it runs in the family.

Sarah is an international affairs major graduating in May 2018. Upon graduation, she will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army in military intelligence. She joined UGA’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) during her sophomore year.

“When I got to UGA, I loved my friends and my classes, but I wanted to do more,” she said. “I decided to take the ROTC class and work towards a scholarship and a contract. I had a really awesome instructor in my first class, and I just fell in love. I loved the discipline, and I loved the structure. The more I learned about it, the more I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.”

While most students attempt to take classes after noon, Sarah is up at 5:15 am for physical training three days a week. These training sessions range from 4-mile runs to ruck marches to strength conditioning. As the Battalion Commander, it is up to her to plan these sessions. “I make sure everything is done right and done to standard, and I communicate with our cadre to make sure we are executing the training intent,” she explained.  

Outside of ROTC, Sarah is taking rigorous coursework in order to finish her degree. The great thing about international affairs (IA), she says, is that it is directly related to what she is learning in her ROTC classes, and it is preparing her for her career in the military.

“A lot of the subjects I learn about in ROTC are subjects I learn about in IA,” she said. “The class I just had was about the operational environment and counterinsurgency, and now I am in a terrorism class in IA. It is interesting to have the different perspectives to see how it’s taught it academia versus how it’s taught in ROTC.”

While her love for ROTC is strong, her love for international affairs is stronger.

“I choose IA before I decided to do ROTC. I love the classes so much. I think learning about international systems and how the US plays a role is what drove me to do ROTC because I saw the military from a different perspective,” she explained.

Her perspective continues to change as she gains more experience within SPIA. During the summer of her sophomore year, Sarah participated in the Stellenbosch, South Africa study abroad program. Dr. Markus Crepaz was an inspiration to her.

“Dr. Crepaz always starts his class with, ‘What does development mean to you?’, and I learned that anything can be development, from providing an eraser to providing housing,” she said. “There are major issues in development, and it’s one thing to hear about them and it’s another thing to see them.”

Outside of ROTC and SPIA, Sarah is involved in student organizations like Freshman Connect, SPIA Ambassadors, and Student Alumni Council. Her love for the traditions of the University of Georgia shine through in those roles as she guides freshman through the beginning of their college careers and upperclassmen through the process of giving back.

“The reason I love SPIA is because it’s a community that you don’t find anywhere else. The professors are engaged and willing to help you with whatever you need,” she said. “They give us such awesome opportunities. You can tell the professors love what they are teaching, and it is evident when they teach it. It makes me more willing to do the readings and the extra work, and I want to love it as much as they do. They are passionate, and that makes me passionate about SPIA.”