Debra Joy Pérez, MA, MPA., PhD, assistant vice president for Research and Evaluation, collaborates with the vice president on the strategic and tactical decisions of the unit as well as ensuring its effective and efficient management. Among other priorities, Pérez is responsible for supporting advancing the unit’s goals of learning and spreading the Foundation’s lessons from our past and current investments.
Prior to this position, Pérez was a senior program officer responsible for the Foundation’s research and evaluation work on the Public Health team and led programs that focus on increasing the diverse perspectives that inform the Foundation’s grantmaking for the Human Capital team. She began her career in philanthropy in 1997, when she became deputy director for New Jersey Health Initiatives, an RWJF national program. Since joining the Foundation in 2004, Pérez has been responsible for developing multiple programs in research and evaluation in the areas of public health and disparities in health care for the Quality/Equality team.
She has been crucial in assisting the Foundation in becoming a more diverse place by developing greater diversity in its pool of grantees. Much of her work focused on supporting historically underrepresented scholars through the Human Capital Portfolio’s New Connections program. She is nationally recognized for building the field of public health systems research and developing the public health practice-based research networks. She is currently the chair of the RWJF Diversity Committee.
As lead program officer for New Connections: Increasing Diversity of RWJF Programming, Pérez works with historically under-represented investigators and identifies opportunities to link this new talent to the Foundation’s work across health and health care research areas. This expansion of diverse perspectives in programming includes oversight of the RWJF Evaluation Fellows Program which provides evaluation training and placement to evaluators from under-represented groups. Pérez also works with other foundations to enhance the quality and impact of philanthropy by incorporating diverse perspectives through her role as advisor to the Diversity in Philanthropy Project led by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. In addition, she is responsible for managing the National Urban Fellows program at RWJF, which supports underrepresented mid-career professionals in nine-month non-profit management mentorships across the country. To date, Pérez has mentored 19 National Urban Fellows. As a former program officer for the Disparities team, she was responsible for developing major initiatives designed to find interventions that work to reduce racial/ethnic disparities in health care called Finding Answers: Disparities Research for Change and establish learning networks of providers implementing strategies to serve the limited English proficient patient population called Speaking Together: National Language Services Network.
Much of her work with the Public Health team at RWJF includes a focus on developing and building the field of Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR) which supports building the evidence of how the organization, structure, governance, financing, accreditation, and quality of public health delivery impacts community health outcomes and the performance of the public health system. In collaboration with the Public Health team, Pérez has worked to expand the growth of the PHSSR field from $75K in 2004 to over $70 million in 2012. Work in PHSSR includes expanding access to public health infrastructure data, research on quality improvement in public health, and the development of practice-based research networks in public health. Since joining the Foundation in October 2004, Pérez has also been responsible for developing many programs in research and evaluation in the areas of racial/ethnic disparities and scholar and fellow programs. She is a researcher by training and has written many articles on racial and ethnic disparities, Latino and minority health and health care issues, and public health services and systems research.
Pérez completed her interfaculty doctoral program at Harvard University, receiving a PhD in health policy. While at Harvard, Pérez chaired the first and second university-wide symposium on racial and ethnic disparities in health/health care. She was awarded a five-year fellowship in health policy and research from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Pérez graduated from Douglass College with a BA in communication. She received an MA in social science and women’s studies from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. She received the National Urban and Rural Fellows award leading to her MPA from Baruch College, City University of New York, where she graduated with honors. She began her career in philanthropy in 1997, when she became deputy director for New Jersey Health Initiatives. Pérez was named a 2010 Latino Trendsetter by Latino Trends magazine. She was the 2009 recipient of the Women of Excellence Award from the New Jersey Woman and AIDS Network as well as the 2009 Douglass Distinguished Alumnae Award from Douglass College in New Jersey. In 2010, Pérez was awarded the Opening Doors Award by the Institute of Wonderful Working Women, a non-profit based in her hometown, Trenton, N.J., which supports low-income African American women pursuing nursing careers. Debra is part of the inaugural class of the Council on Foundations Career Pathways Program, a leadership pipeline expansion program to prepare diverse candidates for executive leadership positions in philanthropy. Recently, Pérez was named a 2011 Woman of Industry by the YWCA in Princeton, N.J. She is a Trustee of the Princeton Area Community Foundation where she is also a donor advisor for the “Twenty-five Dollar Fund” a fund to support high school students applying for college.