In a short span of 15 years, Jill Dent has gone from working in a daycare center to earning a doctorate to holding her current position as director of the Office of Children and Youth for the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
A native of Jackson, her career began as nursery director for a local church. Self-described as determined, Dent completed requirements for her Ph.D. in a five-year period while working full-time, having children and remodeling her home.
Her accomplishments with DHS have been quite rewarding, she says.
“I’ve been fortunate to lead Mississippi as the first state to implement and offer ‘Color Me Health’ training and curriculum free of charge,” Dent said. “The program was developed to promote and teach pre-school children healthy eating and physical activity habits. It’s our intention that good early habits in these areas will decrease some of the health issues that affect our state for years to come.”
Earning her doctorate of education administration from Jackson State University in 2007, Dent won a commendation from Gov. Haley Barbour for participating on the grant writing team for the State Longitudinal Data System, which was awarded $7.6 million to develop in 2010.
Despite all that she’s accomplished, Dent says family comes first, for her and everyone. She admits having a passion for early childhood education.
“In my field, I am accustomed to thinking ‘out-of-the-box’ to find methods and build partnerships to achieve success for our children,” she said.
Growing up around her grandfather’s Farish Street pharmacy gave Dent the impetus to pursue her dreams.
“My grandfather, Oliver Vance, always encouraged me throughout his life to continue my education,” she said. “Watching his dedication and service to the community instilled my own commitment to the people of our state.”
Don Thompson, executive director of DHS, praises Dent for her ability to unite multiple agencies to find common ground and seek comprehensive programs for the betterment of Mississippi.
“The collaborative effort Jill has brought to our agency has been invaluable and an outstanding benefit for the children,” Thompson said. “Her relentless dedication to improving the quality of life for children will have an impact for many generations.”
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