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Dnika J. Travis, PhD

Senior Director and Center Leader
  • New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
  • Award Year: 2011
  • RWJF Team/Portfolio:
    Human Capital
  • Project Name:
    Effective communication practices as the building blocks for diversity, engagement, and quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  • This study seeks to address the gap between effective communication and workforce diversity, engagement, and quality in primary care settings. Further, this study will distinguish among models of diversity, inclusion and cultural competence in order to classify types of communication practices and to examine the impact of such practices on diversity, engagement and quality. A systematic review and meta-analysis will be employed to meet study aims. Empirical studies in primary care settings will be evaluated for inclusion in the study.
  • Professional Bio

    Dr. Dnika J. Travis specializes in leadership and organizational change. Her work centers on how to develop effective communication practices for cultivating inclusive, quality-driven organizations.  She has published on employee voice (i.e., speaking up in the workplace), employee engagement and retention, workforce diversity and inclusion, and management of human service organizations. Currently, Dr. Travis’ research projects focus on understanding ways to mitigate health disparities through workforce development. For example, Dr. Travis was awarded a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to investigate the barriers childcare providers encounter in seeking mental health treatment. She is also the principal investigator on a research project that examines market rate data for the State of Texas to help ensure equal access to childcare, particularly for underserved populations. 

    Dr. Travis also has served as an organizational consultant in nonprofit, public, and corporate sectors.  In these settings, she has facilitated workshops and trainings on communicating effectively, promoting diversity, and leading organizational change efforts.

    In addition to serving as an assistant professor at University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, Dr. Travis is a faculty affiliate with the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Center for Women's and Gender Studies. Dr. Travis earned her PhD from University of Southern California, MSW from University of Michigan, and BA from Hampton University.

    Project Description

    In health care organizations, employees, particularly direct care providers, have a pulse on the needs of clients and the external environment in which their organizations function. Global shifts in the demographic composition of the workforce, external and internal pressures, economic downturns and upturns all have the potential to have considerable impacts on health care organizations. Needed, then, is a diverse, proactive and well-trained workforce equipped with communication skills and an organizational structure that enhances innovation and quality in response to such changes. This project aims to address this need by: (1) distinguishing among different definitions and models of diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence in primary care settings, (2) classifying types of communication practices applied in these models, and (3) examining whichamong the communication practices most effectively foster diversity, engagement, and quality. To this end, this project will conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to identify best communication practices for cultivating optimal diversity climates, workforce engagement, and quality of care in primary care settings. Empirical (quantitative and qualitative) studies from the past 15 years will be evaluated for inclusion in the study. Findings should be particularly useful to organizational leaders and providers at all levels who are interested in most effectively fostering diversity, engagement, and quality. 

    Why I Applied to New Connections

    My application to the RWJF New Connections Program was driven by the opportunity to inform practice on critical health care workforce issues. Specifically, I was energized by the Human Capital Team’s charge to find innovative ways to develop and retain a diverse workforce equip with the training and skills to advance quality care in health care settings. I also was excited by the unique opportunities to receive hands-on mentoring, expand my professional network, and build highly relevant scholarship in my areas of interest.

    What New Connections Means for my Career

    Being a New Connections grantee has undoubtedly advanced my career. Through the program, I am able to maximize my contribution to emergent literature relating to how organizational processes impact diversity, engagement, and quality. As such, I will be able to identify and examine best communication practices for cultivating optimal diversity climates, workforce engagement, and quality of care in primary care settings. Also, I am thrilled about the opportunity to work in partnership with and learn from the Human Capital Team. Engaging with scholars on critical health and health care workforce issues will certainly advance my research and help foster collaborative opportunities to impact the field. Overall, I am most humbled by the opportunity to be among a community of researchers committed to serving the health and health care needs for all Americans.

    Research Interests

    • Initiating and navigating organizational change • Building communication and leadership skills in health and human service organizations • Promoting inclusion and workforce diversity


    Social Work

    Populations Served

    Health and health care leaders Administrators Supervisors Direct care providers

    Honors and Awards

    The University of Texas at Austin Society for Teaching Excellence (selected as member of the inaugural cohort in Fall 2011)

    The University of Texas at Austin, Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, Faculty Development Program (2007-2008)

    The Phi Kappa Phi All-University Honor Society (initiated May 2006)


    Travis, D. J., Gomez, R. & Mor Barak, M. E. (2011). Speaking up and stepping back: Exploring the link between employee voice and job neglect. Children and Youth Services Review.

    Travis, D. J. & Mor Barak, M. E. (2010). Fight or Flight? Factors impacting child welfare workers propensity to seek positive change or disengage at work. Journal of Social Service Research, 36(3), 188-205.

    Davis, K. & Travis, D. J. Culture and leadership. (2010). In G. Blau & P. Magrab (Eds.), The Leadership Equation: Strategies for Individuals Who Are Champions for Children, Youth, and Families. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing. p.199-226.

    Gomez, R. J., Travis, D. J., Ayers-Lopez, S., & Schwab, J. (2010). In search of innovation: Child welfare recruitment and retention. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(5): 664-671.

    Mor Barak, M.E., Travis, D. J., Pyun, H. & Xie, B. (2009). The impact of supervision on worker outcomes: A meta-analysis. Social Service Review, 83(1), 3-32.

    Mor Barak, M.E. & Travis, D. J., (2009). Diversity and organizational performance. In. Y. Hasenfeld (Ed.), Human Services as Complex Organizations. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, Inc.

    Mor Barak, M.E. & Travis, D. J. (2008). Management: Human Resources. In T. Mizrahi & L. E. Davis (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Social Work (Vol. 3, pp. 173-180): NASW Press/Oxford University Press.

    Mor Barak, M. E. & Travis, D. J. (2007). Employee Assistance and Counseling. In G. Fink (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Stress (pp. 922-926). New York: Academic Press.

    Travis, D. J. (2006). Is doing good enough? A path analytic model of intrinsic job satisfaction among human service workers. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 22(1): 13-32.

    Mor Barak, M.E., Travis, D. J.,  & Bess, G. (2004). Exploring managers' and administrators'retrospective perceptionsof their MSW fieldwork experience: A national study. Administration in Social Work, 28(1), 21-44.

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