Christene Tashjian and her husband, Michael, at the luncheon for the Excellence in Management Award.
A former special education teacher, Tashjian saw first-hand how policy affected classroom teachers and decided to find out how it worked from the top down. She received an MPA from the University of Texas at Austin and began investigating how education policy was made.
In 1991, both Tashjian and her husband, Michael, were working for a consulting firm for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Wanting a new home, they found Chapel Hill and moved down in the fall of that year. Tashjian began working at Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International’s Center for Research in Education. There, she engaged mainly in contract research at the federal level on school related issues and students with disabilities.
Missing the human element in her career, Tashjian left RTI after 14 years. She found employment with a non-profit group supporting parents of children who are deaf and hard of hearing. While there, directing a project on early intervention, she met Dr. Jack Roush and Kathryn Wilson from the UNC Department of Allied Health Sciences. When she was laid off, Dr. Roush put her in contact with the investigators of the Early Development Project, and she started working for UNC in January 2009.
At UNC, Tashjian enjoys the opportunities she has to work with families and help them understand the benefits of early interventions. On December 6, she was one of the two individuals given UNC’s Excellence in Management Award, a prestigious award that is given to employees annually in recognition of meritorious and distinguished accomplishments in management.
Tashjian is very involved in the community and has been volunteering for PORCH, a local non-profit group that helps to provide hunger relief in the community, for many years. She also has a passion for horticultural therapy, which is the use of plants and plant based materials to help people achieve wellness, medical, and vocational goals (more information can be found at the American Horticultural Therapy Association’s website ahta.org). She began volunteering through the NC Botanical Gardens in 2002 and has used horticultural therapy techniques to work with children in hospitals and adults with disabilities.
Eventually, she enrolled in a program at the Horticultural Therapy Institute in Denver, CO. During a lecture regarding horticultural therapy and individuals in chronic pain, Tashjian had a light bulb moment. She had been volunteering at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center for many years and realized that she knew people in chronic pain who could benefit from horticultural therapy. Tashjian wrote and was awarded a $500 grant in 2007 to develop group support for survivors of sexual violence using horticultural therapy. A true researcher, she even collected qualitative data on her work, which has been used to foster continued support for the program. Tashjian considers her efforts to bridge horticultural therapy and these survivors to be her most meaningful, knowing she has helped many people find a path to healing.
-Story by Skip Ryan