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Professor whose sex ed programs drew conservative ire to leave NDSU

Molly Secor-Turner brought in funding to help educate children and teachers in an effort to prevent teen pregnancy. The programs were targeted by North Dakota legislators since NDSU partnered with Planned Parenthood.

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Associate professor Molly Secor-Turner sits in her North Dakota State University office in Fargo in 2019. Secor-Turner and a research partner secured a federal grant to make comprehensive sex education available to several hundred teenagers in North Dakota. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — A North Dakota State University nursing professor whose teen pregnancy prevention programs were targeted by state lawmakers for their association with an abortion provider is leaving for a leadership position at a Montana school.

Molly Secor-Turner announced Thursday, June 24, she will become the associate dean for research at Montana State University’s College of Nursing. Her last day at NDSU is Aug. 15, and she will start her next position Aug. 18 at the school in Bozeman, Mont.

“It’s a really great career move for me and an exciting new position,” Secor-Turner said in a phone interview with The Forum.

She will replace Donna Williams, who retired in 2017.

Secor-Turner first came to NDSU in 2010. She has served in several leadership positions, including co-chair for the university’s strategic planning committee and Faculty Senate president.

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She started a study abroad program for her students in 2012. In the first-of-its-kind program for NDSU’s School of Nursing, she has been able to take nearly 100 students to Kenya and Haiti.

“That’s a very proud thing for me,” she said. “We’re one of the biggest departments on campus for study abroad.”

In a 2015 story in the Grand Forks Herald, she described bringing medical supplies to the Tharaka-Nithi region of Kenya, where she was a program director of For the Good Period. The initiative provides school-age girls with reusable menstrual pads and reproductive health education.

The program helped fill a need for basic women’s health. Girls in the region would often stay home from school during their periods since they didn’t have hygiene products like tampons and pads. The children also were vulnerable to early marriage, HIV infection and genital mutilation.

Girls remembered Secor-Turner’s presentation on women’s health and had better attendance in school, according to the Herald story.

In 2012, Secor-Turner secured a federal grant that would be used for a voluntary sex education program for teenagers. In 2017, NDSU received more funding with Secor-Turner’s help, but this time it was directed to workshops that educated North Dakota K-12 teachers on how to communicate with youth in an effort to reduce teen pregnancy.

The moves drew the ire of Christian groups, conservative organizations and Republican legislators since NDSU partnered with Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health care provider that performs abortions. The two programs did not promote sex nor abortions.

The North Dakota Legislature passed a bill this year that included an amendment that banned public universities and colleges from receiving state Challenge Fund grants if they partnered with abortion rights organizations. Educators argued the law , later signed by Gov. Doug Burgum with line-item vetoes that eliminated criminal penalties, was an attack on academic freedom.

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State Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, defended her amendment by saying North Dakotans don't want tax dollars to go to groups that promote abortion rights.

The North Dakota University System has asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to review the law’s legality and impacts.

Secor-Turner said she would not reapply for the funding this September.

She declined to say when she applied for the new position, but she said the legislative session made her decision to take the Montana job easier.

“Certainly, this year has been a frustrating environment to work in, so I’m excited to be able to move on to something new,” she said.

Still, she said she was proud of her work toward preventing teen pregnancy in North Dakota. She was able to not only build up evidence-based and comprehension research for sex education programs but expand it to a diverse population of at-risk youth, she said.

“I hope that it can continue in the state because the young people need it,” she added.

Secor-Turner said she plans to continue educating about sex in Montana through community-based programs.

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NDSU School of Nursing Associate Dean Carla Gross said she appreciated Secor-Turner’s contributions to the university.

“She provided students with opportunities to broaden their knowledge in community and public health, as well as international practicum experiences in public service,” Gross said.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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