In Trainees' Words

Trainee Ambassador GroupKatie O'Bar "Time With TAG"

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center LEND Trainee

My experience with MCH began in 2017 at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Center for Developmental Disabilities, where I served as a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) trainee while also completing my dietetic internship and master's courses at the University of Memphis. I remember joining the rest of my cohort on our first training day and learning about the history and purpose of MCH, people first language, and patient-centered care. These are values that have stuck with me to this day and have shaped how I interact with patients and families. I am now working full time as a metabolic dietitian at the same facility where I completed my LEND training. This is something I do not take for granted; I feel lucky to be able to work with the same patients, families, and coworkers who taught me so much not only about the medical and nutritional management of these disorders, but also the importance of seeing the patient as a whole.

I am fortunate to be able to interact with current trainees at UTHSC and encourage them to take advantage of all the interdisciplinary opportunities LEND offers. As a dietitian, it is important that we are aware of the other disciplines that help to manage treatment like speech therapy, social work, and psychology. Likewise, we can share the importance of nutrition in MCH populations and provide input from our perspective. I feel like my LEND experience gave me a deeper understanding of what services the other disciplines can offer and how that can be helpful in striving to provide patient-centered care.

One of the best parts of TAG is getting to connect with fellow MCH trainees from other programs. It is inspiring to see how although we come from diverse backgrounds and are involved in different areas of practice, we still have the same mission of wholeheartedly serving MCH populations. While this year has brought many unprecedented challenges, I am proud of how everyone has continued to work towards this common goal. I am looking forward to staying involved with this community and continuing to foster a collaborative environment for future trainees.

Leanna Komoroske

University at Albany MCH Catalyst Trainee

Through her internship, MPH and MCH certificate student Leanna Komoroske is applying her education in creative ways to help improve maternal and child health in the capital region during the coronavirus pandemic— including through cooking demonstration videos on YouTube.

As an intern with Brightside Up's Health Education and Services team, Komoroske is working on the organization's Farm to Preschool (F2P) program, an initiative funded by the United States Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and the New York State Department of Health that aims to increase access to locally grown produce for children and their families while reducing cost barriers.

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Kelsey Kinderknecht

University of Washington School of Public Health MCH Nutrition Trainee

My thesis and MCH traineeship project at the University of Washington School of Public Health, published in JAMA in July 2020, sought to evaluate the association of the federal policy – the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – on child dietary quality for children participating in the National School Lunch Program. This policy was one of Michelle Obama's signature health policy initiatives signed into law in 2010 and implemented in July 2012 as a national policy that required changes to the program's school nutrition standards—the guidelines that all meals served as part of the National School Lunch Program must adhere to.

Studies have shown that the dietary quality of meals served to children have improved in association with implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2012. However, it was unknown whether children were actually eating this healthier food to improve overall dietary quality. This study fills a key knowledge gap by assessing whether children's overall dietary intake changed in association with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Our findings suggest that the original policy implemented in 2012 (and in place until minor changes in 2018) was associated with higher dietary quality for lunch among low income, low-middle income, and middle-high income children from pre- to post-policy implementation for participants in the National School Lunch Program. The changes in HEI-2010 lunch score equate to a 30% increase for low income, a 31% increase for low-middle income, and a 19% increase for middle-high income in dietary quality score for participants pre- to post-policy, above and beyond the change for non-participants.

The results from our study suggest that the stricter nutrition standards in the HHFKA improve dietary quality for students who participate in the school lunch program which is likely to help maintain healthy weight, reduce the risk for chronic diseases and improve cognitive function and academic performance among children.

Eric Chin

Kennedy Krieger Institute LEND Trainee

LEND Trainee Receives Johns Hopkins Research Award

Eric Chin, MD, a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) trainee at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, was recognized for the Best Overall Scientific Presentation in Education and Clinical Research Scholarship at the Johns Hopkins Department of Pediatrics Scholarly Achievement Day for his work on pain in people with cerebral palsy.  Chronic pain impacts the majority of individuals with cerebral palsy by adulthood and may significantly limit function. His studies have attempted to understand the complex relationships between physical, cognitive and sociocultural factors.

He and his collaborators have shown close linkages between the intensity of the chronic pain, sensory deficits, extreme prematurity and household poverty and specific patterns of perinatal brain injury are closely linked.  The long term goal of Dr. Chin's research is to create evidence based treatments that will result in individualized pain treatment plans that will improve the quality of life those with cerebral palsy and their families.   Dr. Chin's mentors for these projects are Dr. Shenandoah Robinson of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurosurgery and Alexander Hoon, Jr., MD, MPH, himself a former LEND trainee, Director, The Phelps Center for Cerebral Palsy and Neurodevelopmental Medicine at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Bevyn Mannke

Maternal and Child Health Student Organization President, Drexel University MCH Public Health Catalyst Trainee

Drexel University Dornsife School of Public HealthIn March 2020, with one week left in the winter term, Drexel University moved all regularly scheduled in-person activities online. Although this sudden change felt overwhelming, the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization (MCHSO) began planning innovative solutions for virtual engagement in order to keep group members engaged with emerging literature and changes to the practice of public health. Throughout the spring term, we hosted virtual Journal Club discussions regarding the impact of infectious disease outbreaks on sexual and reproductive health and the effect of maternal stress during pregnancy. These topics allowed us to evaluate what we were currently seeing occur, as well as what we predicted would manifest, as COVID-19 continued to impact our systems. In addition to the Journal Club discussions, we also organized a virtual Speaker Series webinar in which we hosted Philadelphia-based MCH organizations and learned how their challenges, strategies, and partnerships were impacted by COVID-19. Having worked closely with at least one of these local organizations in the past, the MCHSO executive board sought to understand what these groups needed in order to adapt to their new reality. This session was incredibly useful not only because Drexel students and faculty were able to learn from our community partners, but also because these groups were able to connect with each other and share strategic advice regarding common obstacles. Most recently, MCHSO organized a virtual trivia night where individuals tested their MCH knowledge and competed for gift-card prizes. This social activity allowed us to once again engage with MCH-related content and provided an important opportunity for connection and engagement among organization members. As a whole, the virtual transition of all university related activities was challenging and did require creative strategizing and utilization of resources. However, by working as a team with the guidance of our faculty mentors, MCHSO leadership was able to direct the organization to actively participate in virtual MCH activities that analyzed emerging challenges for our national and local systems. Even as so much is still unknown about what our fall term will look like, we plan to continue generating innovative solutions in order to maintain virtual engagement.

Osmari Novoa

Florida International University MCH Catalyst Trainee

Osmari Novoa has always been interested in global MCH, especially when it comes to improving the lives of Afro-Latinx women. She was initially poised to complete her summer practicum at the Universidad Privada San Juan Bautista (Lima, Peru) to investigate the effects of migration and other factors on STI risk among immigrant populations in Peru.  When international travel restrictions were put into place because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Osmari quickly shifted her focus to domestic MCH issues and secured an internship with the Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade (HSCMD), a community-based non-profit organization statutorily designated and funded by the State of Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to serve as Miami-Dade County's prenatal and infant care coalition. HSCMD partners with local community-based organizations and healthcare professionals to plan, coordinate and provide high quality health and education services to women in childbearing age, children from birth to age three, and their families. Osmari is working closely with HSCMD and a team of MCH Catalyst Program faculty at FIU to implement and assess the feasibility of Count the Kicks, a free mobile app that allows an expectant mother to easily monitor fetal movements during her last trimester of pregnancy and reduce the risk of stillbirth. Stillbirth among Miami-Dade Black women remains staggeringly high; it is almost three times higher among Blacks than among Whites (14.0 vs. 4.9/1000 births). The objectives of Osmari's practicum are to conduct a pilot phase rollout of the app among high-risk pregnant women, assess the women's perceptions of using the app, and provide recommendations for larger scale implementation of the app. In her own words, Osmari has been able to compliment her classroom experiences and assignments in ways she never imagined. "This practicum is perfect for me because it has allowed me to gain experience in not only working directly with a community-based MCH organization, but what it is like to specifically conduct research embedded within a CBO and in collaboration with a university. My coursework has definitely prepared me for this experience, and I am excited to now use my expertise to improve the lives of women and families in South Florida." As a result of her involvement with HSCMD, Osmari is now a member of the Fetal Infant Mortality Review Board of Miami-Dade. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she will serve as president of Leaders in Maternal and Child Health, FIU's MCH student interest group.

Natalie Cerda, MD, MPH

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics fellow at Boston Children's Hospital, Division of Developmental Medicine, Harvard Medical School

This year as a developmental-behavioral pediatrics fellow, I have had the opportunity to work closely with my division's quality improvement team to investigate the effectiveness of telemedicine for the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in young children. The rapid uptake of telemedicine that has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique and timely opportunity to study the acceptability and feasibility of telediagnostic evaluations for ASD, with the potential to lead to lasting changes in our current care model. Developing innovative and efficient models of care in developmental-behavioral pediatrics is critical given the longstanding shortage of specialists in this field.  As part of our quality improvement project, our team aims to improve the family and clinician experience with telediagnostic ASD evaluations in young children. We intend to promote optimal telemedicine care within our division through quality improvement methodologies including rapid cycle modifications and Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles to test different change concepts.  A secondary aim involves incorporating a health equity focus by examining whether disparities in care may result from this new method of care delivery.   Our work is supported by a Boston Children's Hospital CEO COVID Research Award and a Boston Children's Hospital Program for Patient Safety & Quality (PPSQ) Grant.

Trainee Ambassador GroupTime With TAG

Alicia Reynolds

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill MCH Center of Excellence Trainee

Why I Chose to Study Maternal and Child Health

In my family, the children are welcome in every space. Growing up in Oklahoma, I played with toy cars in my grandparents' closet; filmed movies with my cousins in my parents' room; stayed up late with the adults in the living room, and then fell asleep to the sound of their laughter and conversation. The adults welcomed me to speak and join these conversations. They invited me to play games, go on vacations, plan parties, cook, shop, get ready and go out together. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and older cousins were warm, and kind and funny. They taught me to welcome with open arms those who need it most: children. Those with innocent eyes, hearts longing for love and guidance because everything in this world is new to them.

I carried this value of children and firm belief in establishing not only their safety, but their sense of self-worth, of belonging, throughout my adult life. When I read about the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program at the UNC in Chapel Hill, I knew it was the place for me. I would learn from experts in the field who valued children as much as I did, and who knew ways of changing our systems that fail to provide services children need to achieve their full potential: a quality education in a safe environment, access to healthy and affordable food, safe places to play, a secure place to call home, and a family to go home to.

I graduated this May after submitting my thesis where I reviewed literature on the unjust exclusions of Black girls from the U.S. public school system, and I plan to continue emphasizing the educational and mental health needs of Black and Brown girls in my MCH career. During my master’s program, we discussed the power of establishing "health in all policies." I would like to promote the idea of "children in all policies" throughout my MCH career and the necessity of centering children, especially girls from marginalized communities, in our thoughts, ideas for the future, products we buy, people we vote for, companies we support, infrastructure development and research. Consider what our society would look if all children grew into their full potential. What would their influence look like? I imagine our world would be a much better place...And I long to see it.

Now that I have graduated, I am fortunate to continue this work and collaborate with other MCH trainees and professionals this year through the Trainee Ambassador Group. I am a member of the article club committee and application committee, and recognize how valuable it is to work with and learn from MCH trainees across the country. I am proud to be a part of this community.

So, if I am asked why I went into Maternal and Child Health, I don't have to look very far. Only back at my childhood, at the image I have of me coming back home to Oklahoma after my first semester at UNC: my family in the living room, waiting for me with open arms.

Cathy Yount, MPH

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles LEND Trainee

I became a LEND Trainee while completing my Master of Public Health degree. I was interested in the intersection of biology and society, and how policy and sociology shape our bodies and our understanding of them. I have extensive experience working one on one with children with special healthcare needs and wanted to learn more about these conditions in an interdisciplinary, academic setting. LEND offered just that opportunity: through LEND I learned about the best practices of care for a variety of health conditions and neurodevelopmental differences, as well as about the policy infrastructure around maternal and child health and disabilities. I learned about the complexities of living with or caring for someone who lives with a special healthcare need from a variety of healthcare professionals, as well as from individuals, families, and advocates navigating the healthcare system.

I went on to apply skills and knowledge I gained from LEND at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, where I am part of a team working to understand the health implications of different policies and how public policy impacts vulnerable populations, including children and those with pre-existing conditions. Although I love working in policy research, my next career steps will take me in a slightly different direction. I will be starting a PhD in Epidemiology this fall at the University of Rochester where I plan to focus my research on how exposures and experiences during pregnancy can impact the health outcomes for both mothers and children. I can confidently say that LEND gave me the knowledge, motivation and skills I needed to apply for this program, and I hope to use my research skills to improve maternal and child health.

Although I have chosen to pursue epidemiology, I continue to be passionate about adjacent fields, such as health policy. It is for this reason that I am enthusiastic about participating in the Trainee Ambassador Group. I am thrilled to be a part of a group that is focused on connecting trainees across disciplines who have a common goal. I hope, that as I pursue my degree, I can continue to stay connected to colleagues doing other types of work to impact maternal and child health, and I know that the activities facilitated by the TAG will be a great place to start.

MLC Reflections

Breanna Chachere (pictured left)
Centers of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health, Boston University School of Public Health

Alexandra Trautman (pictured right)
MCH Public Health Catalyst, Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University

You developed a plenary session with two other Ambassadors who you had never met before. What was your experience like collaborating virtually?
Breanna: Working with Vanessa and Alex was a wonderful experience. In our first few meetings, we were able to quickly identify a shared goal and vision for our session that was centered on input from our broader virtual TAG group meetings. When we first started planning for the MLC Tag session, we were planning for an in-person meeting in Nashville. This year, we faced unparalleled challenges due to COVID-19, but our team was able to quickly and seamlessly revamp our entire presentation, because of a shared commitment to seeing the work through. This required more coordination, more meetings across time zones and ultimately efficient efforts and I’m proud and so grateful we were able to rise to the challenge to deliver an amazing final presentation.
Alex: It was a great experience! Everyone was respectful of each other’s time and other commitments and worked efficiently. We were also respectful of each other’s suggestions and were able to bounce ideas off each other in a productive way. I do not feel as though anyone else would have been able to detect that we had never worked together before. Although I am bummed that I did not get to meet Breanna and Vanessa in person, I am thankful we were able to present something we were all proud of. 

How did the skills you acquired in your MCH training program help prepare you for the TAG presentation?
Breanna: My time as a student at the Boston University School of Public Health MCH Center of Excellence emphasized MCH leadership skills necessary for young professionals to be successful and to meet any challenges that arise in both professional and personal spaces. In my time there, I learned how to be flexible and adaptive, which was key in helping our TAG group to remain calm, and quickly and efficiently rework our plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a graduate student, I also participated and was the president of the MCHB funded student organization, MCH in Action. My role as president and service coordinator taught me how to help other students grow their leadership skills and expand their MCH professional networks. Ultimately, I am grateful that my program instilled the value of collaborative and dynamic teamwork that helped me be successful in virtual and in-person spaces.
Alex: My MCH training program provided me with the leadership and collaboration skills necessary to plan a presentation with two other people in completely different states! It also helped foster my passion for the MCH field which I think is important when tasked with presenting at a MCH conference. Additionally, my MCH program helped fund my trip to MLC last year so I was also able to provide the perspective of a previous attendee while working with this team. 

What factors did you consider when developing the TAG presentation?
Breanna: In keeping with the theme of TAG, Embrace the Possibilities in Career Development, our initial goal was to offer an opportunity for speed networking so that attendees might practice their elevator pitch and grow more confident in their ability to meet and network with trainees across disciplines. After the decision was made to transition to a virtual space, we realized that it would be challenging to have a virtual speed networking session. Instead, we decided to use the opportunity to introduce attendees to the Trainee Starter Kit, a presentation developed by former MCH trainees, that can be delivered by any trainee at their respective institutions and organizations. Our hopes with this presentation were that it would equip attendees with the knowledge necessary to share more important information about MCHB with other trainees at their sites and to also give an opportunity to highlight the wonderful things that the TAG group is working on so that attendees may join some of our virtual networks and opportunities.  
Alex: I enjoyed last year that the TAG presentation was a chance for participants to get up and stretch their legs and I was really excited about our speed networking opportunity. I really appreciated the strong networking focus last year at MLC in which they provided everyone with business cards and gave time for us to chat with others. When we learned that we would be going virtual we knew that it would be more difficult to incorporate those physical networking aspects but thought it would be a perfect opportunity to run through our trainee toolkit. It also allowed us the chance to get feedback on the toolkit and some of our other activities, such as the social media ambassadors and article club, through a survey. 

What did you like the best about attending the virtual MLC sessions?  
Breanna: The final event that the MLC planning committee put together was amazing, given the challenges needed to restructure a 3-day conference into a single-day online webinar. I am so impressed with how quickly and efficiently everyone worked together to develop sessions that were still interactive, motivating and comprehensive to meet the theme of truly Embracing All Possibilities. I particularly enjoyed MCHB Associate Administrator Dr. Michael Warren who championed the need for us all to Accelerate Upstream Together. His talk really cemented the future that lies ahead, both for addressing health inequities related to maternal and child health outcomes, but also for addressing the needs of all communities, particularly the vulnerable populations that will be most affected by COVID-19.
Alex: I loved getting to hear people share their experiences and their research that I probably otherwise would have never heard from. The MLC is an amazing opportunity to bring people, united by their passion for MCH, who are from different places, different MCH programs, with different MCH interests, all together in one space. I would have loved to have met everyone in Nashville, but I was truly impressed by how much variety was included in the one-day virtual session.

Would you recommend MLC to other trainees in the future?
Breanna: Most definitely, while I am sad that I did not get the in-person experience of MLC, I still left the MLC virtual sessions motivated and committed to building a better and stronger MCH workforce. I am grateful for the opportunity to expand my MCH professional network through participation in the day’s events. One of the key takeaways for me after attending MLC was how to build a personal/professional brand online with regard to social media presence and how to best separate professional vs personal social media accounts. We live in a world where social media dominates many of our lives. This was true before COVID-19 and now going forward after COVID-19, it is even more relevant. As such, it is so vital that we learn how to navigate an online world that we can leverage to move forward in our careers, share information and advocate for MCH populations, while also having the space to connect more intimately with friends and family. The MLC was so timely and gave valuable knowledge for me to do just that. I look forward to what the committee prepares for next year’s group of trainees and attendees.

Alex: Absolutely! I had been looking forward to the 2020 MLC since attending the conference last year. It is amazing and refreshing to be surrounded by professionals with a similar passion while also learning so much from them. You also really get to know other attendees well unlike some of the bigger conferences that can be more overwhelming.

Armando Peña, MS

Arizona State University MCH Nutrition Trainee

Armando Peña is a PhD student in the Exercise and Nutritional Sciences program in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University (ASU). Armando has been a TRANSCEND (Translational Training, Education and Leadership Program in MCH Nutrition and Childhood Obesity Prevention) Trainee, as part of ASU’s MCHB-funded training grant in MCH Nutrition, since Fall 2018 and is a leader amongst his peers. Armando’s research interests are in in the underlying physiological mechanisms responsible for the prevention of type 2 diabetes among high-risk youth following lifestyle interventions.

Armando has been highly productive as a doctoral student in the TRANSCEND Program. As part of his first project with the TRANSCEND Program, under the guidance of his mentor Dr. Gabriel Shaibi, Armando evaluated a pragmatic estimate of insulin sensitivity for use among high-risk (for type 2 diabetes) youth and published this work in Clinical Obesity. This work provides a measurement tool for other researchers to utilize, especially under budgetary constraints (i.e., large intervention studies, junior faculty). Armando’s second project for TRANSCEND explores the response heterogeneity of insulin sensitivity to lifestyle intervention among Latino youth with obesity. This study utilizes advanced structural equation modeling techniques to analyze longitudinal data and identify distinct types of responders to the same lifestyle intervention. Youth that did not respond to lifestyle intervention were among the most severely insulin resistant, glucose intolerant, and obese. This is an important paper for the field of pediatric obesity and diabetes prevention that has precision medicine implications and is currently undergoing edits by co-authors in preparation for submission to the high-impact journal, Diabetes Care.

In late 2019, Armando submitted an F31 application to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestion, and Kidney (NIDDK). His application received an Overall Impact Score of 21 and was accompanied by optimistic remarks from his Program Officer at NIDDK. If funded, Armando will continue to explore the effects of lifestyle intervention on key inflammatory markers of type 2 diabetes risk and resilience among Latino youth with obesity and prediabetes as compared to a usual care control group.

The TRANSCEND program has boosted Armando’s training as a future independent scientist in the field of maternal and child health. Through his experience in the TRANSCEND Training program, Armando has become interested in other related research topics unveiled such as breastfeeding and lifestyle interventions on long-term health markers in both mom and child that are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Jamie Zeldman, B.S.

University of Florida Pediatric Pulmonary Center Trainee

As part of my Dietetic Internship experience, I had the opportunity to intern with the Pediatric Pulmonary Center at the University of Florida. I completed half of my traineeship part-time the semester before my Dietetic Internship began, and the other half full-time during my Dietetic Internship itself. Everyone on the interdisciplinary team is so genuine and inclusive, which really made me feel welcomed and comfortable as an intern. Our Core Curriculum Leadership Seminars took place in-person the semester before the start of my Dietetic Internship. The Seminars emphasized the importance of leadership and interdisciplinary care management, which I felt was very beneficial as I progressed through my various Dietetic Internship rotations.

As I approached my time to come back to the PPC for the latter half of my traineeship in April, there were a lot of unknowns considering COVID-19. Several other rotations were cancelled as a result, so I feel very thankful that despite everything going on, the PPC Faculty Nutritionist, Ellen Bowser, as well as the rest of the PPC team, made this rotation possible for me. Although unconventional, I was happy to still be able to attend various interdisciplinary meetings, Cystic Fibrosis Clinic and Sleep Clinic. I had the opportunity to observe a wide variety of patients and learned a great deal along the way, both in-person last year and through telehealth this year. Although I wish I was able to be there in-person for the latter half of my time with the PPC, I feel as if virtually being back with the team was the best-case scenario in this situation. I appreciate everything the PPC has done not only for me during my time at the PPC, but also for what they do day-to-day for their patients, especially during these crazy times. Thank you to the PPC team at the University of Florida for such a memorable experience and for being such great role models.

Jessica Tanguay, MPH

University at Albany School of Public Health MCH Catalyst Trainee

I vividly remember the first time I walked through the doors of the University at Albany School of Public Health (UA SPH).  I was meeting with the co-directors of the Maternal and Child Health Public Health Catalyst Program.  Since that day, I have been mentored, challenged, and supported by a cadre of professors who offered more than summaries in textbooks.  Through coursework, speaker’s series, networking events, and internships, I was able to witness the interconnected nature of MCH.  Wanting to gain a better systemic understanding of various influences on health, I accepted an internship within the New York State (NYS) Department of Health where I worked alongside a team within the Bureau of Women, Infant, and Adolescent Health. I gathered and analyzed community data to support two comprehensive, multi-year statewide needs assessments for the MCH Services Block Grant Program and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

This past year, I was honored to be selected as a Women in Public Policy Fellow at the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society (CWGCS) within Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. I am completing my policy field placement at the NYS Office of Mental Health, working alongside the Chief Managed Care Compliance Officer.  In my specific role, I am assisting with compliance activities to ensure the Medicaid Managed Care Plans (MMCP) adhere to State and Federal regulations which include reviewing MMCP applications, policies and procedures, and data. As part of the fellowship cohort, I am surrounded by a dynamic, driven, and diverse group of women who desire to be agents of change at various levels of policy within NYS, nationally, and globally. The core values of the CWGCS are Equity, Inclusion, Diversity, Integrity, and Equality. Similarly, this is what we try to accomplish in many public health initiatives.

As my tenure at the UA SPH concludes, I realize that my next steps are more than just a series of occupational choices. I have been inspired by the SPH community to continuously fight to affect social change and increase health equity for communities and families.  I look forward to combining my public health knowledge and policy experiences as I embark on a journey to collaboratively work alongside communities by supporting programs, policies, and other systemic solutions that will celebrate the community’s unique strengths and amplifying their voices.

Laurel Iverson Hitchcock

University of Alabama at Birmingham MCH Center of Excellence Trainee

Laurel Iverson Hitchcock is a former trainee of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Center of Excellence in MCH Education, Science & Practice (CoE), having graduated with her Masters in Public Health (MPH) is the Spring of 1996. She came to the CoE with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology & Social Welfare from the University of Madison-Wisconsin and serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa. After graduating with her MPH, Laurel went on to pursue a Masters and a PhD in Social Work from the University of Alabama. Prior to obtaining her PhD in 2009, Laurel worked as a licensed social worker in the State of Alabama and has over ten years of practice experience in diverse community settings including a homeless shelter, domestic violence prevention program, hospital emergency room, and community mental health. She joined the Social Work faculty of the University of Montevallo in 2009 as the Undergraduate Program Director for Social Work. In 2013, she joined the UAB Social Work faculty full-time and is now an Associate Professor of Social Work and the BSW Program Director. 

Laurel’s  research and pedagogical interests include social work education, technology and social media, social welfare history, and public health social work. Her dissertation research focused on the development of the federal program for children with special health care needs (CSHCN) under the US Children’s Bureau during the 1930s. In 2012, she received the SAGE/CSWE Award for Innovative Teaching for her work incorporating different social media assignments into her courses. One of her current research projects examines the role of social and digital technologies as a tool for networking and collaborating in professional practice, which she will be highlighting at the MCH Making Lifelong Connections 2020 Conference in Nashville, TN this April. She is the co-director for the Institute for Healthy Engagement and Resilience with Technology  (iHeartTech) at the University at Buffalo's School of Social Work, and she blogs at Teaching & Learning in Social Work. Laurel credits her time as an MCH trainee with her passion for interprofessional education. She is an Interprofessional Leadership Fellow with the UAB Center for Interprofessional Education and Simulation  Exit Disclaimer and is active in facilitating interprofessional education activities across UAB.

Sydney Watkins

University of Alabama at Birmingham MCH Nutrition Trainee

Prior to my training with the MCH Nutrition program at UAB, I had not had any experience working as part of an interdisciplinary team. Through this traineeship, I have learned the importance and significance of teamwork in a medical setting, and how a collaborative approach can benefit patients. Sharing different perspectives allow for a more comprehensive assessment and therefore contributes to a greater experience for patients receiving care. Working with such an intelligent group of multidisciplinary leaders, not only challenged me as a healthcare professional, but also as a person. My team at UAB encouraged me to continue to grow my knowledge and taught me how to get involved in the community through different events and avenues. I am extremely thankful for the group of medical professionals at UAB and their involvement in helping me become the leader and professional I am today.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee MCH Pipeline Trainees

Kong Xiong

MA Candidate, Child Study and Human Development, Tufts University

Kong started in Pipeline as a freshman (his sister has been in our program and so she prompted him to apply immediately). He participated in a Title V Internship, graduated with a BS degree in Nutrition Sciences, and went on to the Zilber School of Public Health (he will graduate in May 2020). He just received a Public Health Fellowship through the University of WI-Madison. His Masters capstone is examining data from Trio programs, with a focus on understanding the characteristics of students from Trio who go on to and complete college compared to those who do not. He has a long-standing interest in educational opportunity related to health outcomes.

Raven (Wright) Smith

Former MCH Pipeline Trainee

Raven was a nursing major who distinguished herself with her love of research and her commitment to communities of color. She was the first Pipeline TAG ambassador (she also attended the "Making Lifelong Connections" Exit Disclaimer annual meeting in her senior year). She graduated with her BSN and went on to a Nursing Residency at Duke. Just this past fall she began steps toward her PhD and she was recently admitted to the Nursing PHD with a focus on Public Health at Chapel Hill. She has a full ride for 5 years to support her degree.

Wanda P. Felty

LEND, Family Trainee, University of Oklahoma

In 2004, I was Oklahoma’s first long-term trainee in the Parent/Family discipline. I completed Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) with my peers in 2005. At the time I had just been hired as a part-time family advocate for the Oklahoma Infant Transition Program (OITP) at OU Children’s Hospital. I continued working for OITP for seven years, and have since been hired at the Center for Learning and Leadership, Oklahoma’s University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD). After completing Oklahoma LEND, I have continued to grow as a Family leader in Oklahoma. I have been appointed by the Governor to the Blue Ribbon Committee, Oklahoma Commission for Children and Youth, Death and Near Death of Children with Disabilities, to name a few. I have presented to the Oklahoma State Legislature numerous times on the topic of best practices and evidence-based practices for people with developmental disabilities in Oklahoma.  I have also been hired as Family Faculty for the Oklahoma LEND program after our illustrious Family Faculty Jan Moss retired.

Vera Srakhao

LEND, Former Child Psychiatry Fellow, Westchester Institute for Human Development

Since graduating from the LEND program and my fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, I have further pursued my interest in working with children with special health care needs. I spent a year working at the Rose F. Kennedy Center/Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Currently, I am working at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, where I am pursing further training in working with children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. I am grateful that The Child Study Center at NYU Langone champions continuing medical education in their clinicians, and I am looking forward to learning how to evaluate for autism spectrum disorder via the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) and provide services for children ages zero to five.

The LEND program is a unique experience that focuses on both a multidisciplinary approach and the patient and family perspective. It has shaped the way I approach clinical care, which I have come to understand as complex and multi-faceted. I have learned many things: to meet the patients where they are at with regards to their fears and hardships; be approachable and address any concerns that they have; be open-minded to their perspectives from a cultural standpoint; stay sharp with evidence-based treatment; advocate for supportive services in the community; and foster their hopes and dreams.

Susan Ugliarolo

LEND, 2009-2010 Family Specialist Trainee, Westchester Institute for Human Development

As a parent of a developmentally disabled young man and early childhood educator, I was invited to participate as Family Specialist in the 2009-2010 LEND Program at Westchester Institute for Human Development in Valhalla, New York. At the time, I was completing work on a special education degree and working as a teacher in an early childhood setting. My son had just transitioned to an independent living program close to our family home. While I had many hands-on experiences – my own personal research and knowledge base and an “I can fix this” attitude – my support world was narrowing as my son “outgrew” therapists and left the education setting.

I have continued to work in early childhood education as a director of a small program to coordinate the services of my special education students. I support parents through the process of understanding their children’s needs. I also work closely with my son’s program, working on committees that support the program as a whole. I continue to “live” special education both in my personal life and in my work.

The timing of my LEND work was most impactful to my personal growth both as a parent and as an educator. LEND added order to my theoretical knowledge and personal experiences and instilled options for delivering this information to others. I continue to use these tools today in my work and on most occasions will start a thought by saying, “research shows…” Having the opportunity to gain more medical knowledge in a supportive learning environment was also invaluable as I continue to work to identify children in need of early intervention. While I have always advocated for my son in his school setting when a “situation” arose, I had little understanding of the importance of advocacy for him as an adult, which is an ongoing and complex need for individuals with developmental disabilities. These experiences allowed me to contribute to my son’s successful transition to independent living. These are just a few of the learning tools that I continue to use daily in my professional and personal life.

Stephanie Stover

Reposted from the COE MCH Trainee Blog Exit Disclaimer

Stephanie is a recent graduate of the University of Washington MPH program through the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Exit Disclaimer. She became interested in public health during her time working as a Family and Health Advocate for the Easterseals Head Start and Early Head Start program in Chicago. She found that many families in low-income communities lacked access to the resources needed to support family well-being or the proper tools to help their children have healthy early years. Stephanie’s research interests include early childhood development, low-income community needs, nutrition, and prenatal health. Stephanie completed her MPH practicum with the Health Coalition for Children and Youth (HCCY), and her thesis work was a mixed-methods evaluation of SNAP-Ed activity participation among Washington’s SNAP recipient population. Stephanie will soon be moving to Portland, Oregon to take on the role of Program Manager for the Oregon Pediatric Improvement Partnership (OPIP) through the Department of Pediatrics at OHSU.

During Spring quarter of the 2018-2019 academic year, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the 2019 Making Lifelong Connections Exit Disclaimer Conference at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This conference created limitless opportunities to network and collaborate with colleagues within the field of Maternal and Child Health. In conversations with trainees and staff from other academic institutions, conference attendees were able to discuss their respective programs in the context of what is going well, what can be improved, and how different programs may collaborate in the future. Participants spent time networking and participating in creative exercises in addition to enjoying local Wisconsin cheese curds, marveling at the architecture of the capitol building, and commiserating over stressful academic requirements due to the quickly approaching close of the academic quarter. 

One of the main focuses of the conference was to share MCH-related research through round table pitch sessions, poster pitch sessions, and large format research presentations. I presented my preliminary thesis findings in one of the pitch roundtable sessions. At this point in my research, I was struggling with paring down an enormous data table set into meaningful, understandable results. I expected to walk away with guidance from other professionals on how to analyze my data or other transcript organization techniques. Instead, I walked away with a lesson in communication. My research took the angle of nutrition in social services while my co-participants were more well-versed in the specifics of dietetics and nutrition education. Quickly seeing that I may not be able to gain specific research insights to analyze my raw data, I took the opportunity to practice simply communicating the core elements of my research.

As I listened to other participants research presentations and continued to reflect on my pitch session, I gathered together a few pieces of knowledge that I will use moving forward: 

  1. Know your audience. Whenever possible, plan ahead and gather information about your audience in order to avoid surprises. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to change course. If you feel your presentation is not being received as expected, don’t be afraid to change it up! You may surprise yourself with your agility and walk away with new talking points for future presentations. 
  3. Ask for more. If you are intrigued by a fellow guest speaker, approach them later to compliment them and ask more questions if given the opportunity. You’ll likely brighten their day and learn more about them as a person in addition to learning about their work. 

I love attending conferences and networking events, and MCH Lifelong Connections Conference is one that I would highly recommend for other MCH trainees. I felt more connected than ever to the national MCH community and walked away feeling inspired to continue with my research. I was in need of a professional push at that moment, and the conference reminded me of the value in communicating progress in the field of Maternal and Child Health.

Vana Noncent Jabouin

Boston LEND, Family Fellow Family Support Navigator, HAPHI

As a family member, I joined the LEND program to learn more about disabilities and to better assist my younger sister who has an intellectual impairment.  I also want to give back to the Haitian community.  I have been involved for the past twenty years in various social and community work in the field of disability, including the Center for Special Education, Healing Hands Haiti, FOHDES-5, the Haitian American Public Health Initiatives (HAPHI), ARC-Massachusetts, and the Federation for Children with Disabilities.  I currently work as a family support navigator at HAPHI.

Lessons learned

  • More than school, LEND teaches life. I learned from outstanding faculty, mentors, parents, fellow students, and self-advocates.
  • I gained a broad vision of the world of disability by participating in the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and the disability policy conferences.
  • I feel empowered by every personal story.
  • I am “fired up” by the network and endless possibilities!
  • I am proud to say that multidisciplinary group interaction is by far the best diversity experience for me.

Julianne Evans

Public Health Nutrition, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Reposted from the MCH Nutrition Trainee Blog Exit Disclaimer

Julianne is a first year Master’s student at University of Tennessee, Knoxville pursuing a degree in Public Health Nutrition. She hopes to work with medically underserved children and sustainable food systems. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from University of Dayton in Dietetics, Food and Nutrition.

On Friday, September 27th, the University of Tennessee’s MCH Nutrition Leadership team along with the Department of Nutrition hosted the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium 3.0 (PHW3.0): A Socio-Ecological Perspective – Healthful Food Access. This was my first time being involved in the planning of this event and participating in the colloquium. As I reflect on this series, I am optimistic about the future because I witnessed the impassioned leadership the presenters brought to the colloquium. Each speaker connected the programs or organizations they work for to the Socio-Ecological Model (SEM) and explained how their program or organization uniquely addressed barriers individuals and communities have to obtaining healthful access to foods.

One of the themes that sparked my own passions and interest was food equity and conversation regarding the nutritional value foods being served to the most vulnerable populations in society, especially single mothers and their children. Listening to the presenters speak about how their organizations or programs have made an impact reminded me how vital it is for collaboration across the SEM and between different professions for a common goal: equitable and healthful food access for the most vulnerable. My interests in working towards food equity and justice for the most vulnerable were strengthened by seeing all of the positive leverage of programs and organizations like EFNEP, SNAP-ED, Shop Smart Tennessee, Fresh Pantry through Second Harvest, and Partnership for Healthier America. PHW3.0 has challenged me to continue thinking about my time as a new graduate student to keep evaluating and improving positive initiatives addressing barriers to healthful food access for vulnerable populations.

Program Presentation Panelists at the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium on September 27, 2019. Panelists represented the following programs: University of Tennessee Extension Program, Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee’s Fresh Pantry Mobile Program, and the Shop Smart Tennessee research intervention program.


Ramya Palaniappan

MPH Candidate University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Reposted from the COE MCH Trainee Blog Exit Disclaimer

Ramya Palaniappan is a second year Masters of Public Health, Maternal and Child Health student. She has a background in reproductive health, housing and homelessness, and global health. She currently works at Minnesota Department of Health's Center for Health Equity, and as a research assistant for Professor Ruby Nguyen, working on a qualitative study about violence against Asian women. Her interests are racial equity in birth outcomes and early childhood, immigrant health, and intimate partner violence. She believes health equity is at the core of public health. Outside of school, Ramya enjoys cooking, being outdoors and listening to podcasts!

Right after undergrad, I did a year of service at a day shelter for women, children and non-binary folks experiencing homelessness. My role was to direct the food program and assist in the management of the hospitality room. This year was challenging yet rewarding. I was grateful to be a part of a team that provided care specifically for women dealing with loss of home since many of the homeless services in downtown Portland served predominantly men or families.

The lessons that I learned through this position emphasized the importance of self-reflection when working with marginalized communities and when implementing a program. First, coming into this role, it was important for me to unpack any preconceived notions that I had about people experiencing homelessness. I was always taught to stay away from people on the street and this was reinforced by our societal norms. But through this year, I understood that all people just want to be seen, heard and valued. People experiencing homelessness are often denied this dignity and denied the basic rights that come with having a roof over your head.

One of my projects in this position was to assess levels of food insecurity in the population we were serving. I created a food security survey and left it at the front desk for everyone to fill out. However, no one filled it out. I took some time individually and with my supervisor to brainstorm ideas on how to garner interest in this survey. I quickly realized that many people experiencing homelessness have filled out an abundance of paperwork and have waited in ridiculously long lines to receive services. Filling out more forms was not of interest to a lot of people who came into our hospitality room. In addition, I remembered a conversation that I had with one of our guests during my first month in the position. She told me that while she appreciated our community space, what she wanted most was a door. Each shelter and service that she used was crowded, and she just wanted a door to close it all out. Because of these reflections, I decided to switch my survey to a one-on-one interview. People had the opportunity to sign up to chat with me individually. Changing how the survey was distributed allowed more people to voice their opinions and share their experiences. This was an important lesson for me on community engagement because it illustrated the significance of having projects catered to the population you are working in.


Sa’Nealdra Wiggins

Reposted from the MCH Nutrition Trainee Blog Exit Disclaimer

Sa’Nealdra is a 4th year doctoral student at the University of Tennessee pursuing a degree in Nutritional Sciences in hopes of impacting women and girls of color as it pertains to dietary quality. She currently holds a degree in Health Education-Public Health from Middle Tennessee State University.

This summer I completed a 7-week internship with a Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) as a part of our nutrition program requirements. PHA is a non-profit organization that was created by Michelle Obama to partner with the private sector while improving our nation’s food systems, in a larger effort to improve childhood obesity rates. As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of how important it is as a future professional to embrace opportunities and to explore unfamiliar territory. I have always been comfortable embracing those familiar opportunities that are similar to what I aspire to do as a professional; however, I learned this summer that sometimes it is more beneficial to get your feet wet in other fields.

I interned with PHA’s Fruit and Vegetable campaign (initiative) which seeks to encourage the world to consume more fruits and vegetables: fresh, frozen, dried, or canned. Although I had no prior experience with non-profit organizations, I found this to be a fulfilling experience. It was different than the usual public health and community research I have been involved in. I was instead doing things such as assisting companies in improving the nutritional quality of their food products. I developed many new skills that I will continue to use throughout my career; however, my main takeaway was the reminder to always immerse myself in opportunities that are outside of my normal scope. This internship was definitely a highlight in my graduate career and I would encourage others to seek opportunities that are outside of their field!

Zoila Jarquin Martinez

Former PPC Social Work Trainee, University of Florida

I had the privilege to intern as a social work trainee with the UF PPC. As a PPC trainee, I provided support for family-centered care, practiced inclusiveness and embodied leadership through exploring barriers, assessing cultural diversity, meeting the needs of and discussing the ethical issues faced by many in our community. Our Core curriculum leadership seminars emphasized an interdisciplinary team approach and included trainees in public health, nutrition, social work, nursing and pharmacy. Our voices carried power both in and out of the clinical settings as we engaged in thought-provoking discussions leading to a common goal:  “to break silos and take action to end health disparities.” By including people of color, we communicate to our patients that their voices matter. Our similarities along with our differences give us the opportunity to highlight the power of human connection, uncover our biases and blind spots. As a mental health clinician, I feel that the UF’s PPC leadership training empowered me to advocate for adequate and equitable mental health care.



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