Alumni Profile: Traci L. Baird, MPH
Chief Executive Officer, SHIFT NC
Describe your current position.
I’m the CEO of a statewide nonprofit organization that works on adolescent and young adult sexual health. SHIFT helps communities, clinics and schools implement programs that address a range of issues in sexual health, including pregnancy prevention, HIV prevention, and improving the environment for LGBTQ youth. We provide professional development and support to healthcare providers, teachers, staff of community organizations and parents. As CEO, I work with our board of directors and our staff to develop our strategy, raise funds for our work and manage the organization.
List your career highlights.
Before I joined SHIFT NC as CEO I worked for 22 years for Ipas, a global organization focused on improving sexual and reproductive health and rights through enhanced access to and use of safe abortion and contraceptive care. I started at Ipas as I was graduating with my master’s degree – I barely made it back from my first trip to Ghana and Nigeria in time for graduation!
I held a number of positions at Ipas, working in different parts of the world and on different programs and content areas. My last position with Ipas was Executive Vice President for Programs; I led Ipas’s international programs including three regional support teams and our country programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as cross-regional programs and initiatives. I contributed to regional, country and program strategy with an emphasis on designing programs that met the needs of women, respected the roles of healthcare providers, and enhanced our local, national and international partnerships. I also worked in a women’s health clinic before graduate school, and as an operations director of a medical center on a consulting basis more recently. Understanding healthcare delivery has helped me in my work as a nonprofit leader.
Why did you choose the Gillings School?
I was drawn to the Gillings School by the blend of classroom and practical experience and the opportunity to be supported in independent research for my thesis. I was also sitting in my dorm room in college in California, looking at a map of the U.S., and Chapel Hill seemed to be near the beach. When I got here, though, it was farther than I expected!
How did your education and degree from the Gillings School influence your career?
The coursework and projects in the master’s program gave me confidence in a community-driven process of public health. Learning with peers who had different content expertise exposed me to a host of public health topics. In my career, I have used my community-driven design and program evaluation skills extensively, and I have drawn on a range of public health topics to inform my work.
In thinking about your time as a student, what experiences at the Gillings School would you consider to have had the greatest impact on your career?
The network I developed – and which I continue to develop – from the Gillings School has had a significant impact on my career. When I applied to my first job after graduate school I was interviewed by two Gillings School alumni, and I’ve worked with Gillings School alumni from different departments and in different capacities ever since.
What are some of your favorite memories at the Gillings School?
My favorite memories include working on projects and learning alongside other students in the program. I loved driving off to our community diagnosis neighborhood in a state car and meeting with community members; developing a new health behavior theory with a classmate based on fashion (largely developed by passing notes in class); and meeting students from different departments in classes such as epidemiology and statistics.
What advice you would like to offer to current Gillings School students?
Get to know your peers and the faculty! I have benefited enormously from the friendships and professional relationships I developed during my master’s studies. It’s remarkable how helpful it is to know people working in different areas of public health with whom I shared common experiences during school.
What are you passionate about in public health?
In the last several years I have become increasingly passionate about how we work in nongovernmental organizations. We can have powerful missions, clear strategies, and talented teams, yet if we don’t have strong systems and processes we aren’t as effective as we need to be to have maximum impact. I love blending great strategy with clear process so we can get closer to our goals!
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love to walk, and I participate in several 5K events each spring and fall with my younger son, who is a runner. My family spends time in Cape Cod every summer, which gives me a good dose of beach and ocean. I also love to read contemporary fiction and books about behavioral economics.
Connect with Traci