Kavita Singh Ongechi loves getting book recommendations from her kids.
Name: Kavita Singh Ongechi
Position: Research associate professor, Department of Maternal and Child Health (I’m also the senior technical adviser for maternal and child health with MEASURE Evaluation and a faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center.)
Time at the Gillings School: 11 years
What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): All my work revolves around global maternal and child health. I primarily evaluate public health interventions in low- and middle-income countries. With that, I look at national programs from start to finish and determine if they’re meeting their goals. Maternal mortality and newborn health, in particular, are hard to measure, because there’s often a lack of complete reporting in the countries where I work.
I also teach, and I love that part of my job. I lead an overview course about key issues in maternal and child health. I get great students each year, and it’s nice to share the work I do with them. I also enjoy working on research that truly matters for families. Newborns are so vulnerable, especially in their first month of life, and 15 percent of women experience complications during their pregnancies. I want all people to have access to life-saving interventions.
One of my favorite authors is: Julia Alvarez. Two of my favorite books that she’s written are “In the Time of the Butterflies” and “Return to Sender.” My kids like to give me recommendations, too, and I will read any book they suggest. Lately, they’ve turned me on to “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Holes,” “I Will Always Write Back” and “The War That Saved My Life.” They’re avid readers, and I love to talk about books with them.
I’m originally from: the Hudson Valley area of New York. I grew up in a small town of about 8,000 people. We had very cold winters there, but I remember loving the summers. My parents still live there, so my kids have all seen snow.
I grew up surrounded by books and, even at a young age, I was always aware of what was happening in other countries. For as long as I can recall, I’ve wanted to work with women and children because I feel an urge to reduce disparities and help vulnerable people.
When I’m not at work, I like to: be with my three kids. My husband and I spend a lot of time outside with them; running, soccer, swimming and tennis are favorite activities. We also like to hear about what they’re reading and encourage them in learning music. My son plays the cello, one daughter plays the violin, and they all – even my youngest daughter – play the piano. Maybe when I retire, I’ll finally learn to play an instrument!
Something people might not know about me: is that I run at least three times a week. I’m the slowest person in my family, but I love it for the stress relief and the calm I feel afterward. Sometimes, I work through papers in my head as I run.