Stories from our 2018 graduates

Read the highlighted stories below to learn what our students have to say about how their practicum or research prepared them for leadership and careers in global public health.

Saja Al-Falahi, MPH, worked with IntraHealth International in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, focusing on the Afghan Resiliency Project:

“My practicum was very empowering. It made me believe in my competencies and my ability to function as a global health professional. I knew that I wanted a practicum that focuses on global women’s health and I chose IntraHealth International because they are one of the largest organizations in the Triangle that works on global issues, especially those related to capacity building. Read more.

2017 IntraHealth fellows.

Saja (far right) stands with Peggy Bentley, Associate Dean for Global Health at Gillings (center), and Alex Dest (left), another 2017 UNC-IntraHealth Fellow.

After getting the offer from this organization, I was matched to work for a program that trains young Afghan women to become public health leaders. The program was funded by the USAID to support the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan develop and sustain their health system.

As a Fulbright grantee, I believe that part of me being here is to share knowledge and experiences, learn from others and connect with people from all around the world. I’m going to be part of three conferences this semester trying to use the valuable information I got during my last year in solving the problems I used to face as a health worker in a critical setting.”

Read Saja’s blog post for IntraHealth, To Empower Women Is to Empower Nations: Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lesley Bristol, MSPH, worked with DAI Global Health in Durham, North Carolina:

“For most of my career so far, I have worked at small-scale non-profit organizations. I viewed the practicum as a chance to challenge myself in a new kind of working environment, that being a large international development contracting firm.” Read more.

“DAI, the company I interned with, has a large worldwide presence and is well-known for its international development work, but its global health branch is quite new. Digital health is a major element of that work and I was surprised to learn that while digital health ventures may have a unique or highly innovative product, many struggle to scale up in targeted countries or regions. The true challenge is to navigate markets, regulatory frameworks and economic systems for successful expansion. A big part of my practicum was to support these strategic growth activities with our partnering digital health companies. In my summer practicum, I achieved my goal of working outside of my comfort zone while learning about new aspects of global health.”

Hayley Welgus, MPH, worked with Save the Children (US) in Washington, DC and Haiti:

“Spending time in the field helped me to reflect on what it means to serve communities in ways that are meaningful and constructive, and the importance of understanding my own positionality as an outsider, as well as that of the organization if working for an international entity.” Read more.

A pregnant woman holds her belly in front of a Save the Children banner.

Hayley worked at Save the Children (US). Here, women in Haiti attend one of the organization’s programs. Photo credit: Reginald Louissaint

My practicum was a great opportunity to put into practice skills that I have been learning and developing through my MPH program, including monitoring and evaluation, quantitative data collection and quality control, and the development of community needs assessment tools. It felt great to be able to contribute something meaningful to an organization and the community the program serves.

My plans are to return to Southeast Asia after I graduate. I am still very interested in pursuing work on social and behavioral change, particularly with regards to gender norms. I think that there is work within the reproductive health space that overlaps with this, and I would be very open to pursuing this if I found the right role.”

Reana Thomas, MPH, worked with the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed, Maharashtra, India:

“My family is from India, and I have been lucky to have the opportunity to travel there to visit family a number of times. This visit was different though because the organization I worked with was in rural India- a part of the country that I have not seen or understood before this trip. This experience was then quite reflective for me as I was in the presence of the reality that rural Indian women face on a day-to-day basis. This reality, with the explicit and implicit pressures placed on women by the caste system and gender expectations, is something that I had never truly grasped as an Indian-American woman.” Read more.

The Comprehensive Rural Health Project building.

Reana worked with the Comprehensive Rural Health Project.

“As I dive into my second and final year of my program, I am honestly now more confused than ever about what direction I want to move in as I have been extremely lucky to have a breadth of experiences since starting at Gillings and my life before Gillings. I absolutely love the idea of working for a community-engaged primary health care organization in India for a couple of years, and I also love the idea of doing that in a domestic setting. At this point, I am keeping an open mind to anything that could come next.”

Stories from UNC Gillings Alumni

Jeffrey Walker, MPH-RD, worked with Carolina for Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya:

“I was looking for a skill set that would allow me to contribute to economic development in communities and the light bulb switched on for nutrition. When I was deciding where to apply to grad school UNC moved up to my top slot because I could complete part of my internship hours abroad. This internship is that plan coming to fruition and I’m super thankful things have worked out.” Read more.

Follow Jeff’s journey via his blog, Food Every Mile: An Adventure in Global Nutrition, written while he was in Kenya.

Jeffrey sits on a wall that reads "Carolina for Kibera."

Jeff completed a practicum with Carolina for Kibera.

Leigh Tally, MPH, completed a practicum with IntraHealth International in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that helped prepare her for a career with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“I do not think I would be at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if not for my experience with IntraHealth International!” Read more.

“Participating in routine M&E work with a USG-funded project was invaluable in not only opening doors to a fellowship (now job) at the CDC, but to also cementing how critical it is to listen. Listening to health care workers about their jobs, how they collect data, how they use data, and the challenges they face.”

Claire Bailey, MPH-RD, worked with the Public Health Foundation of India and today, lives in Tanzania while working for the Medical University of South Carolina:

“My global health practicum was eye-opening with Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon, India. Not only to the wildly unique and colorful culture of India, but also to the challenges of conducting global health field research.” Read more.

“There are an endless number of details to consider when implementing a study, even one as small in scope as my practicum study. Skills in program planning are difficult to develop and fine-tune in a classroom setting, so it was invaluable to get that experience in the field during my practicum. After this experience, I knew that I wanted to continue gaining experience in global health programming and project management while living abroad. I am currently living in Tanzania, working for the Medical University of South Carolina as a Program Coordinator for two implantation studies investigating ways to improve enrollment and retention in HIV care in rural clinics in Kisarawe, Tanzania.”

Christie Pettitt-Schieber, MPH, worked with The Water Institute, which is housed in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, doing field work in Kenya:

“By choosing to do field research in rural and remote settings in Kenya, I was able to put new skills on my resume, earn credibility for my passion for global health, and position myself well for both research and practice job opportunities.” Read more.

“I now work at MiracleFeet, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating disability caused by clubfoot. Experience from my global practicum gives me greater confidence in doing my job, because I have a greater understanding of the challenges faced by our partners around the world thanks to my first-hand experience.”

Michael Wilson, MPH, worked with Helen Keller International in Vietnam, and today is co-founder and partnerships lead for Advance Access & Delivery Inc.:

“As an intern with Helen Keller International, I had the opportunity to apply lessons learned from the classroom to solve real world problems in Vietnam. This experience made the coursework at UNC really come to life and deepened my passion for a career in global public health.” Read more.

“I learned to work and communicate with co-workers in a very different setting than what I was used to, and I came away with tangible skills that furthered my professional career. I also made many connections during my time in Vietnam that remain useful even in my current job today. I found this experience incredibly valuable from both a personal and professional standpoint and hope that future public health students will have similar field-based opportunities to further enrich their MPH coursework at UNC.”

Courtney Schnefke, MPH-RD, worked with Carolina for Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya and today does global health work with RTI International:

“I started graduate school knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in international nutrition programming and/or research (and selected Gillings specifically because of this pursuit!), so I sought out classes and opportunities that would help me build skills and gain experience to reach that professional goal.” Read more.

A group poses for a photo; one person holds a cat.

Courtney (center, in green) worked with Carolina for Kibera.

“Carolina for Kibera (CFK) enhanced my career path in public health because it provided me on-the-ground ‘field’ experience that is so invaluable. It also allowed me to get some experience with monitoring and evaluation and learn about an area of nutrition I hadn’t yet explored – the integration of early childhood development and nutrition.

I believe the experiences from my time in Kenya as well as the early childhood development-nutrition report helped showcase my interest and abilities and get my foot in the door for an eventual full-time position with RTI International.”