Meet Ayanna Smith

We at Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Ayanna Smith about her professional experience before Gillings, her studies as an MRT-TI Pathway 2 Lactation student, her MPH practicum with the SUGAR Team at RTI International, and why she chose Gillings.

Ayanna Smith

Ayanna Smith

What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program?

Prior to enrolling in Gillings, I attended Xavier University of Louisiana for undergrad. At Xavier, I studied public health with a dual concentration in biology and chemistry. Here, my passion for public health began. As a student, I conducted research regarding breastfeeding disparities in the Black community and used my research to create a preconception breastfeeding education program for HBCU students. Upon graduating from Xavier, I moved to Brooklyn, NY to work as an AmeriCorps fellow for a local charter school.

Can you tell us more about your role as an MRT-TI IBCLC Pathway 2 Lactation Program student?

Currently, I am training to become an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) through the The Mary Rose Tully Training Initiative (MRT-TI). My training involves rotating to various hospitals and outpatient sites to learn from current IBCLCs. This training is my first clinical experience, and I am gaining valuable skills regarding working directly with patients. This experience has helped strengthen my interpersonal skills and comfortability working with various healthcare professionals.

Will you tell us more about your role as a Graduate Research Assistant with CGBI?

At the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI), I work with the communications team to develop marketing and communication materials for CGBI social media sites and websites. One of my main responsibilities was creating ‘Hospital Success Stories’ to showcase various hospitals’ journey towards earning the Baby- Friendly® Hospital Designation. Through my work at CGBI, I have grown to understand how important highly visible and accessible communication materials are for the promotion of positive health outcomes.

Can you tell us about your MPH practicum with RTI International’s SUGAR Program?

This past summer, I completed my practicum with RTI International’s Global Gender Center. I worked directly with the SUGAR (Substance Use, Gender, and Applied Research) team. Through this experience, I gained applied research skills as I was responsible for managing, analyzing and coding qualitative data.

What does “global health” mean to you?

To me, global health does not apply only to humans, but to the many species and organisms that we share this earth with. Global health is generational – it is creating a safer, healthier world for our future.

What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?

There are a few things that drew me to Gillings. First, I was drawn because of the school’s reputation. I knew that I wanted to study maternal and child health and knowing that Gillings has the #1 MCH MPH program in the country was intriguing to me. Second, the geographic location drew me in. Since I’m from Atlanta, GA, home is not too far away, which is important to me because I love spending time with my family. Lastly, upon admission, I was drawn by the warmth of the MCH department. It felt like Gillings administration went out of their way to help me feel confident about my decision to attend the school. For example, before I accepted my admission offer, Carolyn Halpern (the department chair) reached out to me to chat, and I did not receive that personalized experience from any other schools I applied to.

What is your dream job?

My dream job involves bridging the gap between public health work and clinical work. Although I do not know exactly how this looks, it is my goal to work in both spaces. I have a passion for research and program design, so I will use my clinical lactation experiences to inform the public health work I will do in the future. Inversely, I will use my public health and research skills to stay current on promising strategies and interventions to improve my clinical work.

What is your favorite childhood story and why?

I grew up with a large extended family as I have 7 God sisters and brothers. Every year, my parents would take my two brothers, my God siblings and I to Orlando, Florida for vacation. Each trip, we would alternate between visiting Disney World and Universal Studios. These trips were some of my fondest childhood memories, as they sparked my love for travel and emphasized the importance of enjoying life with family.