Q&A with Kyria Louis – Charles, MPH candidate in Global Health & FHI 360 Research Fellow
We at Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Kyria Louis – Charles about her work as an FHI 360 Research Fellow, her professional experience before Gillings, and why she chose Gillings.
What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program?
Before my MPH program at Gillings, I was a Health Extension volunteer for Peace Corps in Cameroon from 2017 – 2019. My main area of focus was in maternal and child health, but I also engaged in projects that were around youth development, women empowerment, WASH, and HIV and malaria prevention. Peace Corps provided me with the opportunity to work side-by-side with community members and counterparts to develop programs that addressed their health needs. Working with my community strengthened my belief that public health efforts should not be done for people, but with them. My two years in Cameroons solidified my love for doing community–based public health work and is what ultimately led me to apply to an MPH program.
Will you tell us more about your MPH practicum as an FHI 360 Public Health Research Fellow?
As an FHI 360 summer intern, I worked on a community-based formative research study that aims to understand what Black sexual and gender minorities’ experience is in accessing HIV/STI testing and PrEP referral in the Triad area. The goal of this study is to identify what barriers and obstacles this group faces in accessing HIV/STI testing and PrEP referral services which will then inform what recommendations are needed to improve their access to these services. My main role over the summer was to develop materials that would be utilized to recruit and train participants and engage stakeholders and partners during the first phase of the project. Though this project is still in its infancy, because FHI 360 fellowships are year-long, I can continue working on this project throughout the academic year.
Though this was not part of my MPH practicum, I was also (and currently still am) working with the Global Handwashing Partnership in the WASH division to develop a hand hygiene training for global implementers. FHI fellows tend to work full-time (40 hours) over the summer and my time was split between these two projects.
My favorite thing about working at FHI thus far has been getting to work and learn from multi-disciplinary teams on projects that are based both locally and globally!
What is your favorite part of working with your team within FHI 360?
My favorite thing about working with my team at FHI is their commitment to helping me explore my professional interests and connect me to the various opportunities, resources, and projects that the organization has to offer.
Even though I have mentors (all Research Fellows are paired with at least one mentor who works at FHI) whose projects I work on, they and other colleagues at FHI also support me in my desire to explore and engage with other projects or people outside of my immediate teams.
So far as an FHI fellow, I have had the opportunity to work on projects and teams that are targeting populations both locally and globally, have networking meetings with colleagues from different disciplines and sectors within the organization, participate in their decolonizing global health equity committees, and join a book club! Even when I bring up questions about resources that I’d like to learn more about for coursework that I am doing at Gillings, the teams I work with are so supportive and responsive in helping me connect with colleagues or partners who could be of help to me.
FHI offers their fellows many different opportunities to network, learn, and cultivate skills that are not limited to the projects or teams that they are designated to.
What does “global health” mean to you?
To me, global health means finding equitable solutions, approaches, or methods that aim to decrease health disparities and improves the quality of life, for all people. While seemingly broad in its definition, to me, global health aims to find unique approaches that sustain or improve people’s well-being. It does not discriminate based on social identifiers but works within people’s differing determinants of health to develop solutions that positively impact their quality of life. To me, global health is about inclusivity, equity, and the responsibility of all people to help realize the right to health, for all.
What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?
I was deciding between two other schools before committing to Gillings and the main thing that I saw here that I didn’t see at the other universities was how much the faculty and staff cared for their students.
I distinctly remember one occasion in which Dr. Suzanne Maman sent me a congratulatory e-mail after I was accepted to the university and offered to have a phone call with me to answer any questions I might have. At first, I thought it was spam because I thought to myself “why would the Associate Dean for Global Health be e-mailing lil ole’ me? Why would she make time for that? Surely this e-mail cannot be real.”
However, after realizing the e-mail was not spam and being able to connect with not only Dr. Maman but other faculty and staff, I was blown away by their commitment to care and be present for their students – even the prospective ones. Regardless of their professional or hierarchical level, I felt that the professors, faculty, and staff did not treat their students as another “number” to their program’s attendance roster but instead utilized a holistic approach and saw us as whole persons.
What is your dream job?
While I do not have a specific dream job in mind, I aspire to work somewhere that has a supportive work culture, utilizes a participatory approach when working with and in community settings, contributes to health system strengthening and capacity building, and is committed to cultural humility and internal reflection. My time at Gillings and FHI 360 has shown me that being willing and able to talk about areas of improvement, cultural humility, and how to better support team members holistically is just as crucial as talking about the services we provide. In the future, I hope to work somewhere that has and honors these values.
What is the most beautiful view you’ve seen?
This is such a hard one! However, if I had to pick just one, I would have to say the rolling hills near the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2016 and the scenery in Northern Ireland was absolutely breathtaking! I definitely want to go back.