The UNC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Education, Science and Practice
The Department of Maternal and Child Health (MCH) at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health is one of 13 Centers of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Education, Science, and Practice programs across the country funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) of the Health Resource and Services Administration (HRSA). The overall mission of these Centers is to support graduate and postdoctoral MCH training to prepare the next generation of public health leaders focused on improving the health of women, infants, children, youth, and their families. Master’s students, doctoral students, and postdoctoral scholars trained in the Centers enhance their MCH knowledge and skills and gain practical experience by collaborating with MCH communities and Title V MCH partners.
MPH students Lian Folger and Emily Howe and doctoral students Alex Lesak and Caroline Chandler package period products for the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.
MPH student Lian Folger attends the UC San Diego 4th Annual Conference on Eating Disorders.
Second-year MPH students Allie Atkeson and Laura Powis, first-year MCFH student Emily Howe, and recent MCH graduate Kathleen Shumaker volunteered with PORCH to assist with food distribution. Most of their regular volunteers are 65+ and don’t need to be putting themselves at risk for COVID-19, so these students helped fill the need for extra hands!
Maternal and Child Health MPH and doctoral students volunteer at the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.
Maternal and Child Health MPH student and Center of Excellence trainee Allie Atkeson transcribes qualitative interviews at the Department of Health in Burlington, VT at part of her Title V Internship placement.
Maternal and Child Health MPH and doctoral students volunteer at the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.
Maternal and Child Health MPH student and Center of Excellence trainee Laura Powis presents research findings to Children and Youth Branch staff at the Division of Public Health in Raleigh, North Carolina as part of her Title V Internship placement.
UNC Center of Excellence (CoE) Key Faculty
Sandra L. Martin, PhD, CoE Director, Professor and Associate Chair for Research, Department of Maternal and Child Health, UNC
Dr. Martin’s research, teaching, and public health service focuses on gender-based violence. She has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters and reports on a wide range of violence related concerns including sexual violence, domestic violence and child maltreatment. Dr. Martin teaches the MCH course Gender Based Violence (MCFH 732).
Meghan Shanahan, PhD, CoE Deputy Director, Assistant Professor, Department of Maternal and Child Health, UNC
Dr. Shanahan’s research focuses on improving the health and developmental trajectories of children, with an emphasis on adverse events, such as maltreatment, that potentially influence these trajectories and prevent children from realizing their full potential. Dr. Shanahan also has experience examining the impact of substance use and material hardships on parenting and child development and evaluating prevention strategies. Dr. Shanahan teaches the MCH course Foundations in Maternal and Child Health (MCFH 701).
Dorothy Cilenti, DrPH, CoE Faculty, Associate Professor, Department of Maternal and Child Health
Dr. Cilenti has worked in local and state public health agencies in North Carolina for more than 20 years. She is primarily interested in improving systems of care for vulnerable women and children. Dr. Cilenti is the Director of the National Maternal and Child Health Workforce Development Center which oversees training and technical assistance to state agencies implementing health transformation. Dr. Cilent also directs the Maternal Health Learning and Innovation Center. Dr. Cilenti teaches the MCH courses Health Transformation (MCFH 745) and Leadership in Maternal and Child Health (MCFH 890).
Anna Austin, PhD, CoE Program Manager, Assistant Professor, Department of Maternal and Child Health
Dr. Austin’s research focuses on understanding risk and protective factors in child health and development and examining the impact of population-level programs and policies on child and family wellbeing. She has experience and interest in applying advanced statistical methods, linking existing survey and administrative data sources, and partnering with state and local agencies to conduct research on child maltreatment, substance use in pregnancy, and material hardship among families.
UNC Center of Excellence (CoE) Training Programs
UNC Center of Excellence Training Program. All master’s and doctoral students in the UNC Department of Maternal and Child Health are considered Center of Excellence (CoE) trainees as funding from this program supports a wide range of training activities and educational experiences. In addition, each year, six first year students (typically four master’s students and two doctoral students) with U.S. focused research and practice interests in MCH are awarded tuition and stipend support through the Center of Excellence. Students receiving this support participate in 10 hours per week of activities working with faculty on research and practice projects to further enhance their MCH knowledge and skills.
UNC Center of Excellence Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Doctoral Training Program. The Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Doctoral Training Program provides stipend support to two MCH doctoral students minoring in epidemiology and conducting dissertation research on a U.S. focused MCH issue. The purpose of this program is to support the preparation of the future MCH epidemiologic workforce by promoting advancements in applied MCH research.
UNC Center of Excellence Maternal and Child Health Postdoctoral Program. The Maternal and Child Health Postdoctoral Program provides 1-2 year postdoctoral positions to prepare doctoral graduates for academic positions within the field of MCH. The program focuses on enhancing postdoctoral scholars’ proficiency in MCH research, teaching, conceptual knowledge, communication, professionalism, and leadership, under the guidance of a MCH mentoring committee. The program is currently accepting applications. Visit the Program Description (PDF) to learn more, including how to apply.
Personal Statements from our 2020-2021 UNC Center of Excellence Trainees
Josie Hatley, MPH student. I have long held an interest in early development. I first studied child development in high school, specifically, neonatal abstinence syndrome. In college, I was able to further pursue this interest through a shadowship with a Pediatric Physical Therapist at the Child Development Services Agency of WNC, where I witnessed the benefits of early intervention services. I also interned with Public Health and Human Services of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, where I learned about the effects of intergenerational, cultural, and historical trauma, and the importance of family- and community-based public health initiatives. At the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed, Maharashtra, India, I was further exposed to the importance of multifaceted, community-based practices in impacting health outcomes. Since college, I have worked at an Early Learning Center and volunteered as a Guardian Ad Litem. At UNC, I look forward to learning more about how long-term health is impacted by trauma, especially within a child’s first 2000 days.
Emma Mairson, MPH student. I graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in biology. During my junior and senior years, I volunteered at the local family planning clinic and on-campus STI testing clinic. After graduating, I worked for three years at the Center for Family Planning Research at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. In my position as a research assistant, I worked on clinical research studies that focused on developing contraceptive methods and products to prevent HIV and other STI transmission. These experiences have bolstered my interests in expanding contraception options and reducing barriers to contraceptive access.
Julia Reddy, PhD student. I come to UNC after serving for six years at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services. Prior to that work, I received a master’s degree in Human Development and Child Study from Tufts University’s Eliot Pearson School. Professionally, I have focused on improving the structural design of addiction treatment and community-based service systems to better meet the needs of women, perinatal women, and families affected by substance use disorders. My research interests include the impact of policy and systemic barriers to care on families impacted by addiction. I am also interested in the role technology can play in improving the availability, consistency and quality of health and social services.
Caroline Rowland, MPH student. I attended Virginia Tech and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. In 2018, I interned in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Housing and Patient Services Department in Memphis, Tennessee. Upon graduation, I completed an AmeriCorps VISTA service term at the Virginia Department of Social Services home office. In this position, I helped to compile substance use and child welfare data and assisted in the creation of training content for social services staff around substance use disorder. These experiences confirmed my interest in maternal and child health. My interests include child maltreatment prevention, eliminating biases in mental health, substance use disorder, STI screening procedures, and expanding wraparound support services for pregnant and parenting women.
Cameron Thomas, MPH student. I come to UNC as a recent graduate from the University of Georgia with a degree in Health Promotion and Behavior. My interest in maternal and child health was sparked by an effort to connect with the broader Athens community early in my undergraduate career. My search led me to Downtown Academy, a local elementary school where I had the opportunity to volunteer and then become a part of their After-School Program staff for the past 3 years. In addition to this experience, I’ve also been fortunate enough to be part of a reproductive health research study assessing the quality and quantity of services available in Georgia. I most recently completed an internship with Safe Kids Georgia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to childhood injury prevention. These experiences have informed my decision to attend Gillings and I hope to walk away from the opportunity with the tools and knowledge to succeed as a public health professional. My research interests include reproductive health and health communication, as my ultimate goal to impact the way in which health information is delivered and understood by women, children, and families.
Marissa Velarde, PhD student. Prior to UNC, I studied Biology and Gender and Women’s Studies as an undergraduate and received a Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health. My professional experiences are diverse and lie at the intersection of social justice and advancing women’s health and rights. Most recently, I assisted a sociology research project to analyze qualitative data on feminist groups organizing around self-managed abortion globally. I have also served on the Board of Directors for the New York Abortion Access Fund for almost three years. My research interests include understanding experiences of self-managed abortion and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services for underserved populations globally, particularly among Latinx in the US and in Latin America.
Personal Statements from our 2020-2021 Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Doctoral Training Program Trainees
Alexandria Lesak, PhD student. Prior to starting my doctoral studies, I worked at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio for four years, where I led and supported efforts in clinical research, health policy, and injury prevention programming. Through these roles, I gained extensive experience in project management and team building. My most recent role at the organization involved the development and management of a $1.2M clinical trial evaluating a cooling therapy among adolescent athletes diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury. My research interests focus on understanding the role of policies in child maltreatment prevention.
Elizabeth Simmons, PhD student. Though I’m a North Carolina native, prior to starting my doctoral program I was living in Boston and working as a research fellow in the Global Health Department at Boston University School of Public Health. I gained experience in data management and analysis, project management, spatial analysis and publication writing through my two and half years as a research fellow for a prospective, population-based Maternal and Neonatal Health Registry in Nagpur India. After beginning my doctoral studies, I began working as a graduate research assistant for Dr. Kavita Singh, where I’ve had the opportunity to work on studies seeking to improve the quality and use of facility data in developing countries and using group-based trajectory models to identify groups of low- and middle- income countries based on childhood mortality statistics. Eager to contribute to the literature base of my home state, my research interests focus on the social factors that influence the decision-making process around delivery practices of North Carolinian women and how social epidemiology can contribute to our understanding of this process.