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 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 level MCH training to prepare the next generation of public health leaders focused on improving the health of women, infants, children, youth, and their families. Masters and doctoral students trained in the Centers enhance their MCH knowledge and skills, and gain practical experience by collaborating with MCH communities and Title V MCH partners.
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.
The UNC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Education, Science, and Practice recently hosted a virtual leadership panel. Panelists, including Carolyn Halpern, Professor and Chair of Maternal and Child Health at UNC, Kelly Kimple, Section Chief of Women’s and Children’s Health at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Phillip Graham, Senior Director of Center on Social Determinants, Risk Behaviors, and Prevention Science atRTI, and Sally Swanson, Chief Program Officer at SHIFT NC, provided insight on leadership during times of uncertainty to 72 maternal and child health professionals from across the country. The panelists shared the importance of communication, empathy, and resourcefulness and the need to build strong, sustainable systems that are adaptable to unexpected crises in order to support the long-term wellbeing of maternal and child health populations and professionals.
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 890)
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 and interest in examining the impact of substance use and material hardships on parenting and child development and evaluating prevention strategies. Dr. Shanahan teaches the MCH courses Foundations in Maternal and Child Health (MCFH 701), Unintentional Injury as a Public Health Problem (MCFH 625), and Intentional Injury as a Public Health Problem (MCFH 626).
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. 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 and substance use among pregnant and parenting women.
UNC Center of Excellence (CoE) Trainees
While all masters and doctoral students in the UNC Department of Maternal and Child Health are considered Center of Excellence trainees, first year students with research and practice interests in domestic MCH issues may be selected to receive 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 skills.
Personal Statements from our 2019-2020 UNC Center of Excellent in Maternal and Child Health Trainees
Lian Folger (MPH student; academic and training grant advisor – Martin)
I came to UNC after 4 years of work with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Global Newborn Health Lab in Boston, MA. As the Research Assistant and then Program Coordinator, I worked on projects related to innovating solutions for improving prenatal, maternal, and newborn health in low-resource settings. I am also very interested in women’s and children’s mental health, and helped develop a clinical referral system and school awareness program for eating disorders in a rural Massachusetts community, which has since evolved into a non-profit Family Support Network that works to educate, connect, and support clinicians and families coping with eating disorders in the region. During my MPH, I aim to combine my interests in population-level maternal and child health research and mental health epidemiology and treatment access, specifically for eating disorders and trauma.
Caitlin Guest (MPH student; academic and training grant advisor – Shanahan)
I graduated from Schreyer Honors College at Penn State with a degree in Political Science. In my junior year, I spent a semester interning for the District of Columbia’s Office of the Attorney General, in the Child Protection Section. This sparked my interest in child maltreatment and led me to pursue a research job post-graduation, to investigate the root causes of the issue and effective practices in prevention. After college, I spent several years in New York as a research assistant at MDRC, working on the Mother and Infant Home Visiting Program Evaluation (MIHOPE), a national evaluation of four different mother-infant home visiting programs aimed at improving a wide range of outcomes, including preventing child maltreatment, as well as improving maternal and child health, family economic self-sufficiency, and children’s school readiness. I’m currently still very focused on child maltreatment prevention, and am specifically interested at finding the balance between broader, long-term research and prevention initiatives and more short-term community-based programs and services.
Alex Lesak (PhD student; academic advisor – Shanahan; training grant advisor – Martin)
Prior to starting my doctoral studies, I worked at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio for four years, where I lead 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 are focused on child maltreatment prevention through understanding how resilience and social policies impact children and families across the life course.
Elizabeth Reddington (MPH student; academic and training grant advisor – Cilenti)
I graduated from Pepperdine University in 2018 with a degree in Sociology. My exposure to maternal and child health began early in life, when I was growing up because my mom is an OBGYN. However, I really developed my own interest in the field in college My interest was really sparked by a class project on breastfeeding and the Nestle formula scandal, as well as my friends’ belief in many myths surrounding sexual health, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge and skills in the field of public health.
Vanessa Rivero (MPH student – academic and training grant advisor – Cilenti)
I am a 2019 graduate of University of North Carolina with a degree in Biology and minor in Public Policy. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I worked in the cancer resource center at the UNC Cancer Hospital and as a research assistant in the Lineberger Cancer Institute. This past year, I worked at Kidzu Children’s Museum as a development assistant where I contacted sponsors and collaborated on writing grants to fund new programs for children from low income families in the Triangle Region. My interests include creating policies that help women in minority populations obtain access to free/low cost early cancer detection screenings, as well as overall better healthcare access
Hannah Winslow (MSW/MPH student – academic and training grant advisor – Martin)
I come to UNC Chapel Hill as a dual MSW/MPH student with an undergraduate background in psychology (focused on implicit racial and gender bias) and creative writing. During the past three years, I have worked at the nonprofit organization Child Trends, which focuses on improving outcomes for children, youth, and their families. As a Research Analyst in the Youth Development program area at this organization, my work has focused on topics such as social emotional learning for children and adolescents, prevention of youth opioid misuse, protective factors for youth who have experienced maltreatment, evidence-based interventions for justice-involved youth, and additional supports for youth who have spent time in foster care. I am interested in continuing to learn about how to promote positive outcomes among vulnerable youth populations; however, my work thus far has focused mainly on the “child” aspect of maternal and child health, and I would also like to increase my understanding and experience with topics of maternal health. Finally, as a dual social work and public health student, I am interested in the translation of research into effective practice in programming and interventions targeted toward youth.