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.
Meghan Shanahan, PhD,
CoE Director, Associate Professor
Department of Maternal and Child Health, UNC
2021 McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching. 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).
Sandra L. Martin, PhD,
CoE Faculty, 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).
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).
CoE Program Manager, Academic Program Support Coordinator
Department of Maternal and Child Health, UNC
Sierra has worked in higher education and student services for over 6 years. Her work focuses on supporting faculty and students in an array of academic program operations. In addition to her work in higher education, Sierra has a strong interest in supporting mothers via resource gathering and community building and does so by engaging in non-profit work with organizations that prioritize maternal care.
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. To be considered for funding, applicants must be admitted into the master’s or doctoral program and be a U.S. citizen or hold a permanent resident visa. A selection committee reviews all eligible applicants to determine which applicants will be offered funding, so there is no need for applicants to complete an additional application for this funding.
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. The call for applications for this award is announced during the spring semester and the award is disbursed the following academic year.
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 an MCH mentoring committee. Visit the Program Description (PDF) to learn more about this training program, including how to apply.
Laura Hergenrother, PhD Student
Laura is a first-year PhD student in Maternal and Child Health. Her research interests include investigating and improving maternal health disparities, barriers to equitable maternal care, and parental leave policies. Prior to UNC, Laura completed an MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society at the University of Cambridge where her research focused on the barriers to social equality in maternal outcomes and experiences in the UK. She also studied pre-medicine and received magna cum laude honors from Princeton University in 2019 with degrees in anthropology and neuroscience.
Olivia Hoynes, MPH Student
Prior to joining the MPH program, I worked in maternal and child health at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a field assignee to National Indian Health Board. I supported formative work around Tribally-led maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs) and a newly launched segment of the Hear Her campaign for American Indian and Alaska Native communities. In Washington, D.C., I completed a maternal and child health fellowship with Community of Hope Family Health and Birth Center and continued providing birth and postpartum doula support. In 2022, I graduated from the BSPH program at UNC Chapel Hill in health policy and management. In 2019, I took a mid-college gap year to support the formation of a physician-led global health consulting group in Washington, D.C. During my undergraduate studies, I conducted research on contraceptive use among young people before and after the Affordable Care Act. I cared for families as a birth and postpartum doula, co-directed Get Covered Carolina, and led support groups for women and LGBTQ+ survivors. At Community Empowerment Fund, I coordinated community engagement and advocacy efforts led by houseless and housing-insecure community members – including marches, rallies, and community meetings for housing justice in Orange County. My research interests are in 2SLGBTQ+ reproductive health, the midwifery model of pregnancy care, Black and Indigenous maternal mortality prevention, and trauma-informed care. I look forward to learning from faculty and students in the Department of Maternal and Child Health.
Alyson Kahn, MPH Student
I was born and raised in Sacramento, California, and am a recent graduate of the University of California, Davis. I received my Bachelors of Science in Human Development and am excited to continue my education at UNC for my Masters of Public Health. My interest in Maternal and Child Health grew when I worked as a Sexual Health Coordinator with Student Health and Counseling Services at UC Davis. In this position, I became passionate about STI education and communication amongst undergraduate students and also developed and implemented a year long project on the UC Davis campus that focused on preventing sexual assault and violence when people are under the influence of substances. This year I am excited to transition my research towards adult women going through IVF. I will be working under my mentor Dr. Larissa Jennings Mayo-Wilson to collect qualitative data on women’s experience using IVF in the United States. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge and research through this program and building more equitable practices in Maternal and Child Health.
Annika Kruse, MPH Student
I grew up in Swarthmore Pennsylvania before attending Princeton University where I studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Global Health and Health Policy. I completed internships abroad in Kabale, Uganda learning about rural public health programs and practicing medicine in a resources-scare areas and, in the Philippines, where I researched the long-term effects of treatment for childhood severe acute malnutrition. I applied for and received a U.S. Fulbright Research Grant to continue research in the Philippines, however the COVID-19 pandemic, I shifted focus and worked remotely for the PA Department of Health doing COVID-19 Case Investigation. In 2021, I moved to Durham to start medical school at Duke School of Medicine to become a pediatrician because my interest in improving child health. When I began medical school, I thought that I could reach my goal of improving the wellbeing of children just by providing individual care to children during their most vulnerable years. Throughout my experiences in and out of the classroom and clinic these past two years, I have seen that much more goes into bettering the overall health of the pediatric population of a community. Optimal, patient-centered care doesn’t just happen in the clinical setting—it requires involvement from the broader community and society as well as an understanding of population science and public health projects. I feel privileged to attend Gillings and learn the public health knowledge to evaluate, respect, and treat the whole patient and to enable me to have a greater influence on my current and future community.
Madisyn Parker, MPH Student
I was born and raised in a small, Norwegian and Tlingit, community in southeast Alaska. I grew up on fishing boats, whale watching, and exploring the outdoors. Through my professional and educational career I have discovered that my passion is for public health, specifically Maternal and Child Health, and implementing programs that disrupt the cycle of poverty. I graduated from Boise State University Magna Cum Laude in 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health with an emphasis in Health Education and Promotion, and a certificate in Nonprofit Management. In my undergrad I had the opportunity to study abroad in Cyprus and work with refuge children to teach public health workshops such as healthy nutrition and good hygiene habits. Prior to graduate school I worked as a Family and Community Resource Center Coordinator in Federal Programs under Title V. There I served on the Idaho State Community Schools Coalition working to expand our outreach and partnerships. I aspire to continue my education through pursuing a Master of Public Health degree so that I am equipped with the knowledge and skills required to assess communities and implement high quality, method-backed programs.
Kaitlin Polgar, MPH Student
I grew up in Austin, Texas and graduated in the fall of 2020 from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Health: Science, Society and Policy, and a minor in Social Justice and Social Policy. While I was a student, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Durban, South Africa. As part of the program, I served as an intern in the pediatric outpatient department of a district level hospital, studying the comorbidity of Tuberculosis and HIV in children. I came away from the program with a profound respect for culturally competent care and an understanding that holistic health hinges on both patient experience and medical intervention. Following graduation, I worked as a clinical assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital, where I coordinated with patients, providers, and administrative staff to facilitate an efficient and patient-centered flow of clinic. Most recently, I worked at UNC OB/GYN, where I learned about perinatal care and reproductive health through an administrative lens. Using what I’ve learned over the last few years, I have been able to narrow my focus to maternal and child health with an emphasis on reproductive justice and patient advocacy. At Gillings, I hope to explore the effects of incentivizing the use of birth doulas in order to address disparities in maternal health outcomes. I’m beyond excited to join the Gillings community!
Personal Statements from our 2023-2024 Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Doctoral Training Program Trainees
Adia Louden, PhD Student
My passions lie at a nexus between my own complex story and the complex stories of many Black people in this country. Guided by writing, research, storytelling, and soul-searching, I am committed to leveraging narratives and public health to advance equity for Black youth, families, and communities. My research interests are in neighborhood investments, enhancing racial equity, and reducing violence in Black communities. Prior to joining the Doctoral Program in Maternal and Child Health at Gillings, I worked as a Data Analyst for the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services where I evaluated the agency’s programs, the state’s crimes against women, and active offenders. I also volunteered at the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and earned a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and a Certificate in Maternal and Child Health from Emory University. At the heart of my pursuits is a woman with a lot of heart and a longing to center the stories and experiences of diverse Black communities. I am developing a research agenda that investigates the plight and trajectory of adverse experiences in Black neighborhoods as a result of systemic disadvantage and its impact on the cycles of violence that Black people continuously endure. My intention is to translate my writing and research findings into impactful transformation, healing, and liberation for Black people everywhere. In this current academic year, I’m excited to start my research journey by exploring the association between perceived childhood neighborhood safety and community violence victimization during young adulthood.
Lauren Spigel, PhD Student
I began the PhD in Maternal and Child Health at UNC with over twelve years of research and evaluation experience across the reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health spectrum. My research interests are related to improving the quality, experience, and utilization of maternal healthcare services during the perinatal period through mixed methods and implementation science. I aim to use my research to generate a new paradigm, centering the birthing person in how we understand, measure, and judge quality of care. Prior to joining UNC, I was a Senior Research Specialist at Ariadne Labs, where I provided technical guidance on both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies for studies concerning maternal and child health globally and domestically. In my career I have also evaluated USAID programs, co-founded a digital health startup, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua. Most recently I have been getting a crash course in the complexities of the US maternal healthcare system as a first-time pregnant person and new mom. Studying maternal health while living it in my daily life has been a humbling experience, and I hope to bring these new insights into my research. I hold a Master in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland in College Park.
Whitney Arey, PhD
Dr. Whitney Arey is a medical anthropologist whose work focuses on abortion access, decision-making, and policy in the southern U.S. She has conducted research in North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. She uses ethnographic and mixed methods research to understand how social networks can impact access to and experiences of abortion care. Whitney earned her doctorate in Sociocultural Anthropology from Brown University. Her dissertation was conducted at independent abortion clinics in North Carolina, her home state. She received Brown’s Marie J. Langlois Prize for an outstanding dissertation in feminist studies. She then joined the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at The University of Texas at Austin, and led qualitative, rapid-response research analyzing Texas Senate Bill 8. Whitney’s work combines research and advocacy, and she is experienced at translating research into accessible formats that can be used to inform policy, working with community-based organizations and advocacy organizations. She is currently an expert consultant in sexual and reproductive health for Physicians for Human Rights, and her research analyzes the impacts of state abortion bans in effect since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Hannah Silverstein, PhD, MPH
Hannah has spent the entirety of her graduate education, for both her MPH and PhD, within UNC’s department of Maternal and Child Health. She is thrilled to be returning as a MCH CoE Postdoctoral Scholar. Hannah’s background is in international health and she has had lifelong experiences working with people with disabilities. As a quantitative researcher, she is interested in strategies assessing heterogeneous effects of programs, policies, and health service utilization. There are many research gaps that could better inform social policies and systems broadly aiming to interrupt intractable cycles of poverty and disability. Professionally, she is driven to meaningfully address these knowledge gaps at the intersection of social protection policy, disability, and child development. Her research combines her quantitative skillset with her personal interest in populations affected by disability, investigating how impacts of social protection programs, such as cash transfer programs, can differ across household disability and caregiver ability status. Her current research focuses on programs both here in the United States and in low- and middle-income countries.
Madeline Frank, 2nd year MPH, MSW student
“As a CoE trainee, I had the privilege of co-authoring several peer-reviewed papers and presentations and seeing them through the publication process under the supervision of my wonderful mentor, Dr. Anna Austin. This traineeship has been crucial in allowing me to delve into my research interests and connect with many of the amazing faculty in the MCH Department and Gillings more broadly. This next year, I am excited to continue exploring my interests in the intersection of social work and public health to better support children and families.”
Leah Daniel, MPH, MSW (2023)
“I am so grateful for my experience with the CoE. I was able to gain experience in systematic reviews, work with incredible faculty and student peers, and develop a personal and professional network for years to come. I was able to use many of the skills I learned in my second-year coursework and practicum, which ultimately led to my post-graduation position with MHLIC. My CoE traineeship was truly a highlight of my graduate experience.”
Cameron Thomas, MPH (2022)
Presidential Management Fellow- Public Health Analyst
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
“I wouldn’t trade my experience as a CoE trainee for the world. Coming to UNC as out of state student, it eased my transition by providing me a built-in support network as I went through the MPH program. I’m so thankful for the connections I’ve made and the experiences I was exposed to as a product of my time within the CoE.”
Caroline Hays, RN, 2nd year MPH student
“I greatly enjoyed my experience as a CoE trainee this year, which provided me with opportunities to work on a research team with UNC faculty members, network with other students and professionals who share my interest in perinatal health, and co-author journal articles with my wonderful faculty mentor. This year of training has greatly expanded my academic research skills and advanced my transition from clinical roles to public health research. I hope to continue to use the skills that I developed through this fellowship in my summer practicum and the second year of the MPH program, applying research skills to new projects and continuing to work with UNC research teams.”
Alex Coffey, current doctoral student
“This year I will begin working on my dissertation proposal and will complete my remaining coursework in the program. I hope to defend my proposal and begin conducting my dissertation research in the spring semester! Outside of school, I am excited to cook and bake new recipes with my husband, as well as spend quality time with our family and friends.”
Allie Atkeson, MPH (2020)
Policy Associate, Population and Public Health
National Academy for State Health Policy
Hannabeth Franchino-Olsen, PhD (2021)
Post-doctoral Research Fellow
University of Edinburgh
“The CoE gave me access to world-class faculty who helped me develop skills I can employ to improve the health of children and their families. I am now working on innovative primary data collection in South Africa, examining and interrupting the mechanisms that drive the transmission of intergenerational violence.”