Alumni Stories

Brown MPH Alumni  


Beth L. Sundstrom – PhD, MPH 2007

After graduating from the Brown University Master of Public Health Program with a specialization in health communication and women’s health, Dr. Sundstrom gained professional experience in strategic health communication in academic and non-profit organizations. She graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in health communication from the University of Maryland, College Park. At UMD, she was awarded a doctoral fellowship, conducting research and teaching undergraduate courses in new media and public relations writing. 

Dr. Sundstrom is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Public Health at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. She is also a faculty affiliate in the Women’s and Gender Studies program and a member of the graduate faculty, University of Charleston, South Carolina. Her research interests include health communication, social marketing, and women’s health. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in health communication, social marketing, and public health. Dr. Sundstrom also serves as an Adjunct Professor for the Brown University School of Professional Studies, co-teaching the summer course, “Understanding the Nation’s Health,” an introduction to public health for high school students. She also continues to consult in strategic health communication.

Through a number of innovative academic/community partnerships, Dr. Sundstrom has led faculty and student research teams to design, implement, and evaluate a number of health communication campaigns. In partnership with Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina, Dr. Sundstrom led the development and implementation of a health communication campaign to increase awareness and access to (1) human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, (2) appropriate screening, and (3) treatment. The “It’s My Time” campaign won the multi-media category award at the 24th Annual PHEHP Public Health Materials Contest at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in November 2014. Dr. Sundstrom has also worked with on-campus and off-campus groups to create a theory-based health communication campaign to encourage bystander intervention ( In addition, she developed messages for Choose Well: The South Carolina Contraceptive Access Campaign, including “Keep Calm and LARC On.”

Dr. Sundstrom’s research interests include health communication, social marketing, and women’s health. She is a multiple methods researcher, with expertise in survey design methodology and qualitative methods, particularly interviews and focus groups. Informed by feminist epistemology, Dr. Sundstrom’s community-based participatory research approach contributes to building community capacity and social justice. Her research questions are guided by community need and balance research and practice to ensure equal partnerships and mutual benefit. She hopes this research will foster a long-term process of mobilizing the community to achieve social change by lifting the barriers that stifle women’s voices. The long-term goal of Dr. Sundstrom’s research is to raise the consciousness of women and empower them to engage in informed decision-making through community-based collective action.

Dr. Sundstrom continues to collaborate with mentors and researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. A recent research project was funded by the Brown University Healthy Communities Initiative. This qualitative research project gathered opinions and insight from mothers of newborns to identify health concerns, preferred communication channels, effective messages and current social marketing campaigns targeting health issues. Findings suggest opportunities to apply diffusion of innovations theory within a social marketing framework to better understand women’s health and the health of their families. 

Dr. Sundstrom’s journal publications include articles in Contraception, Maternal and Child Health Journal, the Journal of Health Communication (in press), Health Communication, the Journal of Communication Management, the Journal of Social Marketing, and Social Marketing Quarterly. She is currently working on a book that offers an in-depth analysis of women’s reproductive health. Dr. Sundstrom has also authored and co-authored several conference papers presented at the International Communication Association (ICA), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the D.C. Health Communication Conference (the DCHC), the Social Marketing in Public Health Conference, the North American Forum on Family Planning and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Dr. Sundstrom authored a book chapter in Voicing the Voiceless: (Re)Shaping Social Norms in Women's Healthcare (forthcoming) and co-authored book chapters in Health Communication and Mass Media: An Integrated Approach to Policy and Practice (July 2013) and Social Media in the Classroom (forthcoming). She also contributed articles on “Contraception” and “Social marketing: Community change perspective” to the Encyclopedia of Health Communication (2014).

At the College of Charleston, Dr. Sundstrom co-founded the Women's Health Research Team to investigate health issues specific to women and adolescent girls, promote interdisciplinary research collaborations, and communicate research findings and health-related information to empower women in our community, South Carolina, and beyond. The Women's Health Research Team incorporates qualitative and quantitative methodologies to better understand reproductive and sexual health issues and behaviors among women. This team is committed to a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to women’s health research, drawing from the behavioral and clinical science, communication, and social marketing fields. Research findings extend concepts, methods, and theory in the fields of public health and communication.
For more information, please see the website:

Julia Finkelstein – MPH 2005

The Brown Master of Public Health program has outstanding faculty and mentorship, world-class research, and incredible public health field experiences. During my MPH, I had the privilege of working with exceptional faculty – Drs. Stephen McGarvey, Fox Wetle, Patrick Vivier, Bill Rakowski, and Alvaro Tinajero, among many others – who inspired me to pursue a career in public health, and who continue to be incredible mentors and colleagues. 

The Brown Master of Public Health program provided me with an outstanding foundation in public health research and field experience, and inspired me to pursue a career in epidemiology and global health. 

As an epidemiologist and faculty member at Cornell University, I now have the opportunity to recommend the Brown MPH to my own advisees and undergraduate students in global and public health sciences. Additionally, the outstanding cadre of Brown MPH graduates are some of the best candidates for placements at our international field sites in India and Latin America, and for doctoral training in international nutrition and public health.   

Stephen Kerr - MPH 2010

After leaving Brown I began working as a Research Data Analyst at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, on the Pregnancy Health Interview Study (Birth Defects Study). The PHIS is an ongoing case-control study of factors in pregnancy that may be related to the health of newborns. It focuses on the safety and risks of a wide range of environmental exposures (primarily medications) in pregnancy. To date, over 44,000 women have been interviewed, making this one of the largest studies of its kind.

My job is to work with this large dataset helping to analyze various risk factors and exposures that occur during pregnancy as they relate to certain specific birth defects and pregnancy related outcomes such as prematurity. Specifically, I've worked on analyses of the relative risk and safety of influenza vaccination during pregnancy, as well as certain antidepressant, antifungal and asthma medications. The firm foundation in the methods and principles of epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as the applied training in statistical analysis and data manipulation that I received at Brown, have prepared me very well for my current position.

Jan Cooper – MPH 2006

Since my time at Brown, I’ve been able to pursue several of the research interests that I cultivated in the MPH program, including global health and HIV prevention research.

Currently, I’m a 4th year Doctoral Student at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, I’m specializing in Population Health in the Health Services and Policy Analysis PhD program. My dissertation explores Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) programs – programs that use small, economic incentives to motivate healthy behaviors. I’m particularly interested to see how CCTs can be used to reduce HIV and STIs. For my dissertation, I work with my supervisor, Prof. Will Dow and with Damien de Walque to design and implement novel CCT interventions for populations at high-risk for HIV in Tanzania.

Before my starting my PhD, I worked at the Harvard School of Public Health and was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In Tanzania, I was the Study Coordinator for a multi-country clinical trial (HPTN 046) investigating the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In addition to my work in Tanzania, I have worked with the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and as a Junior Professional Consultant at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, Italy.

Leanne (Fournier) Luerassi - MPH (2006)

After I earned my degree in 2006, I became a Field Coordinator and then Project Coordinator at Brown’s Institute for Community Health Promotion (ICHP). I left Brown in 2009 to move to New York City and work at NYU. Presently, I am the Program Manager for the Center for Healthful Behavior Change (CHBC) in the Department of Population Health at the New York University School of Medicine.  The CHBC implements and disseminates innovative evidence-based behavioral interventions in routine clinical practice and community-based settings.  As Program Manager, I oversee the day-to-day operation of CHBC and its thirty-five staff members and the center’s portfolio of NIH-funded grants, which totaled over $4 million in annual direct costs in fiscal year 2013, and monitors partnership activities and agreements.  I also established linkages with faculty and staff within the department, with NYUSOM administrative and research departments including Sponsored Programs Administration, and with relevant areas of other NYU schools and colleges. Prior to her current position, I was a Project Coordinator for multiple R01-level research grants at CHBC. 

Monique Brown – MPH 2009

I recently graduated with a PhD in Epidemiology from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and will start a postdoctoral research position at the University of South Florida in Tampa next month (January).  My dissertation was entitled "Disparities in Adverse Childhood Experiences and Sexual Health: Results from a Nationally Representative Sample".  In the postdoctoral position, I will focus on assessing interventions for HIV disclosure among populations living with HIV.  This year, I presented my dissertation work at the American Public Health Association with three posters.  I also presented on the association between psychopathology and HIV among older adults at the Gerontological Society of America and won the Emerging Scholar and Professional Organization (ESPO) Poster Award for this work.  My most recent article that is in press at the Archives of Sexual Behavior is entitled "Meeting Sex Partners through the Internet, Risky Sexual Behavior, and HIV Testing Among Sexually Transmitted Infections Clinic Patients."  I have also recently published on pscyhopathology among racial/ethnic minority populations, and adverse childhood experiences and cancer.

Anna Wheat - MPH 2010

When I was asked to write about what I have been doing since Brown graduation, I couldn’t help but reflect on how quickly the time has gone by since graduation, just over three years ago.  It seems like yesterday that I was spending my weekends in the Sciences Library trying to make unending headway on my looming thesis, and trekking back and forth through the pouring rain from the Rhode Island Department of Health to the Brown Med building for my Research Assistantship.  My time at Brown was both educational and memorable, and some of the most intellectually stimulating years of my life.  I miss the constant influx of new information, but I definitely do not miss the feeling of always a thesis to be working on! 

My concentration while in the Public Health Program was epidemiology and Brown equipped me well for the real life application of this science in my career.  To overuse a metaphor, my time at Brown was a lot like landscaping my garden (which I have recently been enjoying in my first home).  Graduate school planted in me many seeds of knowledge equivalent to future public health career skills.  Just like how my home garden was at first somewhat barren, over time many of these seeds which have been tended through my career have had the chance to sprout and grow. 

After graduation, I moved back to my home state of Colorado.  My first job after graduation was doing pharmacoepidemiological research for a non-profit contract research organization called the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.  I ran an ongoing study that looked at prescription drug abuse among college students.  A major part of this position was designing and collecting data through online surveys.  I was grateful for the seeds of knowledge I gained in Dr. Clark’s Applied Research Methods course which taught the theory and application of survey methods in public health research.  I even used the same web survey design application (DatStat Illume) to build these surveys and collect the data.  The seeds of knowledge I gained though Dr. Gjelsvik’s Analytic Internship and Dr. Linkletter’s Applied Regression Analysis class provided the base knowledge of working with and analyzing large datasets.  The practical experience I gained through these courses helped me launch many studies that produced key findings around prescription drug abuse which were presented at several conferences including the International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology annual conference, the American Public Health Association annual conference, and the Conference on Problems of Drug Dependence.  After a year and a half of doing pharmacoepidemiology research I was offered a position doing human services research and evaluation for the Colorado Department of Human Services.  The great thing about having a background in epidemiology and statistics is that is has applications in so many disciplines.  I have found that my background in public health research has directly translated to my present work in human services research. 

My current position, which I have been in for almost two years, involves working on a number of diverse projects that help Colorado Divisions manage human services that improve the safety, independence, and well-being of the people of Colorado.  Recent projects include examining the complexity of treatment needs (mental health needs, behavioral health needs, physical health needs, etc.) of youth committed to the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections.  Identifying patterns of complex treatment needs will help the state to better provide appropriate treatment services for these youth.  Again, in my current position, I often utilize the skills I developed at Brown.  Although at the time it was confusing and somewhat painful to read, I often reference Kenneth Rothman’s Modern Epidemiology text that was required reading for Dr. Wellenius’s Advanced Epidemiology course to help me in my work of trying to understand risk factors for recidivism among these same youth.  Dr. Laurie’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology class helped me understand that crime acts a lot like an infectious disease in a population, and it should really be studied in a similar manner.   For example, crime (just like diseases) can have epidemics, as was seen in the 1990s in the United States.  Some would say that crime can be “transmitted” from person to person through a social mode of transmission instead of biological. Understanding the risk factors for criminality is much like understanding the risk factors for cancer or any other disease.   Urban pockets of gang membership and violence look very similar to urban pockets where diseases (such as tuberculosis) are epidemic.  Some of the work of my current position also includes evaluating human services.  When evaluating the fidelity of programs I am thankful for the seeds of knowledge planted in my brain through Dr. Gan’s Designing, Implementing, and Evaluating Public Health Interventions course.  I can’t even tell you how often I make a logic model!     

My garden of knowledge continues to bloom with new flowers that were once tiny public health seedlings.  I feel very fortune to have had positions that have allowed me to tend these seeds, which has in turn allowed my skills to grow and sometimes flower.   I am excited to see what other flowers will emerge in my future career through dormant seeds that were planted at Brown.  

Congratulations to the Public Health Program’s Administration for the official creation of the Brown University School of Public Health!  I am very proud to call Brown University my Alma Mater.