Cat Nwachukwu-MPH

Where did you do your undergraduate studies and what was your major?
I attended Fordham University and I majored in biological sciences. I graduated in 2013.

When did you know that public health was your passion?
I always knew that I wanted to work in the health field, but I struggled to articulate in what capacity. In college, the experiences that brought me the most joy were the ones that combined health and social justice. I volunteered with an organization called Peer Health Exchange (PHE), a nonprofit born from the need for school-­based health education in under-resourced schools. As a health educator with PHE, I learned about different health topics, and then taught health classes to 9th grade students in the Bronx in order to empower them to make informed decisions about their health. After graduating from college, I joined City Year, a national educational non­profit that sends near­peer mentors to under-resourced schools to assist students academically and socially. I worked with students who struggled in school not solely because of academic ability, but because of health­-related barriers that affected their attendance, concentration, and overall learning experience. I saw health disparities manifest themselves in the classroom, and watched caring adults in the building try their best to address the complex needs of their students. It was during my time at City Year that I was finally able to articulate how I wanted to impact my community: through public health. To me, public health is the intersection of health and social justice. It’s a field that seeks to address health disparities that have pervasive effects on the lived experiences of people. I want to work in public health so that I can address some of these disparities, especially in the lives of adolescents.

What area of public health are you most interested in and why?
I am most interested in adolescent health, especially their mental and reproductive health. I think improving adolescent health is so important, because the state of one’s health in adolescence is a major determinant for health as an adult. By intervening and providing resources early, public health professionals can not only grow healthy children, but healthy adults. I’m particularly interested in adolescent mental and reproductive health because when I worked with high school students, I saw just how much of an impact these areas had on their educational success. Kids with mental health diagnoses are more likely to dropout out of high school, and I saw that happen. Kids who make risky decisions about sex may get pregnant and struggle to complete school, and I saw that happen. I saw really bright and ambitious students struggle to reach their potential because of their health. Health, but especially adolescent health, is so determined by a complex web of interactions, from peers and family, to schools and communities, and young people need the skills, resources, and support to navigate all of those factors. I want to work in public health so I can begin to help young people maneuver through their environments in good health.

Why did you select Brown to pursue your MPH?
I wanted to pursue my MPH at Brown because I knew that I would be able to make meaningful connections in this community, and that I would learn public health by doing public health. Brown is distinct from other schools for several reasons, but especially because the small program size actually allows students to connect with professors and public health professionals in and around Rhode Island. When it came down to make a decision, I was deciding between Brown and a much larger university. I chose Brown because I wanted the individual support and mentorship, something that I didn’t believe I would get from another school. Also, the thesis project is a unique component of Brown’s MPH program that I expected to push me academically and professionally, and it certainly has so far.

Tell me about your summer internship and your thesis?
This summer, and past year, I’ve had the pleasure of interning with 4Safety, a partnership between Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Dunkin’ Donuts that seeks to reduce injuries in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts by spreading awareness about injuries. I’ve researched different injury prevention topics, created resources to distribute to children and families, and I’ve even tried my hand at video editing. Through my time with 4­Safety, I’ve had the opportunity to explore different communities in Rhode Island and Southeastern MA, and I’ve learned a lot about health communication. For my thesis, I will be working with Dr. Christopher Houck, clinical psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital. I am working with him to analyze data from an intervention he did with adolescents about sexual risk prevention. My specific research question pertains to early adolescents’ reported emotions in situations where they avoided sex. I am interested in this question because I think it can shed some light on what children are doing right in situations, as opposed what they’re doing wrong in situations.We often look at adolescent decision-­making through a risk-­focused lens, and I want to look at their decision-­making from a different perspective. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend lab meetings, where researchers discuss their current projects, and that has been a great experience.

What are your goals for after graduation?
After graduation, I am hoping to participate in a one- or two-year opportunity, where I can work and learn more skills in the public health field. I am particularly interested in learning more about healthcare management. All of my experiences so far have been focused on direct service; that is, working directly with individuals and trying to enact change at the individual, and sometimes interpersonal level. However, I want to learn more about how change is made at the organizational level. I want to answer questions like, “How can we improve the way things operate at the organizational level in order to improve outcomes for individuals” and “What are the most important factors at the organizational level that affect the lived experiences of individuals.” In my time at Brown, I’ve learned that some of the best interventions incorporate strategies that target individual, community, and organizational factors, and so after Brown, I want hands-on experience with how these levels interact. Eventually, I hope to use the skills I’ve learned at Brown and through other experiences to impact adolescent health in a big way. I’m not sure how, but I feel confident that Brown has prepared me to do just that.