As a graduate student working with vulnerable pregnant mothers in Baltimore, Anna Alikhani discovered that the recommendations of child health experts didn't always align with the familial situations of certain communities.
“There are recommendations that don’t always apply to all families, and I found myself really advocating for those communities and using a public-health lens in my social work practice,” said Alikhani, who earned her MSW from the University of Maryland School of Social Work and her MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Now, as a doctoral student in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown’s School of Public Health, Alikhani focuses on exploring infant feeding decisions and practices among individuals using marijuana during the pregnancy and postpartum periods.
In 2020, Alikhani decided to apply to the Hassenfeld Institute’s Summer Scholars program because she appreciated the institute’s scientific rigor, as well as the institute's goals, which include addressing the issue of poverty and how it affects child health.
As a summer scholar, Alikhani worked on two projects: one for the institute’s director, Dr. Patrick Vivier, and another for Dr. Patricia Risica, an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Alikhani’s dissertation advisor. For the former, Alikhani did a needs assessment for Central Falls, one of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged cities in Rhode Island. Alikhani interviewed members of the community to learn about their needs as well as what resources and programs are already working well for them.
“Central Falls has a strong community of hardworking people. Just because they have low health indicators doesn’t necessarily mean that they need help from outsiders. They have assets within their community and partnerships they can build upon,” Alikhani said.
For Dr. Risica’s study, which looks at the effects of stress and sleep on maternal feeding practices, Alikhani learned how to garner skills in REDCap, a web application for building and managing online surveys and databases. Alikhani was responsible for developing and inputting measures to create a screening assessment for recruiting participants into the study.
Alikhani said her favorite part of the summer scholars program were the weekly meetings between the 2020 scholars and Dr. Vivier.
“It was a great way to inform collaboration and to learn about what the other scholars were working on,” Alikhani said.
After earning her doctoral degree, Alikhani plans to stay in academia and fight for vulnerable populations and communities that often don’t have a seat at the table.
“That’s my goal, to support moms and babies,” Alikhani said.