Ayanna Robinson’s (Ph.D. ’18) work measuring the impact of public health programming and informing public health decision-making has earned her national recognition. Yet she’s not resting on her laurels.
Passionate about eliminating breastfeeding and maternal health disparities among Black women, Ayanna recently launched a web app connecting Black mothers to online courses on pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum health giving them a stronger voice in their own care.
Program Evaluator, Division of Overdose Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC)
Founder, Black Girls’ Breastfeeding Club and bEarth Work App
Ph.D. in Health Promotion & Behavior
Why did you choose to study at UGA College of Public Health? How did you know you belonged at UGA CPH?
I began exploring graduate programs in public health in 2013, after three years of working in the field with my Master of Public Health degree. During that time, I worked as an ORISE fellow and evaluator for the Army Institute of Public Health and as an evaluator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I explored the Health Promotion and Behavior program in CPH following recommendations from colleagues at CDC. I was interested in gaining additional methodological skills that would prepare me for a career as an evaluator. I was also interested in working with an advisor whose research interests and experience as a dissertation chair matched my interests as well.
I emailed Dr. Marsha Davis, my advisor and dissertation chair, after reading her faculty profile on the CPH site and learning about her work in evaluation and her current research projects. We later spoke and I learned more about her research at the time in childhood obesity and that she had recently mentored another student whose dissertation focused on breastfeeding among African American women (my dissertation topic as well). I knew after speaking with a few doctoral students at UGA about their experience and after my conversation with Dr. Davis that the program would be a great match. I was convinced that receiving my Ph.D. at UGA CPH would prepare me for my career aspirations while also providing strong mentorship as I completed my doctoral studies and dissertation.
What’s your favorite UGA CPH memory?
My favorite UGA CPH memory was assisting with the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) for a hospital in rural Georgia as a Graduate Research Assistant. The CHNA was conducted under the direction of Dr. Davis and Dr. Grace Bagwell-Adams and through a partnership with the College of Public Health, the Archway Partnership, and Taylor Regional Hospital in Pulaski County. I received hands-on experience in conducting community health needs assessments, including developing data collection tools, conducting focus groups with stakeholders in the community, and analyzing and triangulating data across multiple sources. It was a rewarding experiencing to not only develop recommendations to help the hospital better meet the needs of the community but also to present our findings back to the stakeholders at Taylor Regional Hospital as well. UGA received a National Award of Excellence from the University Economic Development Association for this project.
Provide a brief summary of your career since graduation.
Since graduating from UGA in 2018, I have worked as the evaluator for the Overdose Response Strategy within the Division of Overdose Prevention at CDC. I provide evaluation technical assistance for pilot projects awarded to reduce overdose morbidities and mortalities through public health and public safety partnerships.
In addition to my work at CDC, I have remained passionate about eliminating breastfeeding and maternal health disparities among Black women and the use of digital technology for health promotion. I have served on several boards for maternal and child health initiatives, including the Stakeholder Advisory Board for the CCHEM2 project at Emory University. In 2016, while a graduate student at UGA, I founded Black Girls’ Breastfeeding Club, LLC (BGBC) to promote breastfeeding and informed infant feeding decisions among Black women. Through BGBC, I have hosted events for Black mothers, presented at conferences and on webinars, and partnered with other maternal health organizations.
BGBC recently launched bEarth Work, a web application that connects Black women to online classes taught by Black birthworkers and health professionals, with topics spanning preconception through breastfeeding in order to improve access to high-quality maternity care, support, and education. I am currently crowdfunding to scale up this app and I am excited about the opportunity to expand the reach of this work. You can learn more about the bEarth Work app and my crowdfunding campaign on IFundWomen here: https://ifundwomen.com/projects/bearth-work-app
What made you choose this profession?
Foremost, I love conducting research and evaluation allows me to apply methodology to better understand how programs are operating and to make changes, as needed, to ultimately improve the health outcomes of populations. It is exciting to collect and analyze data that can be directly used to inform programmatic decision-making and to measure impact. Being a program evaluator has allowed me to work across a variety of topics as well, including HIV/AIDS, injury prevention, obesity, maternal and child health and even to work across a variety of disciplines and initiatives, like evaluating health communications campaigns and evaluating educational programs. Being an evaluator also allows me to build relationships with stakeholders while building their capacity, and to interact with program participants, which is also enjoyable.
Tell us about an important mentor you have had.
When I was an ORISE fellow working as an evaluator for the Army Institute of Public Health, I had an inspiring mentor and team lead, Dr. Theresa Santo. She is an incredible scientist and encouraged every team member to lead projects. During my ORISE fellowship, I was the lead evaluator for the evaluation of the Army’s standardized overweight and obesity prevention program, Army Move. Under her mentorship and leadership, I improved my skills in developing and implementing evaluations, and it was an experience that solidified my interests in program evaluation as a career path.
What do you find most rewarding about your career working in public health?
I started my journey in public health because of my passion for health and my desire to help others achieve optimal health and well-being and to address health disparities. The most rewarding part of my career in public health has been observing the direct impact that my work has on improving the health of individuals and populations, whether it is a rural hospital in Georgia that is able to remain open and expand services, supporting programs that provide post-overdose outreach to link individuals who experience an opioid overdose to treatment and provide harm reduction tools, or providing resources and information to help Black mothers in reaching their breastfeeding goals and to thrive before, during, and after pregnancy. I am grateful to do work that I love and that I find meaningful and rewarding every day.
What awards/honors have you received?
In December 2020, I received a Top 10 Under 40 Alumni Award from Morehouse School of Medicine. In 2018, I received the Macagnoni Qualitative Research Award from UGA’s College of Education. I completed the Certificate of Interdisciplinary Qualitative Research Studies while at UGA as well.
What additional activities and causes do you enjoy dedicating your time to?
Outside of my work at CDC and my business endeavors, I enjoy exercising (I love to run), traveling, and spending time with family. I enjoy outdoor activities, so you can find me regularly running or walking along the Atlanta Beltline.
How has your UGA CPH education contributed to your success? What makes alumni of UGA CPH unique?
I gained invaluable knowledge and skills through my UGA coursework across behavioral theories, qualitative and quantitative research methodology, evaluation, and beyond. Learning from the expertise of the professors in the HPB program and across the College of Education, where I took additional coursework in qualitative methods, survey methodology, and statistics, provided the tools I needed for the work I do today. After leaving UGA, I felt beyond prepared to lead research and evaluation studies and to tackle the public health challenges of today.
What is your secret for success?
The secret to my success is following my passions, listening to and learning from others, always doing my best, and taking advantage of opportunities. You never know where opportunities may lead, so don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.
Posted on June 08, 2021.