Erica N. Parks (MPH ’11), armed with lessons from her own experiences, is on a mission to serve communities in need through better public health policy. An Army veteran and public health professional, Parks created Camouflage Me Not, an organization aimed at improving the quality of life of veterans, particularly women and minorities, through programs and policy changes that reflect the community’s unique needs.
CEO & Founder of Camouflage Me Not
Master of Public Health, Health Policy and Management
GRADUATION YEAR: 2011
YOUR HOME: Atlanta, Georgia
HOMETOWN: Atlanta, Georgia
Where do you work today and what do you do?
I am a vetprenuer, CEO and Founder of Camouflage Me Not (CMN), which I launched in 2018. Our mission is to create a social awareness to holistically enhance the transition process for women and minority veterans. We are the “Gladiators for Veterans”, and our three areas of focus are: advocacy, research, and broad collaboration.
I collaborate with other agencies to advocate for better quality of services for veterans, cultivating the development of programs aimed at serving them and their dependents. Additionally, we recruit subject matter experts (veterans and non-veterans) to help in supportive roles for CMN’s community events and signature events as well as conducting primary research to change the negative narrative centered around veterans and their dependents.
What made you choose this profession?
Since I was a little girl, I have been involved in addressing injustices, health and financial disparities, and providing medical and spiritual care to people. I continue to be passionate about making an impact in the communities where I live, work, and play. My dream is to leave an everlasting legacy which is “living a life of significance”.
Why did you choose to study at UGA College of Public Health? How did you know you belonged at UGA CPH?
One of my college professors at Kennesaw State University encouraged my classmates and I to apply to the University of Georgia. Both she and her husband were in the doctoral program, and she detailed the opportunities that UGA offered to minorities. I valued her opinion and insight.
I knew I belonged to UGA when I arrived for the graduate school orientation. The campus was beautiful, and I loved the diverse curriculum that the College of Public Health had to offer. I knew I wanted to brand myself within this field, and a general public health program would have not afforded me that same opportunity.
Meeting the CPH team, especially the Health Policy and Management (HPAM) team, really made me feel like I had made the right choice. They were very welcoming and interested in my career goals.
Tell us about any important mentors you had at CPH.
My internship advisor Dr. Monica Gaughan (now an associate professor at Arizona State University) and my capstone professor and academic advisor Dr. Phaedra Corso (now VP for Research at Kennesaw State University) provided invaluable mentorship that strongly challenged me as a student, as a public health practitioner, and an aspiring agent of social change. They provided critical feedback which helped improve my technical writing and conflict resolution skills. Their mentorship also helped to improve my critical thinking and analytical skills.
Dr. Corso encouraged me to submit an abstract to the American Public Health Association 139th Annual Conference, which was ultimately selected.
Their mentorship went beyond my academic career. They have been very supportive since graduating from UGA, providing letters of recommendation and career advice. They are two very strong professional women that I respect and admire.
How has your UGA CPH education contributed to your success? What makes CPH alumni unique?
My degree symbolizes that I am a public health practitioner. A subject matter expert who teaches individuals and communities the importance of prevention and living whole healthy lives. With my specialty, health policy and management, I provide recommendations to government officials, directors, and etc. to enhance population health. My degree helps me to stand out amongst my colleagues because of the diversity that I bring to any organization of my choosing. It adds value to the professional experiences which I possess.
What advice do you have for students and recent graduates?
Think of your degree as a tool. No matter what, you are the driver of your success. Reframe from pursuing mediocre opportunities. Reach for the ones that will challenge and inspire you to continue to grow. If your talent is not selected, build your own door and walk through it. Never allow anyone, corporation, organization, etc. to define you. You were made for such a time as this. Discover and live your purpose out loud. In the words of Marilyn Monroe, “The sky is not the limit – your mind is.”
Provide a brief summary of your career since graduation.
Since graduation, my career has taken many twists and turns, which has amplified my passion for health policy. After graduating from UGA in 2011, I experienced 38 months of chronic unemployment, so I really can relate to the current devastations and concerns for our 2020 graduates.
While I was unemployed, I continued my learning in nontraditional settings and explored entrepreneurship. During this time, I also partnered with Shikira Woods, DNP-PMHNP-BC, a behavioral health colleague of mine, and we created the Changing Minds program for middle/high school students. In 2012, this later led to the development of Youth Synergy (YS), LLC. A company we co-owned.
I received an email from Kennesaw State University for their inaugural Georgia Advancing Veterans Education (GAVE) program. A program designed to help veterans become successful entrepreneurs through an intense training program.
In May 2014, I graduated from Kennesaw State University’s inaugural Georgia Advancing Veterans Education (GAVE) program, designed to help veterans become successful entrepreneurs, with a Social Enterprise Award. Later, I received a contract position from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health in the Epidemiology Department.
At Emory, I served as an Infectious Disease Counselor on an HIV research partnership with Corizon and the Fulton County Jail. In this capacity, I recruited inmates, conducted baseline assessments, and follow-ups with inmates in the research study.
In February 2015, I relocated to serve as the Health Promotion Officer/Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow at The United States Army Training Center and Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. In this capacity, I served as a member of senior leadership, facilitating their Community Health Promotion Council (CHPC) process.
What awards/honors have you received?
- The Gathering Spot Member – Foundation member since 2019
- 2019 Veteran in Business Award – Atlanta Business Chronicle
- U.S. Army 2-Star Note – Awarded by the Commanding General of Center for Initial Military Training in April 2017 for my professional work efforts and contributions to enhance ready and resilient capabilities for initial military training at Fort Jackson.
- Black Girls Run! Columbia Ambassador – April to November 2017
- Panelist for “Healthier South Carolina: Improving the Health of Our State in One Generation” – 2016 South Carolina Public Health Association Spring Conference
- UGA 40 Under 40 Class of 2016 – nominated by the College of Public Health
What additional activities and causes do you enjoy dedicating your time to?
I enjoy dedicating my time to empowering and mentoring people. It is my desire to see them achieve at their highest level. I pour a lot into these men and women challenging them to take the necessary steps to achieve their set goals. They are often inspired by the lessons I’ve learned during my most challenging times.
My love for humanity always led me to advocating for social justice, including racism, sexism, and inequalities to name a few. These are all personal issues that I’ve endured and been challenged on many occasions.
Posted on August 21, 2020.