Community leaders graduate from UGA Public Health Leadership Academy

Teams from five Georgia communities graduated from UGA’s Public Health Leadership Academy and are headed home to begin building a culture of health in their respective communities — one that helps citizens get and stay healthy.

The 10-month-long leadership program offered an array of experiential learning activities that included six face-to-face multiday sessions, distance learning, discussions with subject matter experts and national public health leaders, support and peer networking, and the design of an applied project in each team’s respective community. The program was a partnership between the College of Public Health and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

“I learned about myself and our community and the things that need to be changed,” said Raven Smith from Washington County.

Each team — which included individuals from different disciplines such as banking, education, and healthcare — trained together and delved into topics on leading community change, systems thinking, stages of community life and propensity for risk taking, and dealing with conflict. They explored their individual leadership style and the styles of each team member could be used help them work together effectively.

“Solving health issues must be addressed from a variety of perspectives, not just by the Health Department,” said Gavin Bernstein from Sumter County.

Once back home, the teams will build coalitions and initiate projects to increase the culture of health. Each team focused on a different local health issue. Their proposed projects include strengthening a worksite wellness program, reducing STI transmission in 14- to 18-year-olds, fostering healthy families and children through coalition building in a multi-county region, lowering adult obesity rates, and educating the community about when to use the hospital.

“When we started, I thought we were working toward a little project,” said Whitney Costin from Colquitt County. “But I soon realized that building a culture of health is a big project. We’re ambitious and can do it.”

Several graduates talked about how much they had learned not only from presenters but from each other and that the sessions were thought provoking and made them “step outside the box” of their usual way of thinking.

“Going through this experience showed me why I think like I do and that we can make a difference if we don’t quit,” said Michael Powell from Health District 4.

This innovative program is a departure from individual leadership development programs. The five teams — from Colquitt, Sumter, and Washington counties and multi-county LaGrange and South public health districts — learned how to mine existing community assets, and knit together people and organizations in new and different ways to align resources to achieve their goal.

Photo of participants in the 2015 Public Health Leadership Academy (photo by Shannah Montgomery):

Right row (front to back): Gavin Bernstein (Sumter County), Michael Powell (Health District 4), Leslie Thigpen (Washington County), Latoya Ross (Sumter County), Adrienne Davis (Sumter County).

Middle row (front to back): Lauren Bewley (South Health District), Sabrina Drayton (South Health District), Whitney Costin (Colquitt County), Courtney Sheeley (South Health District), Whitney Josey (Washington County), and Shannon Walker (South Health District).

Left row (front to back): Whitney Kimbrough (Sumter County), Angela Castellow (Colquitt County), David Ajayi (Health District 4).

Not pictured: Regina Abbott (Health District 4), Ross Dekle (Colquitt County), Jack Eatman (Health District 4), Raven Smith (Washington County), and Dena Zinker (Colquitt County).

The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development is a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia. Dedicated to building a better Georgia, Fanning strengthens communities and organizations through leadership development, training and education. For more information about the institute, see

UGA College of Public Health Founded in 2005 as a response to the state’s need to address important health concerns in Georgia, the UGA College of Public Health offers degree programs in biostatistics, disaster management, environmental health, epidemiology, gerontology, global health, health promotion and behavior, public health, health policy and management and toxicology. For more information, see

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Posted November 16, 2015.