Getting to Know You: Melissa Howard

The College of Public Health has welcomed three new faculty this fall. Join us as we get to know Lucy Annang Ingram, Ishtiaque Fazlul and Melissa Howard! Wrapping up our series is Melissa Howard, Ph.D., who is stepping into the role of Director of Online Learning and Professional Practice and will serve as a clinical associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior.

Dr. Howard brings experience deploying teaching strategies aimed at motivating adult learners both in person and online, along with research expertise in maternal, youth, and family health.

What brought you to the field of public health?

As an undergrad, I majored in neuroscience, which sparked my curiosity in the biological basis of behavior.  However, I quickly realized that addressing health challenges required a broader perspective.  At the same time, I worked in biology and chemistry labs and realized that I wasn’t having a ton of fun slicing mouse brains and conducting basic lab techniques—a bad sign for a neuroscientist in training! Combined, these realizations led me to pursue an MPH in community health education and later a PhD in health behavior—allowing me to explore the social, cultural, behavioral, and environmental factors influencing health outcomes.

What excites you or motivates you about being in the classroom and your research?

My research and teaching interests have centered on health education and behavior; program planning and evaluation; maternal, child and adolescent health; and health equity.  After nearly 20 years in the classroom teaching various courses on these subjects, I still find a great deal of fulfillment witnessing students engage with course material and assignments as they develop their own insights and skills on the journey to becoming public health professionals.  In both the traditional and online classrooms, witnessing students’ enthusiasm for addressing complex health challenges consistently reaffirms my commitment to graduate public health education.

How have you partnered with communities to improve health? Is there service or outreach work you’d like to do in Athens or Georgia?

As former director of a maternal and child health (MCH) training program in Florida, I partnered with organizations focused on improving the health of pregnant people, infants, children (especially those with special healthcare needs) and adolescents. The position allowed me to work with multi sector coalitions that included stakeholders at hospitals, school systems, health departments, policymakers, and other remarkable people in the MCH community.  I also had well-established partnerships for education and research with the March of Dimes, Nurse Family Partnership, Florida Breastfeeding Coalition, Healthy Start Coalition, Healthy Birth Day, Inc., Special Olympics, and other organizations focused on improving the health and quality of life of MCH populations. I hope to develop similar relationships with MCH agencies in Athens and across the state so that I may continue meeting and working with the great organizations and people who serve our local families and communities.

What are you looking forward to this Fall semester?

As director of online programming, I am looking forward to fostering a vibrant online community at UGA’s College of Public Health by leveraging technology and innovative teaching approaches to create engaging experiences for our online students.  I am particularly excited for the Spring 2024 launch of our first fully online MPH program cohort!

And a few fun rapid-fire questions —
  • Go-to road trip snack? Trail mix.
  • Coffee or tea order? Dark roast coffee or Earl Grey tea (both with cream and a drop of agave).
  • One TV show or podcast you can’t stop talking about?  Two podcasts I equally enjoy are Hidden Brain with Shankar Vedantam and Ologies with Alie Ward.

Posted September 14, 2023.