As a dual master’s student in public health and social work at UGA, Fiyinfolu Atanda has learned the importance of embracing an interdisciplinary approach in her work with communities in need.
“Exploring complex health issues has been a fascinating part of my education, especially when it involves creating comprehensive solutions to improve community well-being,” she said. “I’m enthusiastic about using the skills I’ve gained in the [MSW/MPH] program to actively contribute to addressing health disparities.”
Master of Public Health in Health Promotion and Behavior, College of Public Health
Master of Social Work in Integrated Practice, School of Social Work
Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Morgan State University
What is your academic/professional background?
I initially pursued a biology major at Morgan State University, but eventually transitioned into the field of social work, successfully earning my undergraduate degree. During my time at Morgan, I also took on the role of an undergraduate research assistant at the Center for Urban Health Disparities Research and Innovation (RCMI@Morgan), actively contributing to various community-based participatory research projects. Alongside my academic journey, I gained practical experience as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a nearby assisted living facility.
After completing my undergraduate studies, I made the move to Athens, GA, where I enrolled in the University of Georgia’s accelerated dual master’s program in social work and public health (MSW/MPH). My initial position at UGA was with the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, where I served as a Program Assistant for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. During the past summer, I had the privilege of participating as a Dr. James A. Ferguson Emerging Infectious Diseases Research Initiatives for Student Enhancement (RISE) Fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Currently, I am a graduate assistant, working under the supervision of Dr. Llewellyn J. Cornelius at the Center for Social Justice, Human, and Civil Rights within the UGA School of Social Work.
Why did you choose to pursue dual master’s degrees in public health AND social work? Why UGA?
I decided to pursue a dual master’s program in social work and public health based on my research experiences during my undergraduate studies. As a social work student engaged in community public health work, I was deeply intrigued by the interdisciplinary approach to addressing health disparities. This fascination served as a strong motivator for me to continue into these fields during my graduate studies.
When preparing for my graduate applications, I established a connection with Dr. Rebecca Wells, the MSW/MPH program coordinator, who generously met with me virtually to provide valuable insights about the program. While I had initially considered several schools to apply to, I ultimately chose to apply only to UGA and was fortunate to receive funding, a fact for which I am truly grateful.
What particular area/field of public health are you passionate about?
My passion lies in the intersection of health education and promotion with a focus on utilizing community-based research methods. I believe that involving community members in addressing health disparities can be highly effective in developing programs that are both culturally relevant and sustainable. Recently, I have gained curiosity to explore mental health behaviors among the Black population and African immigrants.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your time pursuing your dual master’s degrees?
One particularly noteworthy experience was my involvement in the Service-Learning Asset Mapping project. This initiative, conducted in partnership with the UGA Archway Partnership and community members in the city of Thomaston, was part of my Interprofessional Identity Development course guided by Dr. Rebecca Wells.
Rural-urban communities encounter diverse challenges that affect their health determinants, spanning limited access to physical activities, healthcare (including mental health), technology and internet use, and public transportation. Our main goal in this project was to assess community resources comprehensively and provide recommendations to enhance residents’ access to them. We focused on three community-identified priority areas: physical health and wellness, mental health and substance use, and youth leadership and development.
Within the community, we identified pre-existing resources, such as, parks and recreations, mental health service providers, and leaderships opportunities for youth to engage in. Although, we were able to identify assets within the community, our recommendations focused on accessibility of care (internet, social media, transportation), exploring funding opportunities for youth programs, and effective marketing or community strategies. Through collaborative efforts, we successfully created resource guides and distributed them throughout the community, receiving recognition and praise for our positive impact.
Where are you currently undertaking your internship?
I’m currently completing my specialization internship at the UGA Cognitive Aging Research and Education (CARE) Center located on UGA’s Health Science Campus. The CARE Center, a unit within the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health, is a clinical, research and outreach space that delivers education on dementia risk reduction, conducts cutting-edge research and provides planning and support for persons with dementia and their care partners.
Given my prior experience as a Certified Nursing Assistant in healthcare, my aim in this role is to assist the Center in addressing the unique needs of the aging population. Currently, this fall semester, I focused on honing my skills in case management and observing the interactions with the patients and the CARE team. Next semester, focusing on my public health competencies, I will conduct a needs assessment to identify perceived barriers to, interest in, and needs associated with social support and educational programming tailored to those in the early stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. With the findings, I plan to develop an detailed curriculum tailored to individuals in the early stage of Alzheimer’s Disease.
What I’ve learned so far in this internship is that each patient, as well as their care partners or families, has unique requirements. It’s crucial to ensure that no one feels isolated when dealing with a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Remarkably, I haven’t encountered any significant challenges during this internship. Each day brings new experiences, and I’m continually learning from the interdisciplinary team at CARE.
What activities/achievements/awards during your time here are you most proud of?
There have been numerous highlights during my time here, particularly the seamless transition from Maryland to Georgia, which opened a wealth of community engagement opportunities. One standout experience was my role as a Program Assistant with the Mandela Washington, a flagship program of the U.S. Young African Leaders Initiative. MWF at UGA is a program that empowers young African leaders from ages 25-35 through leadership development and building civic engagement. It was an extraordinary journey to serve as a point of contact for African leaders who are actively driving positive change in their countries. Witnessing these leaders come from various countries and backgrounds collaborate with other leaders to partner and exchange resources was truly inspiring. I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained lasting connections with some of them.
In terms of accomplishments, one that I hold dear is my participation in the Emerging Leaders Program during my first fall semester, which was thoughtfully facilitated by the UGA Graduate School. The Emerging Leaders Program is a competitively selected personal leadership development program sponsored and funded by the UGA Graduate School. Throughout the semester, we attended meetings focusing on the development of knowledge and skills for personal leadership, team building, emotional intelligence, intercultural communication, systems/design thinking, and career competencies and transferable skills. During the fall break, we attended a 2.5-day retreat at Dillard’s House was undeniably the highlight. Engaging in various activities, assessments, and learning from fellow participants was remarkably insightful. Moreover, the program provided a unique opportunity to connect with emerging leaders from diverse disciplines, further enriching the experience.
Do you have any extracurricular interests that you enjoy?
Beyond my academic commitments, my extracurricular interests are actively participating in Christian fellowship on campus and at my local church, building my professional social media presence, and roller skating.
What insights have you gained as a public health student?
As a student pursuing both MSW and MPH degrees, I’ve learned the importance of embracing interdisciplinary approaches in my future work. Exploring complex health issues has been a fascinating part of my education, especially when it involves creating comprehensive solutions to improve community well-being. I’m enthusiastic about using the skills I’ve gained in the program to actively contribute to addressing health disparities.
What are your plans beyond graduation?
My post-graduation aspirations include furthering my career in the research field, with a specific focus on actively engaging in community-based participatory research. Additionally, I envision pursuing a doctoral degree to continue my academic and professional growth.
Posted December 7, 2023.