Student Profile: Kasey Smith

Kasey Smith, a doctoral student in the Department of Health Promotion & Behavior and Institute of Gerontology, is using research to design assistive technologies that foster social connection between older adults and their loved ones.

I am most fulfilled conducting research in the community, working together with the population I aim to serve to create systems that are truly reflective of their needs,” she said.                                                       

Doctor of Philosophy in Health Promotion

May 2023

Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion, College of Public Health, University of Georgia
Master of Public Health with a concentration in Gerontology, College of Public Health, University of Georgia

McDonough, GA

What is your educational and professional background?

I am a Double Dawg at UGA. I received a B.S. in Health Promotion and Behavior in 2017 and a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Gerontology in 2019. Although I have spent much of my time as a student in academia, I now work in private industry, bridging the gap between the needs of everyday people, conducting research and the commercialization process. I do this through community-based participatory research, or CBPR, where my participants have a say in the research process, including the research design, how we collect our data, and ultimately how we design our commercial technologies. For me, CBPR is especially important because I design technology for older adults, a group who has historically been left out of the tech development process.

Currently, I am conducting community-based research in assistive living communities around Georgia to test and inform the development of a social connectivity platform. The platform serves as a channel of communication between older adult residents, their family and friends, as well as staff members.

What area/field of public health are you passionate about? How did you become involved in your field?

Creating assistive technologies for older adults to help them age healthily, comfortably and happily. I am most fulfilled conducting research in the community, working together with the population I aim to serve to create systems that are truly reflective of their needs.

The technologies that I research have the goal of facilitating social connection between older adults and their loved ones. As we get older, social connectivity becomes increasingly important. It can affect feelings of loneliness, quality of life, diet, and cognition, just to name a few. I became involved working with older adults through volunteering and internships at various places around Athens, including Meals on Wheels, Athens Community Council on Aging, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

What attracted you to your graduate program at the College of Public Health?

The professors and mentors I worked with during my undergraduate degree at CPH were the main influence when I chose to continue onto my MPH and Ph.D. Being a first-generation college student, I was unsure of my options and having multiple faculty members to turn to was invaluable. As much as they were able to guide me through the process, they also allowed me to explore in my own way, creating confidence and independence that I may not have developed otherwise.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College (so far)?

CPH gave me the opportunity to travel and present my work at several national conferences, most notably APHA in San Diego and Philadelphia. On these trips, I was able to network and meet other students in my field, share my research, and bond with other CPH students who I now consider life-long friends.

What achievements/honors during your time at CPH are you most proud of?

Being selected as an entrepreneurial leader for the UGA Innovation Corp program is the achievement I am most proud of. During this eight-week accelerator, I learned how to take an idea and put it through the commercialization process, which provided me with a unique perspective when conducting public health research in the community.

Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?

Spending time outdoors makes me happy. I mountain bike and hike whenever I can. I enjoy cooking food from around the world. The spicier the better! I also have three cats – Ziggy, Marcel, and Elsie – who I spoil too much.

What are your career plans beyond graduation?

I am a part-time graduate student and work full-time already. I am employed with SimpleC, an assistive health technology company based out of Marietta. After I finish my Ph.D. program, I plan to continue working with SimpleC, translating clinical research into commercial products.

What are the biggest takeaways from your educational experiences at UGA so far? 

Always ask questions and speak up! Propose a crazy idea. Say what you’re feeling. Help those who may not be in the position to speak for themselves. Public health means health, equity, and inclusivity of everyone.

Posted December 7, 2022.