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Arnold School of Public Health


HPEB student Amarachi Anakaraonye awarded Malcolm U. Dantzler Scholarship at SCPHA Annual Meeting

June 12, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Amarachi Anakaraonye’s path to become a public health scholar began with a sojourn to Nigeria. Anakaraonye established a home base with her paternal family—whom she had not seen in 13 years—while she traveled across the United Kingdom, France and Nigeria to discover her ancestral lineage. “Specifically in Nigeria, my ‘privilege’ as an American citizen with access to exemplary educational institutions and quality healthcare resonated with me like never before,” she says. “I am daily reminded of the inequalities I face as a Nigerian-American woman raised in the rural South in a single-parent home.”

Anakaraonye returned to the United States and enrolled in the Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) program in the Arnold School of Public Health’s Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB). She chose this particular program because she knew it would provide her with the professional and educational foundation to serve her community. “This department’s strengths in initiating and implementing policies that target health disparities faced by socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, specifically women and children, aligns precisely with the research I aim to conduct in my graduate studies,” she says. “The opportunities for mentorship within HPEB and its emphasis on training effective and engaging scholars and professionals have helped me gain a deeper understanding of my role as a nascent scholar, professional and servant to diverse populations and communities.”

Since joining the University of South Carolina in 2014, Anakaraonye has already become immersed in scholarship, research and service. She has held several research assistantships and internships and currently leads the Black Graduate Student Association as Vice President. In May, Anakaraonye was awarded the Malcolm U. Dantzler Scholarship from the South Carolina Public Health Association at their annual meeting. She believes she was selected for the award based on her potential as an aspiring public health scholar and practitioner.

For example, Anakaraonye’s master’s thesis will explore how racial, gender and social class norms simultaneously shape the sexual self-concepts of black women (ages 18-24) who attend predominantly white institutions. “This research is needed because we lack a clear understanding of what social and contextual factors influence black sexuality, particularly in young adulthood,” she says. “The study ultimately seeks to empower black female adolescents and young adults to be the primary authors of their sexual health narratives.”

Her unique perspective and research interests are heavily influenced by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s empowerment education approach. “Freire’s pedagogy supports the argument that disease susceptibility from powerlessness can be combatted through education,” she says.

Accordingly, Anakaraonye plans to earn a PhD with an expertise in health behavior and health education. “I want to engage in the creation and implementation of preventative efforts made by social scientists and medical professionals to decrease and ultimately eliminate the rates at which ethnic minorities suffer from health disparities,” she says. “I believe the best way to initiate such a task is to begin with understanding the needs of the youth.”

Mentors like HPEB’s Assistant Professor Emily Mann have helped Anakaraonye build her confidence in what she can accomplish. “Dr. Mann believed in my potential when I didn’t believe in myself; she has fostered and encouraged my interdisciplinary ideas and helped mold me into a more disciplined and thoughtful scholar and individual,” she says.

Anakaraonye also has some advice for students who are considering a career in public health. “When you enter the discipline of public health, enter open-minded and flexible to the endless opportunities to change your community and the world,” she says.