Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health


I Am Public Health: Morgan Hughey

August 3, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Morgan Hughey has turned her childhood passion into a career. Her active lifestyle growing up in Gaffney, S.C. led to a four-year athletic scholarship at Furman University playing softball. “Physical activity was important for me in many ways – physically, socially, emotionally and even intellectually,” Hughey says. “I think my experiences really sparked my interest in physical activity, fitness and obesity.”

While majoring in health and exercise science at Furman, Hughey clicked with long-term mentor Julian Reed and spent two years working with him on a public health project investigating the effects of daily physical education and physical fitness on both cognitive function and body composition in elementary and middle school youth.

The faculty at Furman highly recommended the Master of Public Health in Physical Activity and Public Health program at the Arnold School, which Hughey completed in 2013. “I liked the mix of both exercise science and health promotion classes that the program offered,” she says. “I also had the opportunity to work on a variety of public health and exercise science projects and serve as a Teaching Assistant.”

After graduation, Hughey was convinced that she’d take a break from school and even moved to Greenville. However, she then connected with Assistant Professor Andrew Kaczynski (Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB)), who was starting a project in Greenville examining differences in built environment features and how such resources, such as parks and recreation facilities, influence obesity among youth.

When the opportunity to work with Kaczynski on this project arose, Hughey took advantage and decided to enroll in HPEB’s doctoral program. Kaczynski now serves as her advisor. “He has helped me develop as a researcher over the past two years and continues to encourage me to ask new questions and find new answers,” Hughey says.

Her own research interests have been influenced by her mentors and the research projects she has participated in over the last several years. “My research interests focus on examining the relationships between community-built and social environments, health behaviors like physical activity and healthy eating, and chronic disease outcomes, such as obesity and Type 2 Diabetes,” says Hughey. “I’m also particularly interested in disparities in these health behaviors and health outcomes and plan to study how community and neighborhood environments influence these public health problems.”

Currently, Hughey is a member of HPEB’s Built Environment And Community Health (BEACH) Lab. She is also a part of a community-based project funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working with a coalition called LiveWell Greenville. “My role is to help coordinate the implementation and evaluation of several community-driven initiatives whose aim is to increase opportunities to be active through parks and recreation and to improve the overall quality of parks, recreation and trails throughout Greenville,” she says. A workgroup called At Play, which is made up of representatives from county parks and recreation departments, two of the major hospital systems and other key community members, drive the community-based projects. 

Hughey has also received a SPARC grant, which she will use to examine the influence of parks and recreation resources as well as food environments on youth obesity. And she received the award for best student poster presentation in the Physical Activity section at the American Public Health Association Conference in 2014. “It was neat to receive this award because the presentation focused on research on a community trail in Greenville, which I had been involved with in terms of data collection in the very initial stages when the trail was built,” she says. “It was rewarding to see the project come full circle.”

A frequent conference attendee through both of her graduate programs, Hughey most recently traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland for the 2015 International Society for Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Meeting to present a poster presentation titled “Quality matters: Examining the relationship between neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and park availability and quality in a semi-urban county in the southeastern United States.” She writes about her travels and other BEACH news for the Lab’s blog.  

When she graduates, Hughey plans to stay in academics—perhaps with a postdoctoral fellowship or faculty position. Wherever she ends up, sports and physical fitness will definitely be a part of her life. “Greenville is a gem for outdoor activities so I take advantage of that and spend time hiking, cycling and doing water activities,” she says.

Doing what you are passionate about also extends to Hughey’s career advice. “Find a doctoral program that fits you because you will invest quite a lot of time and energy!” she says. “If you are able to get involved in different types of projects and classes, do so; and lastly, submit your work to conferences so you can take advantage of traveling to new cities and meeting faculty and students from all over the country and the world.”