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Arnold School of Public Health


I Am Public Health: Melanie Gwynn

May 2, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Melanie Gwynn became interested in public health when she was just a teenager. The nonfiction, bestselling thriller, The Hot Zone, sparked her interest in the field and she decided she would make a career out of her curiosity. After earning a bachelor’s degree in community health from Georgia Southern University, the Atlanta-native completed dual Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Health Administration (MHA) degrees from Des Moines University in Iowa.

She spent the next five-plus years gaining a breadth of professional experience in public health. Gwynn has worked as a health educator for district and county health departments and Wellpoint/Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Georgia, an assistant project director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-funded HIV/AIDs grants at the Georgia Department of Public Health, and as a public health analyst for CDC’s National HIV Monitoring & Evaluation program.

HIV/AIDS topics are one of my research interests, and I wanted to attend an institution with extensive research experience in the field.

-Melanie Gwynn

“My diverse work experience provides me with a unique perspective on health services topics and issues,” she says. “After years of managing health promotion and public health programs, I decided to expand my skill set by seeking a Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management.”

Now wrapping up the first year of her doctoral program in the Department of Health Services, Policy and Management (HSPM), Gwynn was originally attracted to the University of South Carolina due to the Arnold School’s rankings and reputation. “HIV/AIDS topics are one my research interests, and I wanted to attend an institution with extensive research experience in the field,” she explains. “Also, throughout my career, I have followed research publications from some of HSPM’s affiliated research centers; therefore, I was excited about the opportunity to work with the Institute for Partnerships to Eliminate Health Disparities and the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center.” (She now works as a research assistant at both entities).

Over time, the Norman J. Arnold Fellow and HSPM Fellow has refined her research interests to focus on HIV/AIDS, health disparities, chronic disease management and health outcomes. After she graduates, Gwynn plans to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship with CDC. Long term, she would like to become a professor at an academic institution.

To prepare her for these career goals, Gwynn supplements her coursework and research assistantships by helping public health contracting companies and community-based organizations with grant/proposal writing, program evaluation and capacity-building services. She also serves as committee planning member for Georgia Southern University’s Annual Rural HIV Research Conference and takes advantage of opportunities to present her research and expertise at conferences, such as the National HIV Prevention Conference.

I would suggest that students embrace the doctoral learning experience and try to absorb as much as they possibly can.

-Melanie Gwynn

Inside the classroom, Gwynn touts the merits of diversifying one’s knowledge base. “Since health services research is an interdisciplinary field, I would encourage prospective students to take elective courses in different departments,” she says. “By doing so, they can learn about different research methodologies and concepts, which can complement their core HSPM curriculum. I would also suggest that students embrace the doctoral learning experience and try to absorb as much information as they possibly can.”

She emphasizes the importance of developing strong mentor relationships as well. “Dr. Mahmud Khan and Dr. Saundra Glover have served as valuable resources during my doctoral experience,” Gwynn says. “They have guided me through the program and provided information regarding professional development opportunities. As I continue to refine my research interests, I look forward to developing additional relationships with department faculty.”