May 1, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Seven years after graduating with a biology degree from Converse College, Hopkins, South Carolina, native Kaleea Lewis still credits her undergraduate mentor Witney Fisher with steering her toward the University of South Carolina and a career in public health. “She spent time with me and really challenged me to think about my strengths and areas of possible growth as it related to a graduate degree,” Lewis says of the UofSC alumna.
She chose health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) for both her master of science in public health and doctor of philosophy degrees because she wanted to understand (and change) how we talk about, study and treat the health of marginalized communities. Surpassing even her greatest expectations when she first joined the Arnold School in 2011, Lewis’ programs taught her how to do just that—but with more flexibility than she thought was possible.
“With my degree I can work towards what I have always wanted to: change the deficit-oriented narratives that our society holds about the health of marginalized, in this case black, communities,” she explains. “My doctoral training has equipped me with the conceptual and methodological tools needed to understand, confront and challenge the ways in which race and racism operate as a social determinant of health.”
With my degrees I can work towards what I have always wanted to: change the deficit-oriented narratives that our society holds about the health of marginalized, in this case black, communities.
-Kaleea Lewis, MSPH and Ph.D. in health promotion, education, and behavior
The Graduate Civic Scholar’s research focuses on the ways in which race and racism operate as a social determinant of mental health. Her approach to this work is an integrated and interdisciplinary body of knowledge that explores how race and racism intersect to produce health inequities among African Americans.
Lewis’ dissertation, which she supported with a Southern Region Educational Board Dissertation Fellowship, examines the ways in which predominately white institutions of higher education reproduce and uphold racist ideologies and practices and the consequences they have on the mental health and well-being of African American college students. Working closely with her dissertation committee, the Institute of African American Research grant winner found mentors in chair Emily Mann and members Katrina Walsemann, Jason Cummings, Spencer Platt and Payal Shah.
“They were instrumental in helping me mold and complete my dissertation,” Lewis says. “As my advisor, Dr. Mann has been an irreplaceable element in my academic development as a doctoral student and critical public health scholar. I will always be thankful for her honesty and guidance over the past few years.”
Other mentors include HPEB associate professor Lucy Annang Ingram, for whom Lewis served as a graduate teaching assistant, and HPEB professor and chair Daniela Friedman, who oversaw Lewis’ graduate research assistantship on a project involving communication strategies related to the environmental risks of cancer. “Drs. Ingram and Friedman provided me with constant encouragement and career advice,” the Women’s and Gender Studies Carlisle Research Award winner says. “I could always depend on them to give positive and realistic input.”
Departing UofSC after her second Gamecock graduation in May, Lewis has no plans to slow down. In August, she will begin a Preparing Future Faculty Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Missouri. After she completes her fellowship, Lewis will pursue a position in a school or department of public health.
“Explore the department’s website to learn more about the faculty members,” the Newton Fellow advises prospective students. “And be open to shifting your perspective about how you think about health and wellness.”