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Arnold School of Public Health

May graduate combines practical and academic experiences to prepare for public health career

April 25, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, 

Ayanna N. Woodberry learned about the importance of public health first hand. She was diagnosed with asthma during high school and later learned her condition was connected to the poor air quality (ranked in the lower 30th percentile for air quality among all counties in the United States) of the neighborhood she grew up in between two major interstates in Florence, South Carolina.

Then in college, Woodberry was diagnosed with glaucoma. “While conducting research on my own, I began to understand the important linkage between medicine and public health,” she says.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University in 2016, Woodberry returned to South Carolina to pursue a master of public health (MPH) in general public health at the Arnold School. She has a strong interest in maternal and child health as well as disease prevention and knew that this degree would provide a strong foundation for her long-term plan of becoming a pediatrician.

“USC was the only graduate program that I applied to, because I was certain that the program would provide me with a rigorous and rewarding educational experience,” Woodberry says. “Attending the Arnold School of Public Health for my MPH was one of the best decisions that I have made, both on a personal and professional level.”

The general MPH, with its focus on establishing a broad understanding of public health disciplines and designed for those with a terminal degree or significant experience in the healthcare field, was a perfect fit for Woodberry. Prior to joining the Arnold School, her relevant professional experiences included serving as a biology peer leader, assisting with nutrition services at a medical center, developing STEM programs for at-risk girls with AmeriCorps, and teaching academic concepts to at-risk youth.  

During her program, she connected with clinical assistant professor and general MPH graduate director Michael Byrd as well as environmental health sciences clinical professor and chair Geoff Scott.  “As my advisor, Dr. Byrd provided me with a great deal of guidance, encouragement and opportunities,” says Woodberry. “And Dr. Scott has been a great mentor both during and outside of my environmental health courses. I have applied what I learned during his courses many times in my professional life.”

Among Woodberry’s professional pursuits, she has held a one-year term with AmeriCorps VISTA through Lutheran Services in America, Inc. As the community resilience-building program organizer, the May graduate developed programs and tools to better equip low-income communities for substantial disruptions that contribute to risks and vulnerabilities. In this role, she created a needs assessment, collected local resources and distributed emergency to-go bags, spoke to more than 200 individuals about the importance of preparedness, developed 150-page resource guide for low-income residents in Columbia, was invited to attend a White House briefing on climate change (see photo), and became a member of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals.  

In August of last year, Woodberry transitioned into the South Carolina disaster response coordinator role for Lutheran Services Carolinas-Columbia, where she provides disaster preparedness training for current employees and vulnerable populations in South and North Carolina. The American Public Health Association member also conducts evaluations of current disaster plans and supervises the person holding her previous position of AmeriCorps VISTA member. 

Working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control through her program’s practicum project, Woodberry has also contributed to the fight against one of the biggest public health crises of our time: the opioid epidemic. She helped create a comprehensive document to examine opioid misuse, abuse and vulnerability in South Carolina, the findings of which are being used to help address the epidemic and improve the health and wellbeing of South Carolinians.

Having completed her degree, Woodberry has some advice for others who are interested in studying public health. “The sky's the limit!” she says. “If you want it, then go for it! Never let anyone or anything stop you from reaching your goals.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.