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Arnold School of Public Health

Alumna dedicates career to improving lives of South Carolinians after discovering public health

July 29, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

“I think I’ve always had an interest in health; I just didn’t know it,” Ansley Lee says.

The American Heart Association’s Midlands Community Impact Director was a recent communication studies graduate when she plunged into the health field with her first professional position. A Rhode Island native, Lee had moved to the South to pursue an undergraduate degree at Clemson University before moving to Columbia to work at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina in the health insurance company’s marketing and communications department.

“When I was working at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, I was involved with all the health campaigns that we engaged with and became interested in health,” Lee says. “I knew that they had a program that supported continuing education, and I pursued it. It totally changed my life!”

Lee chose the Arnold School’s Graduate Certificate in Health Communication program to continue her education and was hooked. She quickly followed up the completion of her certificate by enrolling in the same department’s (Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB)) Master of Public Health program.

“I remember sitting in Dr. Heather Brandt’s class and learning about working WITH communities – not just coming in, diagnosing a perceived problem, prescribing a solution and leaving,” says Lee, who continued working at BlueCross BlueShield during her master’s program. “I try to remember that every single day. It is so important to work with the people, to listen, to create together a long-lasting solution. Making the healthy choice the easy choice isn’t quick and easy. It is messy and time-consuming but so rewarding.”  

It is so important to work with the people, to listen, to create together a long-lasting solution.

-Ansley Lee, MPH in HPEB alumna

She also found mentors in HPEB faculty members Lee Pearson and Megan Weis, who led one of her first classes at the Arnold School. “Dr. Pearson and Dr. Weis worked with me as I learned to become detail-oriented about planning programs – that was a painful process and is a crucial part of what I do now,” says Lee, who continued (and continues) to work closely with Brandt. “Dr. Brandt has been a true mentor to me both as my professor and now as a colleague in the world of public health here in Columbia. She eats, breathes and sleeps public health.”

“Dr. Daniela Friedman also helped me initially explore my interest in public health and ultimately helped guide me down the path of health promotion, education and behavior,” she adds.

That path led Lee to work in BlueCross BlueShield’s Clinical Strategy and Innovation division following her 2014 graduation from the Arnold School. She gained additional experience as a wellness consultant in their Major Group Product and Member Engagement department before making the transition to the American Heart Association.

I love truly feeling like I am making a difference and improving the health of South Carolinians.

-Ansley Lee, MPH in HPEB alumna

As the Community Impact Director for the Midlands region, Lee oversees assessments to determine health priorities, develops a health strategy plans and engages stakeholders, collaborates with partners, and much more in Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Newberry and Orangeburg counties. In this role, she applies the knowledge and skills she gained at the Arnold School as well as during her professional career.

“I love truly feeling like I am making a difference and improving the health of South Carolinians,” Lee says. “Even if only one small thing I do positively impacts the health and lifestyle of one person, I have done my job. That feels good.”

She has also grown to love the city she has called home for nearly a decade. “It is incredible how far Columbia has come in the past 10 years – both as a city and in the world of public health,” Lee says. “There is a fire in the belly of Midlands’ residents, and I truly think we are on the brink of major change.”

For those who wish to pursue a career in public health, Lee has some advice. “Try to map out a career path and work backwards,” she says. “Be strategic but do what you love. You may not always be doing exactly what you got your degree in but if you are passionate about it, find a way to work there. Invest back in the community that was invested in you at the Arnold School.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.