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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Keren Herran

I Am Public Health: Keren Herrán

May 2, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

With the exception of moving straight into the Ph.D. in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB) program after earning a bachelor's degree, Keren Herrán’s educational timeline appears to follow a traditional path. High school in Silver Spring, Maryland, followed by undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and then on to graduate school.

A glance at Herrán’s resume, however, tells a different story. The UofSC Presidential Fellow has packed an incredible amount of training and education into her five formal years of higher education.

The nuanced effects of the physical environment on community well-being and the complexity of solving problems within global health shaped my initial understanding of public health.

-Keren Herrán, Ph.D. in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior student

As an undergraduate, Herrán took the decidedly nontraditional path of creating her own major: a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Global Health Considering Environmental Factors. Supported by Meyerhoff and France-Merrick Scholarships, the Honors College student designed her curriculum after being inspired by one of her international experiences.

While volunteering with the UMBC Global Medical Brigade in Nicaragua, Herrán observed the health disparities created by a lack of access to clean water. She knew that the sanitation education lessons (e.g., handwashing) she gave to local children and the prescriptions she helped dispense to those suffering from parasitic infections were futile attempts to treat a more complex, underlying problem.

“This multi-year project led me to realize that my starting point in community health was superficial, lacking a preventative approach with environmental insight,” Herrán says. “The nuanced effects of the physical environment on community well-being and the complexity of solving problems within global health shaped my initial understanding of public health.”

Her resulting studies in global health and the environmental factors, such as contaminated water sources, would prepare Herrán to solve these types of public health challenges. But coursework was only part of her plan.

In addition to leading and defending her own capstone project (funded by an Undergraduate Research Award), which analyzed the mental well-being of environmental migrants in Maryland, she made the most of her summer breaks as a member of the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program. One summer saw Herrán as a student researcher with the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Biomedical Informatics; the next, with the Center for Global Health’s NIH-funded Minority Health International Research Training Program (University of Virginia) both on campus and in Quito, Ecuador. Despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Herrán spent the summer of 2020 as a virtual student researcher at the Brown University School of Public Health.

The HPEB department’s focus on vulnerable populations, strong global health connections, and commitment to sustainable, inclusive, and respectful public health research matches the characteristics and values that will culminate my formation as a behavior and social health sciences scholar.

-Keren Herrán, Ph.D. in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior student

Even skipping over the pre-college years of Herrán’s resume (think: numerous research, international, service/volunteer experiences and academic achievements), the other college activities (e.g., presentations, publications, professional development, more volunteering and international experiences, honors/awards, fieldwork) are vast and varied. Together, they inspired Herrán to pursue a doctoral degree to gain the skills to address health disparities in a global context.

“Participating in the virtual prospective graduate student day and conversing with Dr. Edward Frongillo and HPEB alumni such as Dr. Jessica Escobar Alegria, Dr. Ligia Reyes, and Dr. Aditi Srivastav, confirmed to me that the Arnold School of Public Health faculty and staff genuinely care for their students, are approachable, and encourage their scholars to pursue challenges,” Herrán says. “The HPEB department’s focus on vulnerable populations, strong global health connections, and commitment to sustainable, inclusive, and respectful public health research matches the characteristics and values that will culminate my formation as a behavior and social health sciences scholar.”

Since joining the program last fall, Herrán has been working with Frongillo and HPEB faculty Jim Thrasher and Rachel Davis on food insecurity/policy projects focused on Latin American populations. The work aligns closely with her own research interests, which include health disparities, nutrition, and maternal and child health. She is particularly passionate about leveraging social behavioral interventions that benefit marginalized migrants, a group close to her heart as the daughter of Latin American immigrants.

“I would love to give a shoutout to God, my family, and my fiancé, Iván Mieses,” says Herrán, sharing the credit for the lengthy list of achievements she’s made at such an early stage in her public health career. “Progressing straight from college into a Ph.D. program in the midst of a pandemic was a transition that would not have been possible without their love and support.” 


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