Past Fellows Share Their Experiences

Michelle GinMichelle Gin

Degrees: MPH, Maternal and Child Health from the University of Minnesota, BA, International Studies and Minor in Global Health from the University of Iowa

Current Position: Toxic Free Kids Communications Planner at Minnesota Department of Health

Why did I choose this fellowship?

I chose the Leadership in Education Adolescent Health (LEAH) fellowship because of one of my two health related passions is in adolescent reproductive health. As there were not many opportunities in my graduate studies to focus on this age group, I knew the fellowship would surround me with leaders in the field and an eclectic peer group from medicine, social work, nursing, and public health. 

When I came into the fellowship, I was a white-knuckled researcher nervous of delving into a massive dataset. I had misconceptions of what it meant to be a social researcher. Over the course of the fellowship, I found myself excited to code, run analyses, and see what I could find. I worked with Minnesota Student Survey data and completed a secondary data analysis that contributed towards earning my MPH.


I cannot imagine having gone through my public health graduate career without LEAH. The close-knit relationships with my peers, mentors, and all staff and faculty associated with the program made the fellowship feel like I was walking in the door to friends and countless opportunities to learn. The highlights for me were:

  • dedicated time focused in adolescent health far beyond any course at the University offered;
  • intentional programming and attention from experts in the field as they trained us to become the next generation of leaders;
  • gained confidence as a researcher; and
  • connections for future employment (both in Minnesota and nationally).


Kiana JohnsonKiana Johnson

Degrees: PhD, MSEd, MPH
Current Position: Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Quillen College of Medicine, at East Tennessee State University

Why did I choose this fellowship?
I choose the fellowship to further develop my knowledge and understanding of adolescent health. I came to the fellowship program with a PhD in Educational Psychology having just finished a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities fellowship. The fellowship provided me with the opportunity to apply my knowledge of learning and motivation theories from Educational Psychology to the field of adolescent health. Not only was I afforded the opportunity to apply learning and motivational theories in the healthcare setting, I was also able to complete an MPH in the process focusing on maternal and child health. Like many others, the fellowship allowed me to work within and across disciplines to improving the lives of youth with special healthcare needs

A highlight of being in the fellowship was the interdisciplinary training which included (but not limited to) training in healthy youth development, leadership, and advocacy. As part of the fellowship we were required to engage in a leadership project. I appreciate the autonomy provided for this project. For my project, I initially wrote a proposal for a position statement. The process became more complicated than anticipated so I then began the groundwork for starting a non-profit organization that advocates for youth with childhood-onset lupus. The Childhood-onset Lupus Education and Research (CLEAR) Foundation is the result of our leadership training.

Also, as a result of the fellowship I have engaged with and have been introduced to many prominent leaders in the field of health care transition. It was through this connection that I was introduced to the possibility of working with Dr. David Wood, who developed the most widely used survey to assess youth’s transition readiness. I am now working with Dr. Wood and many other transition experts, in my position as Assistant Professor.


Meredith S. HicksMeredith S. Hicks
2011-2012 Interdisciplinary Fellow  

Degrees: MPH, Community Health Promotion, University of Minnesota B.S. Sociology, University of Wisconsin—Madison 
Current Position: Planning and Policy Director, Lighthouse Youth Services in Cincinnati, OH,

How did the fellowship inform your career path and current work?
The Fellowship provided an opportunity for me to connect across disciplines and to focus on the concepts of resiliency and positive youth development. I was able to hone my critical thinking and research skills to better understand how we as practitioners and youth advocates think about and engage with young people as clients, subjects and partners. The fellowship also help me build my skills in public speaking, policy development and advocacy. These skills all come into play in my current work as the Planning and Policy Director at Lighthouse Youth Services. In this role, I am focused on the goal of ending youth homelessness in Cincinnati by 2020. This includes managing community planning efforts focused on youth aging out of foster care and LGBTQ youth. I strive to ensure that youth are engaged as partners every step of the way. Communicating across disciplines and audiences was a focus of the fellowship and, knowing that data can be a powerful tool in program development and advocacy, I have worked with a design team to translate all of our findings into data visualizations (for example, see here). This allows youth and community partners to engage with the information in a new way and creates broader understanding and more meaningful conversations and recommendations.

What are some fellowship and career highlights?

  • Having my fellowship research published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education.
  • Founding the Lighthouse Youth Advisory Council—a group of current and former foster youth, many of whom have experiences with homelessness. These youth participate in every step of the planning effort and share their experiences and ideas with a variety of community partners—they are incredible! Currently, two LYAC members are serving on the Lighthouse Board of Trustees, demonstrating the real commitment to sharing power and ideas at the highest agency level.
  • Presenting at the White House briefing on Youth Homelessness in Spring 2015. It was quite the honor to be recognized for the work we are doing as a community and share our key strategies and planning process with an audience of 175 federal officials, white house staff, community partners and youth.


Annie-Laurie McReeAnnie-Laurie McRee
2011-2013 Interdisciplinary Fellow  

Degrees: DrPH, Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill MPH, Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Minnesota
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota Medical School
Position upon completing the fellowship: Assistant Professor, Health Behavior and Health Promotion, College of Public Health, The Ohio State University

After completing the Interdisciplinary Fellowship in 2013, I was tenure-track faculty in the College of Public Health at The Ohio State University. In this role, I continued my program of research in adolescent preventive services and vaccination and developed and taught an interdisciplinary seminar on adolescent health (inspired largely by the fellowship!). I also served as the co- chair of the Ohio Adolescent Health Partnership, a diverse group of agencies, organizations, and individuals that provides leadership for local and statewide efforts to promote adolescent health.

What I most appreciate about my experience in the fellowship was being surrounded by a group of colleagues (both faculty and fellow) who were passionate about a population and truly generous with their knowledge, ideas, and time. Their goal was to see us go out into the broader world—whether into practice or academia or industry—and thrive. The vast Minnesota adolescent health network reaches across the globe and supports this vision. And, without drawing attention away from the training, itself, an unexpected benefit for me was the location. I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived but I can’t say enough about how wonderful they are-- beautiful, diverse, progressive, outdoor-oriented …the list goes on. They made for an incredibly stimulating place to live and work.

When I began my training, someone told me that the cohort I entered with would become my future colleagues and professional network—this couldn’t be more true of the relationships I developed during the fellowship. While at OSU, I continued my collaborations with Minnesota colleagues and, in 2015, I joined the returned to join the faculty at the University of Minnesota and am excited to also be coordinating the fellowship.


Sarah Atunah-JaySarah Atunah-Jay, MD, MPH
2010 - 2012 Interdisciplinary Fellow  

Pediatric Hospitalist, Mercy Hospital, Coon Rapids, MN
Research Associate, Brown University, Providence, RI

The combined Academic General Pediatrics and LEAH fellowship were a springboard for me to launch a clinical global health research career. The fellowship's flexibility allowed me to pursue research interests in health systems strengthening and maternal child health in the country of Ghana. I worked with a former UMN fellow, based at the World Health Organization in Ghana, to design a study looking at the role that specialized provider types have on maternal health services in the country. This study provided a great foundation for health services research and clinical work I pursued working in Ghana for two years after the fellowship and today.

In addition to great faculty, one of the real strengths of the fellowship is its interdisciplinary approach. Working with talented post-docs and MDs from a variety of disciplines allowed for a more realistic and informed approach to adolescent and child health challenges.


Rebecca J. ShlaferRebecca J. Shlafer, PhD
2010 - 2012 Interdisciplinary Fellow  

For me, the highlight of being a LEAH fellow was the interdisciplinary training. I came to the MN LEAH program with a PhD in child psychology and without any experience working directly with physicians, social workers, nurses, or public health professionals. The LEAH program gave me the skills to learn to work within and across disciplines to improve the lives of youth impacted by a parent's incarceration. I use my LEAH training in life course and social determinants of health every day as I work to solve the complex challenges facing children and families affected by incarceration. I frequently find myself reflecting on the communication, media, and advocacy trainings I received as a LEAH fellow. Such trainings have helped me craft my messages to local reporters, legislators, MCH professionals, and other scholars. Now, as a member of the training faculty, I find it so rewarding to work with new LEAH fellows who are passionate about addressing critical public health issues.

Read more about Rebecca's fellowship experience here.


Claudia FoxClaudia Fox, MD, MPH
2007 - 2010 Interdisciplinary Fellow

Before my fellowship, I knew I wanted to conduct research in pediatrics and get involved in medicine in ways other than direct clinical care. But, I didn't know how or where to begin. The fellowship opened my eyes to the breadth of academic medicine. I was exposed to multiple examples of collaborations across disciplines for the purposes of research, teaching, and advocacy, including, for example, public health policy development and clinical research. The fellowship provided me with the opportunity to "try out" all these different roles. Perhaps the most valuable element of the fellowship for me was the intense training I received in the entire process of research. I learned effective grant writing techniques from experts in the School of Public Health. From the Pediatric faculty, I received exceptional, personalized mentoring in hypothesis generation and in all the steps of manuscript writing and oral presentation. This experience provided me with the confidence to publish my own work and present it at national scientific meetings. Without question the fellowship was instrumental to launching my career as an academic pediatrician.



Nicholas EdwardsNicholas Edwards, MD, MPH
2007 - 2009 Interdisciplinary Fellow  

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
University of Cincinnati
Division of Sports Medicine & The Heart Institute

MD, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison, WI
MPH, Epidemiology, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, MN

Affiliations, Roles:

  • Physician, Cincinnati Children's: Sports Medicine, Fitness, and Center for Better Health and Nutrition (Obesity program)
  • Researcher at Cincinnati Children's in Sports Medicine and The Heart Institute
  • Head Team Physician, Withrow High School • Event physician for several local sports events
  • Appointed Member, American Heart Association, Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, and Obesity in the Youth (AHOY) Committee of the Cardiovascular Disease in the Young (CVDY) Council
  • Appointed Liaison, American Heart Association, Physical Activity Committee of the Lifestyle Council
  • Core faculty for Cincinnati Children's Sports Medicine Fellowship & Physical Therapy Sports Medicine Residency

Completing the Academic General Pediatrics fellowship at the University of Minnesota has been absolutely essential for my career development and has given me the tools necessary to successfully compete for NIH grants and allowed me to secure an academic appointment at a top children's hospital at a time when many academic centers were severely downsizing.

Probably like many trainees, I didn't realize the amount of work that goes into creating and maintaining a successful fellowship. The multidisciplinary perspective achieved by attending the core lecture series alongside many other trainees from other discplines prepared me to collaborate more effectively with researchers and clinicians with backgrounds different from my own. I am able to build research teams more effectively and contribute more scientificaly due to that broad-based aspect of the fellowship.

We received strong core research training, and we received an incredible amount of flexibility in creating and pursuing our research project. Iris and the other mentors in the program struck the right balance between encouraging us to find a project or projects that fit with our long-term goals, but were also "completable" during our training period. The networking with faculty who were already working on larger projects where there were options to get involved was superb.

Even though I completed fellowship a few years ago, I still often think back to specific conversations or experiences I had with the faculty - Mike Resnick when thinking about how to approach a research problem generally or how to advocate in the public policy sphere, Marla Eisenberg when thinking about statistical analyses, Iris when putting together a tightly organized manuscript - I could go on and on.