MPH '03, Community Public Health
Raised in Queens by way of Guyana, Ginelle Nelson did not intend to study public health in graduate school. “I actually applied to NYU under the adult nurse practitioner program and then deferred for a year. My plan was to take a year off from school [after graduating from the University of Vermont at Burlington]. I applied for admission to NYU in my senior year and then I worked for a year in a doctor’s office.”
With her undergraduate degree and a year of work experience under her belt, Ginelle began her master’s coursework at NYU by participating in Steinhardt’s study abroad program at the University of Cape Town in the summer of 2002. As it turns out, her first semester in the advanced nurse practitioner program would be her last. She spent two months with other NYU students, taught by Professor Sally Gutmacher, learning about public health. “We did a lot of international community health and I switched my major from nurse practitioner to community public health.”
Ginelle said witnessing the AIDS crisis in Africa first-hand is what changed her mind. “Traveling to southern Africa was a life changing experience. One of the goals of the study abroad program was to teach us about the explosion of HIV/AIDS.” Ginelle witnessed not just the devastation of the AIDS epidemic but the sub-par conditions of shantytowns where so many people with the disease live. “Being a nurse practitioner here [in the U.S.] means I would mostly be in an office,” says Ginelle. Instead, she opted to modify her career goals so that she could play an active role in global health issues by traveling directly to communities with looming health problems.
Returning from Africa in the fall of 2002, Ginelle focused her studies at NYU on international community health and made sure her internship requirement was filled with an assignment in that realm. Though NYU offers internship leads and listings, Ginelle found her own internship while looking into international health agencies. She spent a summer working at USAID, a federal agency that provides international economic, agricultural, medical and humanitarian assistance around the world. “I worked in the urban health bureau. In poorer places the slums are health hazards to the people who live there.” Though Ginelle stayed right here in the U.S., she says she spent her summer examining health issues around the globe. “I looked at all the slums around the world and wrote briefs on the status of the area. I gathered this information by looking at USAID progress reports and conducting interviews.” The data Ginelle culled can be found on the “Making Cities Work” website. Engrossed and inspired by her work, Ginelle took on extra assignments and surpassed her internship requirements within a month. Wanting to stay at USAID, Ginelle parlayed her work for the month of August into a three-credit independent study.
Encouraged by Stephanie Wilcock, her internship supervisor at USAID, Ginelle also used the experience to get to know professionals within the bureau. Ms. Wilcock’s advice paid off: Ginelle learned about a three-year program that would train her to become a Foreign Service officer. She interviewed in October and landed the job in December just as she finished her coursework at NYU. After the in-depth security clearance process was completed, Ginelle was sworn in by the Foreign Service administrator, a position appointed by the president.
“As a foreign service officer, I’ll have three years of training – one year in D.C. and two years at a mission abroad.” During her first leg of stateside training, Ginelle has been rotating through offices in the USAID Global Health Bureau including the Population & Reproductive Health Office and the Office of HIV/AIDS. By the summer of 2005 Ginelle will have relocated to Zambia to begin a two-year training program at the USAID mission. “After three years,” says Ginelle, “I will become the health officer at that mission. Then I can move around to different countries.”
Ginelle believes that where she went to school has helped her in her budding career. She says that in the field of public health NYU is on the level with Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. “NYU opens you up to so many different opportunities.” She is quick to laud her teachers and her coursework – based on real-life scenarios as well as academic theory – for the expertise she gained in public health. “I liked that the professors were in the public health field working with the New York City Health department or working at community agencies. Learning should be didactic and you should go out there in the field and see what’s happening. I thought the MPH program was great. I took courses such as epidemiology and research in public health that I use in my work today.”
Written by Heather Graham