Category: Student Stories

Meet Amy Solsman – Current MCH Epidemiology Student

Amy Solsman (right) with a friend in Shalisi, South Africa

Before moving to Chicago to study Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology at UIC, Amy Solsman spent two years in Shalisi, a rural village in South Africa, with the Peace Corps teaching math to 120 5th graders. While not a regular element of the math curriculum, Amy taught her students about HIV prevention and contraception. She felt that this was especially important due to the high prevalence of HIV in the area and the relative silence and stigma surrounding the virus in the village. She taught her students about dental hygiene and good tooth brushing habits. Amy also established a Permagarden Committee that created a school garden and provided nutritional education. Her passion to improve the health literacy and the health status of her students was a result from, in part, bearing witness to the unjust, negative consequences of a lack of access to resources and health care.

unnamedAmy said that working for a year at the Boys and Girls Club and her two years as a math teacher in South Africa “helps me keep perspective in the classroom because if you want to make a difference, you have to understand who you are serving.” The skills she is learning at the UIC School of Public Health (UIC SPH) are helping her further put her passion into practice. Amy is MPH candidate with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology. She feels that she is getting tangible and applicable skills in research and data analysis, and the Maternal and Child Health Program’s leadership training is better preparing her for the workforce where capabilities in leadership are needed and valued.

Amy chose the Amy 2UIC SPH because of the MCH Epidemiology Program, and because the curriculum incorporates community based participatory research (CBPR) models and has a focus on local, state-wide, and national public health issues. Upon acceptance to UIC, Amy was awarded the Irving Harris Maternal and Child Health Assistantship. As a Research Assistant for the MCHP, Amy has had the opportunity to work on a study with Dr. Arden Handler that focuses on improving the utilization of the postpartum visit for increasing postpartum contraception use.

Written by Cristina Turino, Research Assistant and UIC MPH/MBA Candidate

Janine Lewis, MCHP PhD Candidate, Receives 2015 Young MCH Professional Award from AMCHP


Maternal and Child Health Program PhD Candidate and EverThrive Illinois Executive Director, Janine Lewis, receiving the 2015 Young MCH Professional Award for Region V at the AMCHP Annual Conference.


Attending the 2015 Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) Annual Conference

3304ce9In January 2015, I had the privilege of attending the 2015 Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference, titled “United to Build Healthier Communities,” was an opportunity for me to network, learn, and go to Capitol Hill to advocate for the MCH Title V Block Grant.

On Saturday, I began the conference by attending a skills building session focused on community economic development strategies. This session emphasized collaborations, partnerships, and constituency building in expanding our MCH work to focus on economic development as a social determinant. At this session, a group of us from different sectors in Illinois brainstormed different ways in which economic barriers perpetuate inequities for Illinois families.

Other sessions that I attended focused on early childhood, MCH leadership, collaboration in policy and advocacy, systems thinking, and MCH 2015 policy issues. Since the conference brought together leaders from non-profits, universities, and state and local MCH programs, these sessions created rich discussions because of the various expertise and viewpoints. Often, these sessions were interactive and collaborative and I appreciated learning from the leaders of the sessions as well as the attendees.

Monday was the most rewarding day for me at the conference. After attending a session on 2015 MCH policy and discussing the funding needs of MCH programs, I went to Capitol Hill to advocate for Title V along with Dr. Arden Handler, Illinois Title V Director Dr. Brenda Jones, and LEND trainee Ryan Murphy. We visited both Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s and Senator Mark Kirk’s offices and met with their health aids. We shared information on the importance of the MCH Title V Block Grant and the impactful work happening in Illinois. In addition, we provided resources on UIC SPH’s MCHP program, the LEND program, and other Block Grant specific programs. It was a pleasure to attend this hill visit that Dr. Handler organizes annually. In Dr. Handler’s Advocacy and Policy course, I learned about strategic ways to advocate to a legislator, and this was a prime opportunity for me to practice with a pro!

Throughout this conference, I took advantage of the opportunity of being around so many MCH professionals by networking. AMCHP encourages state programs to learn from their regional peers and the region V (IL, WI, MI, MN, OH, IN) lunch was a chance for us to meet with and learn from these other Title V programs. However, by far, the highlight of my networking efforts was meeting Dr. Michael Lu, Associate Administrator of MCHB! He was a pleasure to speak with and was encouraging of my upcoming step into the MCH workforce. Overall, this conference was a huge success; I tackled my first lobbying experience, made some promising connections, and gained a deeper understanding of the network of Title V programs and the future directions of the Block Grant. I am thankful to UIC SPH MCHP for providing me the opportunity to attend this conference!

Written by Joanna Tess, UIC Maternal and Child Health MPH Candidate

Alumna Success Story–Jessica Bushar Providing Access to Crucial Health Information for Mothers


Jessica Bushar, MPH
Research Director Text4baby
National Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition

Jessica Bushar earned a Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology at UIC in 2010 and was a recipient of an award from Irving Harris Foundation. Following her graduation from UIC, Jessica was a Principal Research Analyst at NORC at the University of Chicago. In 2012, she began working at the National Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) where she now holds the position of Research Director of Text4baby.

Jessica is passionate about her work on Text4baby, which partners with more than 1,200 local, state, and national partners to improve the health of mothers and babies by providing timely, vital health and safety information to mothers by via text message. The Text4baby program has reached over 800,000 pregnant women and new moms and provided them with over 116 million text messages. As the Research Director, Jessica spends much of her time at HMHB working with partners and staff to evaluate Text4baby’s impact and facilitate research informed quality improvement.

Jessica believes her degree in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology from UIC helped improve her qualitative research skills and gain the competencies needed to make her a well-rounded researcher – skills that have made it possible for her to excel at her position as Research Director of Text4baby. Jessica’s research is implemented in real time to make a widespread positive impact on the lives of moms and babies through easy to access, crucial health information.

Written by Cristina Turino, UIC Research Assistant and UIC MCH MPH Candidate

Practicum Experience 2014: Chicago Department of Public Health

IMG_7584 (4)So far, our time at the Women and Children’s Health Division at the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has been very translational to what we learned in our first year at the University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health (UIC SPH).  We are conducting a Community Health Needs Assessment for the MCH population in Chicago under the guidance of CDPH Assistant Commissioner, Susan Hossli. To start, we gathered quantitative data in the form of vital statistics; this included infant mortality rates, low birth weight percentages, preterm deliveries, and teenage pregnancy rates for Chicago and the 77 community areas. We used the data to identify 18 community areas that have the poorest outcomes and we designated them as “Hot Spots.” These community areas are located on both the South and West Sides of Chicago.

After we compiled quantitative data for Chicago and the Hot Spots, we created a demographic picture of each neighborhood, which included socioeconomic status, overall health, education attainment, insurance, income, housing, poverty, crime, food access, and educational resources. These topics touched on what we learned in the Determinants of Population Health class, a new introductory class in the pilot core (IPHS 494). We learned that health is not only affected by biological factors, but also where you live, learn, play, work, pray, and age. It is also pivotal to understand that factors affecting health run the entire life course, as well as transcend generations.

Following the quantitative data, we prepared a systems analysis for each community area. The systems assessment analyzes the available resources in one’s neighborhood; this includes, but is not limited to Healthy Start programs, FQHCs, Healthy Families, Better Birth Outcomes, family case management, hospitals, clinics, birthing hospitals, WIC, family planning, behavioral health programs, and dental programs. This process was very informative because we gained a holistic view of the healthcare environment in the Hot Spot community areas.

We took Community Health Assessment (CHSC 431) in Spring 2014, and it was the perfect primer for this practicum. The knowledge, skills and tools we gained in that class proved essential for our success in this practicum. In CHSC 431, we learned the basics of a community health assessment: what it is, how the process works, where to find the appropriate and credible data, how to identify priority issues, how to obtain and analyze qualitative data, and then how to disseminate the information to community groups and key stakeholders. Another useful class prior to this practicum was MCH Delivery Systems: Services, Programs, and Policies (CHSC 511). In this course, we were introduced to the concept of what a health care delivery system is. We learned about the service delivery system for women, infants, children, and children with special health care needs. Our cumulative project over the semester was to synthesize and analyze the MCH delivery system for various states.

For a holistic view on the health status of Women and Children in Chicago, it is necessary to have a mixed-methods approach for data acquisition. Quantitative data is important to provide a snapshot of the health status, but qualitative data provides a full narrative of the gaps in access to a healthy life. We are currently scheduling focus groups on the West and South Sides of Chicago with consumers, service providers, and community based organizations. The focus groups will complete the needs assessment, and then a Strategic Plan for the City of Chicago will be formulated based on the data and gaps in services found in the needs assessment.

This practicum has been a learning opportunity since we have seen our coursework play out in a practical setting. It is exciting to see our work with the needs assessment play such a large role for the Department of Public Health. This project was undertaken with the hopes of influencing future programming and decision making within the city for healthy mothers and babies.

By Joanna Tess and Dan Weiss, UIC MCHP Students


Meet some of the UIC MCHP students…

Amanda BennettAmanda Bennett
PhD student in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology

I chose UIC because: The MCH epidemiology program is nationally renowned for its strong focus on applied epidemiology.  They emphasize both a strong methodological/research base and a focus on making research applicable to real-life public health practice.

Job before coming to UIC: CSTE/CDC Applied Epidemiology Fellow at the Illinois Department of Human Services (2 year fellowship)

Organizations you are involved with (on or off campus): I am a volunteer leader for the Jr. and Sr. high youth group at my church in Evanston.

What’s next: Working on my dissertation so I can graduate!  I hope to find a job in a state health department as an MCH epidemiologist when I am done with my PhD.

Favorite Chicago spot(s): I love pizza in general, and Lou Malnati’s has my favorite Chicago-style pizza.



TalTalia Salzmania Salzman
MPH student in Maternal and Child Health

I chose UIC because: UIC has one of the most recognized MCH programs in America!

Job before coming to UIC: Undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia

Organizations you are involved with (on or off campus): MSAPH, Hillel

What’s next: Medical School! (fingers crossed)

One fun or interesting fact about you: I like to play jazz blues on the piano and compose music occasionally.

Favorite Chicago spot(s): Nacional 27- best salsa dance club.



Tamara KozyckyjTamara Kozyckyj
MPH student in Maternal and Child Health and Global Health 

I chose UIC because: Not only was the MPH program appealing with prestigious faculty members, known research and extensive network, but also the appeal of in-state tuition. In addition, Chicago is a city full of opportunities to learn more about global health and attend lectures/conferences and through UIC’s network I would have the chance to engage in these opportunities.

What’s next: Looking for a job that I can be passionate about.

One fun or interesting fact about your: Three days following my college graduation, I road tripped to Yosemite National Park with 3 friends for a week of hiking and breathtaking views before our summer jobs/commitments began. Eager to get there, we drove 36 hours (practically) non-stop from Chicago to our destination!

Favorite Chicago spot(s): Tecalitlan Mexican Restaurant (cheap, delicious, and awesome margaritas), Alliance Bakery (great little study nook), the theater district.



Yuka AsadaYuka Asada
PhD student in Maternal and Child Health

I chose UIC: because of my advisor and the interesting research projects.

Job before coming to UIC: Clinical Dietitian in Vancouver, Canada

Organizations you are involved with (on or off campus): Critical Dietetics, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

What’s next: World domination. Or, more likely, graduate and seek employment.

One fun or interesting fact about yourself: My father is a pastry chef and I am his apprentice.

Favorite Chicago spot(s): Green City Market





“We are MCH”: Presentations about Maternal and Child Health

 Learn about the MCH field, our legacy, and the positive impact we have had on the health and well being of women, children and families.


The University of South Florida coordinated efforts with the Maternal and Child Health Training Programs to create Prezi presentations entitled “We Are MCH”.  Several MCH training programs (including our program) submitted pictures and quotes that were included in these presentations. The hope is to raise awareness about the field of MCH and the great work that is being done.


Click on the following links to view the presentations:



Want to Know More About MCH?

The students in the University of Washington Maternal and Child Health
(MCH) Program and in other MCH schools of public health training
programs nationwide created a visual narrative of the public health work
and research they are doing in their communities. The presentation was done with the help of Charlotte Noble and the University of South Florida MCH Program.

You can view the presentation here.  If you are interested in engaging in work that improves the health and well-being of women, men, children, and families then you will enjoy this presentation – it may even give you ideas about how you can make a difference!

The stories help illustrate how MCH makes a difference in the lives of
women and children.

A Student’s Journey to DC for the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) Annual Conference

Anne Cutler, Arden Handler, MCH students, and LEND trainees advocating at Mark Kirk's office for Title V programs and funding

Attending the annual AMCHP conference was a great experience for me.  As students, we were able to network and learn a lot, even by the first day!  On Sunday, I had the chance to see the official kick-off of the conference.  The first general session we attended was on the topic of the life-course model, which was led by Dr. Arden Handler and Amy Fine. We also had the opportunity to hear about how Indiana and Rhode Island were applying the life- course model to their state-level MCH programming. Later in the afternoon, we attended the welcome session with lectures from the newly appointed associate administrator of MCHB, Michael Lu; AMCHP’s director, Michael Fraser; and the John C. McQueen memorial awarded, Gail Christopher. All three talks were wonderful.  It’s great to hear from and also become familiar with the faces of the key leaders in our field. Along with this, I attended an adolescent health session about teen pregnancy prevention and a networking event for new conference participants where a fellow student and I got to meet the Title V Director of Texas. This was a great opportunity for me to apply my knowledge from our CHSC 511 MCH Systems course in order to understand the work that he was doing and maybe, even impress him a little!

Viewing the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in DC

The following day,  Dr. Handler invited students to go with her and members from the Illinois LEND program to advocate in Senator Dick Durbin’s and Senator Mark Kirk’s offices.  We advocated not to cut funding for the MCH Title V programs, as well as the LEND program.  This was a very unique experience for me because we all had the opportunity to speak to the Senators’ aids about what we are doing, how our programs are so valuable to us, and what impact these programs have on MCH populations.  Later that day, we attended the Region 5 meeting (which includes IL, WI, MI, MN, OH, IN) during lunch where we discussed hot topics among our states and other business-related issues that needed to be addressed.  Additionally, I went to an adolescent health session, where the first section was presented by a representative from Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) about a bill they are advocating for regarding comprehensive sex education in the state of Illinois.  This was great to see Illinois leadership at the conference and also see a particular focus on our home state.  The second section of the presentation was about a preconception health program implemented in North Carolina.  When listening to the speaker,  I found myself somewhat choked up by the examples of how students have felt so empowered to be given the opportunity to do program activities, such as create a reproductive life plan.  I think this is an excellent and successful MCH program.

On Tuesday, AMCHP also had a specific session about advocating for MCH programs specifically in our current times with reduced budgets and spending.  This was very useful for me and other students, especially as we are nearing graduation in May.

AMCHP also set aside additional time that afternoon for groups to go to the Capitol and speak to their respective representatives and senators. I thought this was a great way to develop a concrete skill in maternal and child health practice, as well as test my knowledge and understanding of maternal and child health issues.

All in all, attending the AMCHP conference was a great experience for me as a 2nd year graduate student at UIC.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go.  I think the biggest thing that I learned was how state leaders go about promoting maternal and child health programs, as well as providing an array of successful programs for MCH populations in their state.

By Elizabeth Bennetts, 2nd year MCH-MPH student

2011 Practicum Experiences

Tara demonstrating how to perform menstrual regulation with local women

My Journey through India and Bangladesh

On my fifteen hour plane ride to India this summer, I reviewed numerous articles about menstrual regulation, abortion and mid-level health providers in Bangladesh and around the world. Menstrual regulation is legal in Bangladesh and is used to empty the uterus when a woman’s menses has been delayed up to 10 weeks. It is done before a pregnancy test or ultrasound has confirmed that the woman is actually pregnant and results in her resuming her menses.  In reading all of these articles, I was preparing for a 5-week trip to India and Bangladesh where I would have the opportunity to do my field experience by working with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). During my practicum, I was based in India with the South Asia Regional Office of IPPF. I worked with the dedicated abortion team to design clinical guidelines for the management of incomplete abortion and its associated complications.

Once I had gained an understanding of the reproductive health care needs of women in Bangladesh and the availability of services, I was able to construct the clinical guidelines within the context of the resources and policies of Bangladesh. Thus, the practicum enabled me to do policy work, which is an area that I often do not get to spend time on in my daily work in the United States. Once these guidelines were complete, we traveled to Bangladesh to introduce and review the guidelines with key stakeholders in the reproductive health community of Bangladesh. We then held a conference for mid-level providers, which were the women who actually provide reproductive health care services within Bangladesh. From this conference, we were able to provide training about menstrual regulation, updates on contraceptive methods available, and a supportive community for the women to truly be heard.

Bulletin Board displaying contraceptive methods available for women

This field experience was an incredible opportunity to learn about reproductive health with a hands-on approach in a setting completely different from my work as a Family Planning Fellow in Chicago. In the future, I plan to work with IPPF to continue to address reproductive health needs of women around the world. Seeing this experience through a public health lens has enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the needs and resources that impact communities around the world and the impact that family planning can have on women and their community.

by Tara Kumaraswami, 2nd Year MCH-MPH Student, Family Planning Fellow


The Trials of Public Health Work in a New Cultural Experience

Sarah Kammerer spent the summer interning for a small Indian-run NGO called Ekjut, located in a rural town in the eastern state of Jharkhand. She spent the summer developing an intervention that addresses family planning and contraceptive use within the marginalized tribal communities that Ekjut serves.

Here is a glimpse of one of her journal entries, while in India.

The most common question I’ve received since arriving in India is “What’s it like?”

Sarah visits with the families and children served by Ekjut

I’ll start with the easy stuff.

It’s about 2 kilometers from my flat to the office. I’m picked up and dropped off each day by one of my coworkers on their motorcycles. The roads are terrible. Animals are everywhere.  No building or store remotely resembles anything from home. Food stands are set up along the road, but no grocery store for a hundred miles. Once you pass through town, you are immediately transported to a scene from the Jungle Book: rice patties, mist covered mountains and elephants.

But the people? They are the same. Adults go to work, kids go to school. Women stand outside their houses in the evening and gossip about the latest news in the town. Men tinker on their motorcycles or relax over a beer (the local tribal beer is known as Handia). But instead of women in high heels and shoulder bags, they walk barefoot with large baskets on their heads filled with laundry or food or rocks. Small children entertain themselves with rocks and sticks, not Barbies and Tonka trucks. Girls, in their deep purple and lavender school uniforms and pigtails, ride to school not on big yellow buses, but government provided bicycles.

These are the things that are easy to get used to. It’s everything else that’s hard.

The other day as I was riding to work, there was a woman passed out on the side of the road, her sari around her waist, exposing everything for the world to see. I do not know what was wrong, she could have passed out from the heat or perhaps from something else. I asked my friend if we should stop, but he said we needed to keep going, her family would probably be there soon. Nearly a week later, I still think of her, I still cry for her. I wish I could have done something. I can throw out all the excuses in the world: I can’t speak Hindi, much less any of the tribal languages in the area, I’m not a doctor, I wasn’t about to jump off a moving motorcycle, but none of them make me feel better: a woman was helpless on the side of the road and I didn’t stop to help. What happened to her, I will never know, but I do know I will never let it happen again.

And it’s not just the images, it’s the stories too.

One woman delivered in the hospital, was released immediately after giving birth, only to hemorrhage as she was practically shoved out the door. She died in front of the hospital.

An Ekjut facilitator from a local village shadowed a nurse at the hospital for a week. Understaffed, she was immediately put to work. The nurse told her to rinse off the dirty needles and put them in a box to be “reused when the nurses make their rounds in the villages.” Imagine how you would feel if learning that your own friends and family didn’t even deserve clean needles.

Or what about reports from the village women, who upon arriving at the hospital are turned away. Why? Because maybe the doctor didn’t show up that day or maybe he was just too busy to take another patient. And if the women actually are admitted, they are treated with such disrespect; they vow never to return again.

The worst part? These stories are a dime a dozen. But, that’s why I am here, right? To learn about Ekjut and what makes them successful, to do research about a subject that I love and ultimately, work for the improvement of maternal health in underserved, marginalized communities.

So, India? It’s a crazy, beautiful place. At times it’s mind-boggling, heart-wrenching and absolutely exhausting. But it’s becoming home and without a doubt, everyone at Ekjut is family.

Overall from this experience, Sarah learned about Ekjut’s vision and how they turned it into reality. She learned more about Ekjut’s methods, their strength, and weaknesses. She also learned how to put together a project proposal and develop an intervention program, while also gaining knowledge of Indian culture. Beyond this, she learned about family planning methods-both the challenges and critical benefits. And as mentioned before, Sarah clearly learned more about herself, her own strengths, her capabilities, and the areas in which she can further improve.

by Sarah Kammerer, 2nd year MCH-MPH student


Preventing Unsafe Abortions in Thailand

Britt with fellow OB-GYNS at a clinic site

For my practicum, I worked in Thailand with the Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights Foundation (WHRRF) of Thailand, an NGO which works to promote abortion training. The organization advocates for change in the abortion laws, which currently allow for abortion only in the case of risk to maternal physical health or pregnancy resulting from rape.
I began my trip to Thailand by participating in the “Executive Brainstorming Meeting on Modification of Medical Curriculum for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion” organized by WHRRF.  This was a meeting of academic physicians from medical schools all over Thailand to discuss the importance of safe abortion trainings for residents and medical students.  At the meeting, I gave a lecture about our training in the U.S. and also participated in discussions with the Thai physicians about modifying their current curriculum.

A woman cutting durian in the market

I spent the remainder of my trip speaking with physicians and other health workers about the importance of access to safe abortion services, in many different settings.  These settings included a teaching hospital in a southern province, an outpatient abortion clinic in Malaysia, rural hospitals, primary care clinics, STI prevention clinics, the Ministry of Health, and three different academic centers in Bangkok.  Through these discussions, I have gained a deeper understanding of the country’s successes and challenges in the fields of contraception and abortion.  I was impressed with people’s willingness to speak with me honestly and openly about these controversial issues.  Lastly, I was honored to be invited to speak about the importance of safe abortion in many different settings, while in Thailand.

by Britt Lunde, 2nd Year MCH-MPH Student, Family Planning Fellow

Please note that not all practicum experiences are abroad.  Many MCHP students work with local organizations on various projects.