For her capstone project required for DMU’s master of public health degree, Mandy Ivanov chose to focus on a “personal interest” and local health issue: the breastfeeding challenges faced by Hispanic mothers enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in Eagle County, CO. The federal grant-funded program serves low-income mothers and children considered at risk nutritionally.
“Knowing that WIC mothers are at risk for lower breastfeeding rates, I wanted to explore the experiences of those mothers in my own community,” Ivanov says. “The study engaged community members to share qualitative and quantitative data concerning their breastfeeding attitudes and behaviors. After data analysis, I identified trends and made recommendations to assist WIC staff and community members in creating new or accessing existing breastfeeding support systems and resources.”
Her work earned her a 2014-2015 Graduate Student Community Engaged Research Scholarship from the Association of Accredited Public Health Programs (AAPHP). The association awards up to two of the $500 scholarships annually to support graduate research that is aligned with its mission of advancing the science and practice of population-based health. AAPHP defines “community engaged research” as research or evaluation, in any public health discipline, that involves the student in a mutually beneficial partnership with the community.
Students eligible for the scholarship must have completed at least 15 graduate semester units, have a minimum grade point average of 3.5 and have approval by their academic program to conduct a community engaged project or thesis.
Ivanov’s career has crossed borders and boundaries and encompassed diverse topics. After double-majoring in anthropology and international studies at Kenyon College, she taught in Honduras and volunteered with the nonprofit organization Central American Medical Outreach for a year. After teaching for a time back in the U.S., she worked as a patient representative in a community clinic in northern Colorado and then joined Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, eventually serving as a community educator in sexual and reproductive health. She then earned her degree in massage therapy and worked with clients for seven years, which gave her the flexibility to raise a family and pursue part-time studies at DMU.
“For over a decade I impacted people’s health at an individual level. This work was rewarding, but I often felt overwhelmed by the volume of individuals presenting with similar challenges and situations. It seemed as if there should be a way to address the root causes of their discomforts and diseases,” she says. A colleague recommended DMU’s M.P.H. program. “I desired a strong foundation in public health that I could potentially apply in various situations, and DMU’s M.P.H. program delivered just that.”
Last fall, Ivanov began her first public health job as a health promotion coordinator for Eagle County Public Health, in which she coordinates tobacco education, prevention and cessation programming (TEPAC) for three counties in Colorado’s central mountain region.
“I enjoy applying and finessing the skills I have learned through the M.P.H. program every day,” she says. “Coordinating the TEPAC program requires that I integrate the breadth of public health competencies. Looking forward, I hope to transfer this valuable experience to work in the maternal, infant and child health field, where my passion lies.”