Student Profile: Lakeshia Watson, MPH
Lakeshia Watson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Origionally from Smithfield, North Carolina, Lakeshia also holds a Bachleors of Science degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Masters of Public Health degree in Community Health Sciences from the University of Illinois, Chicago.
I enjoy that ours is a smaller graduate program because you are able to collaborate and network with professors in the School of Public Health. I love that they encourage students to develop through collaborations and research partnerships.
What is your professional focus?
Exploring social and structural factors of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among vulnerable populations.
Why did you chose Maryland?
After I did my MPH, I got a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV Incidence and Case Surveillance Branch in Atlanta. I realized that I wanted to learn the epidemiological research methods and become an independent researcher. I found the social epidemiology track at UMD, which bridged epidemiology, social determinants of health and community health. Once I met my advisor, we just clicked and I knew it was the right place for me.
What do you think the public health field should focus on?
Building a workforce that is capable of addressing health inequities to build thriving and sustainable communities. My work fits into this because I want to be a professor and build courses that help students think outside the box to solve public health issues. It is very important for public health.
When was your flame lit?
In 7th grade, I was invited to join an HIV peer education group where we would talk to other people our age about HIV and other STIs. It was a like a flame was lit, and I have always known that I wanted to be involved in this work. Coming from a rural, religious southern community, to talk openly about topics related to sexuality can be challenging. But my mom saw early on that I was a sexual health activist and advocate. Recently, when I went home to North Carolina, I spoke about HIV prevalence and prevention for a teen awareness day at my home church.