UMD SPH Alum Francine Baker
November 6, 2019

Francine Baker found a way to unite her love of science with her passion for public health advocacy in the Public Health Science program offered by the School of Public Health at the Universities at Shady Grove. 

“I really hope that the program at Shady Grove continues to grow and thrive because it definitely is an asset to the Montgomery County area and it’s one of the ways we can reduce the barriers in public health,” Francine said.

She graduated with a bachelor of science in 2017 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in biology with a concentration in cancer prevention and control at the University of the District of Columbia. 

“But even though I’m in school from nine to five,” Francine said, “I’m still heavily involved in the community and different public health organizations.”

Francine works with institutions such as the Maryland Public Health Association and the Maryland Sickle Cell Disease Association. As a mother of two children with sickle cell disease, Francine is a member of both the NIH’s Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Sickle Cell Disease Advisory Committee and the Maryland Department of Health Adult Sickle Cell Steering Committee.

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

Public health is all the factors that would go into ensuring a good quality of life for the population.

What inspired you to study public health?  

I had never heard of public health until I took a course at Montgomery College. I was going to school to figure out what I wanted to do and this intro to public health course just opened my eyes to a lot of different things. 

I always knew I wanted to do something in medicine but couldn’t figure out what that looked like. I also have two children with a chronic condition, sickle cell disease, and I wanted to learn how I can better advocate for them and teach them how to advocate for themselves. I shared this with my intro public health professor and she was the one who recommended I go speak to the public health program coordinator at the Universities at Shady Grove.

I feel like becoming a mom and the challenge of having children with a chronic illness, was what gave me my purpose, that helped me figure out what it is I want to do with the rest of my life.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

I don’t think there’s just one, but if I had to choose, I think I would say health disparities. If we could tackle that so we can have equal access and equal care. If we can have it so there aren’t disparities, that would go a long way to improving the health of the population.

Why did you choose public health at UMD?

It wasn’t just that the Universities at Shady Grove is close by, it was also the fact that even though I was taking classes at Shady Grove I could still go to the University of Maryland, and for me, that was a big deal. Having a big main campus, being able to interact with everyone that is at the School of Public Health while still having the convenience of nearby classes was a big plus.

It was also a challenge to see if I would get accepted to the University of Maryland. It’s not really easy to get in, but I did it.

How has the PHSC degree program at UMD’s campus in Shady Grove shaped your career goals? 

One of the benefits of that program, it brought together both the science and the public health components. What the public health science program captured for me is that I don’t have to separate the two. Understanding the biology or the genetics behind any illness or disease helps me to be a better advocate, better public health educator. That’s how the program itself kind of pulled that love of science out of me and helped me realize the direction that I want to take my public health career.

It helped me realize that I would like to advocate for individuals who don’t or don’t know they have a voice and improve the quality of life for an individual living with a chronic illness or any disease. But more importantly than that, it helped me realize that I really really love science and that I want to continue on the path of basic science without leaving public health behind. 

What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?

Being president of the organization, Students Engaged in Public Health, I was able to put forth programs and events that reached people in the community and on campus at the Universities at Shady Grove. It was a great way for me to practice what I was learning in the classroom and use my passion to raise awareness of health and disease. 

My favorite event was when we did the antibacterial resistance event called “The Good, The Bad, & The Resistant: Antibiotics and Microbes.” We pulled together speakers from the FDA, NIH, from the Maryland Department of Health to speak to us about antibiotic resistance and why it’s important to understand the importance of antibiotics, taking your antibiotics properly and completely, and how we go from not having resistant strains of one bacteria to having resistant strains. The room was full and even after the presentations, there was still a lot of student involvement. 

The faculty at UMD/Shady Grove have been and continue to be my greatest supports. Special shout out to Drs. Roth, Brooks, Haider, O'Hara, and Dean Lushniak!