Maternal and Child Health

MCH Leadership Scholars, 2013-2014



Jeannese Castro, BA

  MPH Candidate, Maternal and Child Health

  Faculty Mentor: Julie Baldwin
  Community Mentor: Brian McEwen

  I became interested in maternal and  child health after I enrolled in a service learning course in the Department of Anthropology during my undergraduate studies at USF. The course, Urban Life and Culture taught by Dr. Lance Arney, allowed me to explore issues relating to social justice and poverty. I mentored adolescent girls at the Moses House, a non-profit organization located in Sulphur Springs, which is a neighborhood where I spent my childhood. I developed a bond with the girls and shared my experiences of growing up in the same neighborhood as them. After spending quality time with the adolescents in Sulphur Springs and noticing the health disparities in their community I decided to dedicate my future career to improving the quality of life of families living in underserved areas.

My research interests are in adolescent health, preconception and interconception health, health disparities, community based participatory research and medical anthropology. Next year I plan to embark on an international field experience in Panama working in a rural community.

I am currently working on my special project with Dr. Lianne Estefan and Dr. Martha Coulter, under the direction of my advisor Dr. Ellen Daley to record the experiences of former homeless women who resided at the Alpha House during their pregnancy. The Alpha House of Tampa provides housing and services to homeless women who are pregnant or raising young children.

In the community I am collaborating with the Moses House Staff to implement the Girls Together to Stop Bullying and Violence program in Sulphur Springs. After conducting a needs assessment, the young girls in the community pointed out that violence was a big issue that their community has been facing. This program will promote conflict resolution and influence positive behaviors.

I have been involved with the USF Preconception Peer Educators (PPE) since October 2011 and served as a Peer Trainer, Vice President, and President. The PPE program is an internship under the Office of Minority Health that focuses on reducing infant mortality by increasing awareness of preconception health and eliminating health disparities through community outreach. PPE collaborates with their community partner REACHUP Incorporated for their annual health fair in the spring. During my leadership service I have recruited several PPE members both undergraduate and graduate students and provided educational materials to students on campus and members of the surrounding communities.

My career goal is to provide outreach education to socially and medically underserved adolescents through the non-profit sector. I hope to one day lead a non-profit organization and write grants on a county or state level to develop health education and outreach programs for the adolescents living in medically underserved areas.


Nicole Demetriou, MSN

MPH candidate, Global Health Practice

Faculty Mentor: Carol Bryant
Community Mentor: Leslene Gordon

The pregnancy and birth of my first child left with me a nagging sensation that there had to be a better way for a natural and normal physiological process to play out in our society. I chose to become a nurse-midwife in order to help provide this care in a way that would empower women during their pregnancies and births. However, after becoming a nurse-midwife and also a family nurse practitioner, I recognized that system constraints prevent well-meaning providers from truly caring for their patients, and systemic barriers often prevent women from accessing care. Therefore, I decided to pursue this PhD/MPH to gain the tools needed to address policy issues resulting in health disparities, particularly among women and children, and also to improve the capacity of health care providers to address health disparities. Given that women are the primary health decision makers in the household, I believe that a focus on MCH gives us the biggest return on our investments at critical time periods in the health trajectory. Maternal-child health is simply human health.

My research interests revolve around health care access, disparities and health policy, and the experience of both the patient and the provider within the health system. I’m particularly interested in the intersection between policy and clinical practice – specifically how the Medicaid program sets the course for maternity care. My dissertation is a mixed-methods analysis examining the interaction between Medicaid funding and planned home birth in Florida. I argue that home birth represents more than just cost savings to the Medicaid program; it promotes the health and well-being of the emerging family better than traditional hospital-based care. I am also working with a midwife-attorney to examine the social impacts to women and midwives and the economic impacts to Medicaid of midwifery practice closures in Florida that are a result of the disproportionate reimbursement midwives receive from Medicaid compared to physicians.

In the future, I hope to combine a clinical practice among underserved populations with a leadership position within a state or federal agency that sets MCH policy or administers MCH programs. I also hope to continue training future MCH providers, including nurses, physicians, and public health professionals.


Salem Mengistu, BA, BS 

MPH candidate, Global Health Practice,

Faculty Mentor: Bob Nelson
Community Mentor: Mindy Murphy

I have always been a humanitarian, but my passion for public service and interest in Maternal and Child Health grew stronger on my visit to Ethiopia, my country of origin. The high rates of maternal mortality and oppressing environment with the lack of basic human rights triggered my interest even more. Having healthy mothers is an essential part of a healthy society. If we meet the needs of mothers who are usually the main care takers of the house hold, then the whole family and even the entire community will be able to benefit.

I am currently working on a research project on HIV/AIDs education and prevention called Rapid. It is a computer program that gives a whole intervention depending on the needs of the client based on their drug and sexual risk behaviors. Although my current project is on HIV/AIDS, I am also interested in issues that especially affect women and children internationally. These include Reproductive health, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, human trafficking, child marriage, and minority health disparities.
I am currently involved in an internship with the Office of Minority Health as a Preconception Peer Educator (PPE). I am a member and also a trainer of future peer educators at USF. The organization focuses on peer to peer education on preconception and inter-conception health. In addition, I am also part of a research study looking at the prevalence and perception of intimate partner violence among college students and their knowledge of programs and resources for victims and perpetrators on the USF campus. 

In addition to my involvement with PPE, I had the opportunity to be involved and hold positions in organizations such as the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization (MCHSO), the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), and the American Red Cross (Richmond, VA Chapter). I have also held positions as an HIV/AIDs outreach, testing, and counseling specialist at K.I. Services, a non-profit organization committed to providing services to people in the Virginia area who are most in need. Additionally, I was also involved with the Hanover Detention Center where I worked as a mentor and tutor to kids in the juvenile justice system. 
I would like to use my formal education and work experiences to make a difference in the life of mothers and children around the world. My short term goal is to hold a leadership position in a governmental or a non-governmental agency that is committed to improving MCH issues. With that experience, my ultimate goal is to start a non-profit organization that addresses women’s health issues from a human rights perspective to change the life of people one family at a time.

Laura Merrell, MPH, CPH

PhD Student

Faculty Mentor: Russ Kirby
Community Mentor: Leisa Stanley

I first became interested in MCH as an undergraduate student, while studying international affairs. The health and well-being of women and children often serve as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ as not only a measure for the overall health of the entire population but as a measure of equality and development. After that, I became interested in particular facets of maternal and child health, specifically safe pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal and child health, is one of the cornerstones of a healthy population.

My dissertation will look at issues of intervention in pregnancy and childbirth by investigating how information-seeking behaviors of reproductive-aged women may contribute to various birth and maternal and infant health outcomes. Traditionally, we assume women seek out information from their clinical providers, childbirth education classes, and popular educational materials. More recently, the influence of the internet, reality television shows, and mobile phone applications are being highlighted. However, one are of study that I believe is critically important, but little studied, is the role that peer and familial counsel plays.

Lindsay Womack, MPH

PhD Student

Faculty Mentor: Cheryl Vamos
Community Mentor: Amy Haile

I have a passion for maternal and child health because it touches everyone in society - everyone is impacted by the health and well-being of mothers, infants, and families. I am pursuing my PhD in epidemiology with a focus on maternal and child health wit

My overall interest in maternal and child health relates to the health and well-being of mothers and infants. My specific interests include: preconception health and the life-course model, maternal disease morbidity, method of delivery, maternal mortality, and infant mortality. As a graduate assistant, my current research interests are focused on the relationship between neonatal mortality and the level of perinatal care and non-medically indicated deliveries prior to 39 weeks gestation.

I have demonstrated leadership skills specifically in maternal and child health during my CDC/CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellowship. During this fellowship, I was placed in the MCH Practice and Analysis Unit at the Florida Department of Health. I collaborated with several research groups that were comprised of various community, state, and national stakeholders. I was also able to publish my work and present at several conferences. While I have been given opportunities to grow as a professional, I am also seeking more opportunities to become a strong leader in maternal and child health.

My goal is complete my PhD in epidemiology and conduct research that improves the lives of mothers, infants, and families. I hope to use my analytical skills to make a difference and become a leader in the field of maternal and child health.


Past Trainees