Maternal and Child Health

MCH Leadership Scholars, 2014-2015



Laketa Entzminger

MPH Candidate, Socio-health Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Stephanie Marhefka
Community Mentor: Diane Koch

My interest in the well-being of women and children really started in the home through my mother. Growing up, my mother had a knack for taking in children and eventually became a foster parent. I carried this interest through my adult years as a Fulbright Scholar and volunteer.

I completed my studies as a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina where I measured the time women invested in their prenatal care in the public hospitals of Buenos Aires. Seeing another healthcare system and some of the joys and challenges of motherhood from a different culture was amazing. I learned that parents, no matter where they are or who they are, really want the best for their children and strive to do the best they can.

I eventually became a volunteer at Penelope House Family Violence Center, an emergency shelter for women and their children, providing child care for its residents. Volunteering at Penelope House was eye-opening. I was able to see the effects of domestic violence children experience through how they played and interacted with each other. Some of the children had abrupt outbursts of anger or would try to say the meanest things they could say about another child whereas others would become withdrawn or hide. It was a challenging yet rewarding experience to see domestic violence through their eyes and try to understand how they coped.

From these experiences, I have developed research interests in social skills of children, particularly those who are exposed to violence and abuse, and ways in which their social skills can be improved as part of restoring their well-being. Other interests include writing short stories for children and using this as a vehicle to learn about health and healthy habits, family and intimate partner violence, and cultural effects on health and healthcare.

Through my training as an MCH Leadership Scholar and cumulative experiences, I envision myself as an advocate for women, children, and families seeking to uplift, strengthen and restore their well-being.


  1. Jessica Gipson

  2. MPH Candidate, Maternal and Child Health
  3. Faculty Mentor: Jaime Corvin
    Community Mentor: Roseanne Cupoli

I earned my bachelor’s degree from USF in Exercise Science and a minor in Public Health. As an undergraduate, I focused on the effects of exercise during pregnancy and motivational behavior change to engage women during the preconception years. I also focused on pelvic floor dysfunction, body mechanics and pain in women during and after pregnancy. I worked in a physical therapy clinic for 2 years, before I decided to obtain my Master’s in Public Health and certificate in Non-profit management. I am honored to be awarded the traineeship.

I served as the president for the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization 2013-2014. During my time, our team was able to collaborate with local organizations, host a breast-feeding film screening, raise money for a CLC scholarship fund, hold a breast-feeding panel discussion, hold a lunch and learn series, and write advocacy letters to the legislature. We also planned and hosted the 5th annual MCHSO symposium, Maternal Child Health: Dads Count too, fundraised for the March of Dimes, March for Babies, and held a book drive for children in rural NE India, books I was able to hand deliver.

During this time, I traveled to Tallahassee with a group of MCH students to advocate for the March of Dimes. I have also had the opportunity to volunteer with Preconception Peer Educators, The Hillsborough County Breast Feeding Task Force, USF Health Service Corps, The Healthy Start Coalition, and other wonderful organizations. I also worked with a group of students on data analysis for cardiovascular knowledge, attitudes, and practices on patients living in Bangladesh. I was a teaching assistant for the undergraduate course, Women’s Health: A Public Health Perspective.

This summer, I traveled to India and experienced an entirely different aspect in maternal health. This trip not only change my perspectives on life, it changed my career focus. I also went to Panama in order to learn about international women’s health and the various issues women are facing worldwide. The trips have guided me towards a career holding leadership position with a national or global nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of women and children globally, specially reducing maternal mortality. I have a deep passion for women’s health and rights. I take a strong feminist and humanitarian stance. Women’s lives matter and I am dedicated to being a part of the change that makes the world see.

Amelia Phillips

MPH Candidate, Maternal and Child Health

Faculty Mentor: Cheryl Vamos
Community Mentor: Daniela Chiriboga-Salazar

My first exposure to the field of maternal and child health came during an undergraduate internship at the Florida Department of Health Seminole, where I was provided with an opportunity to work with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Through this experience I began to understand that health is influenced by a complex interplay of factors. WIC provided me with the opportunity to witness the negative impact that factors such as low socioeconomic status can have on a person’s health status, and how important community-based programs and services like WIC are in reducing inequalities in maternal and child health.

Recently, I traveled abroad to Panama where I was provided a community-based hands-on experience that exposed me to the quality of life for MCH populations in a developing country. During my time in Panama, I worked with a team of students to develop an intervention designed to target the high rates of teen pregnancy in a rural town near Panama City. By using the life course theory as an organizing framework, ¡Somos Familia! (We are Family!) was designed to promote family cohesiveness early on, because research shows that children who grow up in broken family units are more likely to become teenage parents. This experience fueled my interest for understanding health patterns in MCH populations through the life course perspective. In the future I hope to study across generations to investigate links between parent behaviors and child health outcomes in order to better understand how early-life exposures influence health at later stages in life.

Currently, I am overseeing a program I designed that establishes collaborative relationships in order to connect young adults with special healthcare needs to opportunities for personal growth and development. The program includes evidence-based practices to support effective transition for young adults with special healthcare needs leaving high school. In the short time since my program was implemented, I have already begun to notice participant improvements. Realizing that this program may help to improve quality of life in some way has left me with a desire to continue planning community-based programs and services in the future.

In addition to understanding health patterns in MCH populations and developing programs that lessen inequalities in maternal and child health, I am interested in understanding perceptions of risk of vaccines among parents and future parents in order to identify strategies for improving immunization levels.

As a member of the Student Affairs Vice President’s Circle of Student Advisors, I have learned that great leaders have the ability to transform the lives around them. As an MCH Leader, my ultimate goal is to inspire others and bring people together to create sustainable results that improve the health and well-being of maternal and child health populations.

Ariana Bentz

MPH Candidate, Maternal and Child Health

Faculty Mentor: Donna Petersen
Community Mentor: Ann Marie Winter

Studying, identifying and working on issues surrounding women’s health has always been a passion of mine. In my undergraduate career in Anthropology I studied women’s health, and then went on to graduate and live in India, where I worked with an HIV/AIDS nonprofit, educating and developing programs for HIV+ pregnant women. I then served as a two-term AmeriCorps member, first assisting newly resettled refugees with a focus on improving the lives of refugee women, and secondly working as an outreach specialist for Healthy Start, where I identified and educated pregnant women on how to have and care for a healthy baby.

My real passion came through my first year of the MPH program, where I learned the important role of public policy in improving the lives of women. I served my Field Experience as the Public Policy Action Intern at California Family Health Council (CFHC) in my native Los Angeles, where I developed a number of materials surrounding sexual and reproductive health policy and assisted on a bill co-sponsored by CFHC that ensures contraception access for women in California. I have come to understand the role of policy to ensure that women having total access to the health care that we deserve.

My service and research interests are in reproductive and sexual health policy and advocacy, sexual education, empowering women and family planning. Advocating for the health and rights of women is something I am firmly committed to, and hope to always be involved in.

Mahmooda Khaliq Pasha

DrPH Student, Maternal and Child Health

Faculty Mentor: Ricardo Izurieta
Community Mentor: Walter Niles

Maternal and Child Health (MCH) has been the thread binding all my diverse experiences in academics and with research/non-profit organizations. As a Master in public health graduate student, I focused my research on maternal mortality and child survival. My first job out of graduate school was with a small non-profit organization, where I worked to reinvigorate and refocus its mission to “improve the health of women, children and their communities around the world.” The projects that I managed addressed HIV/AIDS, child survival, antenatal and postpartum care and family planning. 

After nine years of working and making significant contributions to the field, I felt that I had reached a plateau in my career and needed to fill gaps in knowledge and to reinvigorate my connections in global health. To address this, I enrolled in the PhD program at the USF College of Public Health (COPH) in the Department of Community and Family Health with a research focus in MCH and more specifically the reduction in total fertility as a precursor to improving MCH. 

As a doctoral student I have been afforded many opportunities for professional growth, whether it is doing a consultancy with the World Health Organization on neonatal mortality or presenting on research at various international and national conferences. I have independently sought research opportunities to broaden my scope within MCH with a focus on improving my methodological skills. I am particularly interested in social epidemiology and understanding the impact of contextual factors on health outcomes - my dissertation will investigate the impact of community contextual factors on modern contraception use through the use of multilevel modeling. 

As a doctoral student, my immediate goals are to complete my dissertation work and begin my search for positions within academic or government setting. Ultimately, I would like to make a difference in MCH by using population based studies to guide policy making at the national and international level. 


Past Scholars