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Ekiuwa Imariagbe is a Master of Public Health (MPH) student concentrating in health behavior. Originally from New York, she graduated from Syracuse University in 2018 with a degree in health exercise science. She is a Gillings Ambassador and a Graduate Research Assistant for Diversity and Student Success in The Graduate School.

What made you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study?

Ekiuwa Imariagbe

When I received my undergraduate degree, I had plans of enrolling in a physician assistant program, but after thorough reflection and exposure to several opportunities, I soon realized my passions intersected with social determinants of health, education, disease prevention and assessing policy and social structures as barriers to achievement.

Aside from UNC Gillings being competitively ranked (the number one public school for public health, and the number two nationally ranked program), Gillings stood out in particular compared to the other programs I applied to. Gillings was the only school/program that sent me a handwritten postcard congratulating me on my acceptance and welcoming me to the health behavior family. I also felt that Gillings would provide the flexibility I needed in a program – the core and structure was there but I was able to take additional electives and tailor my MPH according to my interests. I was also excited for the opportunity to cross-collaborate with other faculty and professional programs on campus and comforted at the thought that my work does not have to exclusively stay in Gillings.

Lastly, I was excited to leave the Northeast! I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and I wanted a change in location, environment and perspective. A lot of my friends raved that I would love the Research Triangle area and it is a great location for young professionals. In addition, once I was offered the position to serve as a Graduate Research Assistant in The Graduate School, I knew opportunities like this do not come often, so Chapel Hill became my new home.

Tell us about your area of interest.

I am interested in the intersections of preventative medicine and education and how that can affect health outcomes. That may be very broad, but I’m currently working with my faculty mentor on an upcoming independent study that will allow me to explore topics such as these through a qualitative study. It is my hope to put research into practice and work as a practitioner, lending cultural insights that will help health care providers and servers in the North Carolina country (or other environments) to better understand their clients’ social determinants of health and the biases that health care institutions often systematize to the detriment of marginalized patients.

Ideally, I would love to put these insights to work by helping to develop cultural empathy training programs that instruct health care providers and extenders on the critical intersections in which a client’s social determinants and the provider’s cultural knowledge

will positively or adversely affect the delivery of services. Ultimately, this training program would encourage health care administrators to systematically evaluate policies, onboarding content and procedures, communication protocols with patients – the everyday practices and processes that result in the patient’s well-being or decline.

What does it mean to you to be a first-generation graduate student in your family?

There is so much gratitude and joy in my family. As a Nigerian-American and first-generation graduate student, I receive a lot of support from my family, friends and extended community back in New York. Many see my vision and the reason I am pursuing my MPH, and jokingly (but half seriously) encourage me to pursue a Ph.D. or a terminal professional degree in the near future. Being the first in my family to obtain my master’s degree means access, though I’m still learning how to navigate that and what that looks like as a woman of color in the realm of academia and the field of public health. I have confidence in my sense of self, but I’m unsure what a person like me in my field can look like. My parents are thankful that I have taken the next step in my academic and professional career. For me, I’m honestly still internalizing what this experience means for me. Hopefully, by the time I’ve completed my program, I might have words to describe my experience.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your Carolina degree?

I plan to continue to work in the field of health, applying the skills and experiences I’ve had at Gillings directly to the work I do. I’m looking forward to exploring independent study opportunities, engaging in summer practicum and collaborating with organizations who are committed to health equity. In terms of what I would want to do after my degree, I’m open to talking about that come May 2021. I have accomplished so much while being here and I’m looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

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