Expanding beyond one’s comfort zone can not only provide direction but also purpose. Those drawn to public health careers often come to Tulane University knowing “what” they want to do but gain the “why” from a perspective shift from living in New Orleans. As someone who grew up on Bainbridge Island across from Seattle, WA, Ashley Alnwick moved to New Orleans with a limited worldview. Her Tulane undergraduate degree, subsequent pursuit of a Master of Public Health degree in Community Health Sciences at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and participation in the Pincus Family Foundation Violence Prevention Scholarship program have supported Ashley in expanding her opportunity to discover her what and why.
Tulane undergraduates often find it easy to stay in the Uptown bubble, but Ashley’s experience with Tulane Emergency Medical Services (TEMS) and New Orleans EMS allowed her to see more of the city. “It was eye-opening. So many people lacked resources to get adequate health care. If you had a primary care physician, you might not be calling an ambulance,” she said. “This revealed a lot of gaps in opportunity and access.”
Ashley also came to understand inequity as a structural root of violence, and she followed an interest in violence prevention by working with the Tulane Innovations in Positive Parenting Study (TIPPS). With her graduation, she has started as an Infection Preventionist with Touro Hospital, which moves her into epidemiology work. “I feel lucky to have learned from different mentors and what you can do through public health,” she said.
These experiences build upon Ashley’s public health coursework, field practicum, and participation in the Pincus Scholar program. “I’ve come to understand how important interdisciplinary work is and to utilize everyone around you to solve the problems you want to solve,” she said. “You can’t live in the bubble.”
Ashley’s field practicum was at CASA New Orleans, where she focused mostly on an early family engagement program. “The foster care system is complex, and New Orleans faces a lot of short-term placements making it difficult to assign advocates to kids who are in the system for such a short time,” she said. “We needed to help volunteers from being burned out and keep children connected to their families.”
Having gained knowledge of the family court system from her mentor, Ashley wanted to fill in gaps at the organization, collaborate with community stakeholders, and connect with CASA members across the country. She did research to create a model and new volunteer role to address short-term placement, and she looked into new databases to support kinship care.
The Pincus program gave Ashley insight into more opportunities for public health and her role in it. “We had different guest speakers and community partners, and the other scholars are really impactful,” she said. “We all had different backgrounds and interests. This wonderful group of women meshed really well and were able to bounce ideas off each other.”
Ashley wants to continue working directly with people and families, seeing impact, and growing personally and professionally. “There’s a lot of things that can be improved,” she said. “And, listening to the community can help you learn how to fix those problems.”
One bit of advice Ashley is carrying with her is valuable to others at her similar place in life. “Graduation can be overwhelming, when there are so many things you can do. But, you don’t have to think about what you are going to do for the rest of your life. Just think about what you are going to do next,” she said.
Ashley is a member of the first graduating cohort of the Pincus Family Foundation Violence Prevention Scholarship, an interdisciplinary, two-year scholarship program embedded within Tulane’s MPH program and the Violence Prevention Institute (VPI). Through unique experiential learning activities and a field practicum with a partner organization, scholars develop a specialized skill set to effectively collaborate with communities to prevent violence and promote health and well-being.