MPH@GW Student Spotlight: Jennifer Leithead
Occupation: Full-Time Student
Jennifer Leithead is currently a full-time MPH@GW student. Before joining the program, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and worked on a grant for the Vermont Department of Health. As an MPH student, she enjoys attending weekly class sessions and is excited to have the opportunity to connect with classmates and faculty from all over the world. Learn more about Jennifer in our Q&A.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in rural northwest Montana on a very small hobby farm. We were so far out that we didn’t have running water until I was 6 years old, and we didn’t get electricity from the grid until I was 18. I went to college at Houghton College, a small liberal arts school in rural western New York, about an hour from Buffalo and Rochester. My entire childhood, I had been heading toward medical school, but after not being accepted the first year, I started to reconsider. I worked for the Forest Service in the forestry department for several years and then moved to Bozeman, Montana. A couple years later, my mother passed away, and I moved back to live with my dad. He got a job offer from U.S. Customs and Border Protection in northeastern Vermont, so we sold the house, packed up and moved across the country. We put down some roots, Dad remarried, and I got a job at the local community action agency coordinating a chronic disease prevention grant from the Vermont Department of Health, where my love of public health and prevention was born.
Why and when did you decide to earn an MPH degree?
I had wanted to go back to school since graduating from undergrad in 2002, but the opportunities were never there, and I wasn’t sure exactly what direction to go. In the fall of 2013, my employment at the time ended. In that moment, I knew the time was right and an MPH was the right direction. I talked with my fiancé, and he agreed that the time was right, so I began the application process.
Why did you choose the MPH@GW program?
After much research, there were a couple things that made the MPH@GW program stand out to me over some of the others. No on-campus residency was required to graduate. In addition, the audio-visual platform and the chance to connect weekly with professors and other students appealed to me. I’ve taken online courses before with the Blackboard discussion platform and discovered that I prefer a more typical classroom setting.
Do you have a desired focus area?
I am most interested in community organizing and community-based prevention programs, specifically programs that focus on physical activity and healthy eating and that have a global health focus. The work I’ve done in the past several years has been coordinating programs and community coalitions, and I love it.
What excites you most about the program?
I’m excited to go more in depth with what I’ve already been doing (community health, prevention, communication and marketing, etc.) and be able to take my career to the next level.
Do you have a favorite class and professor?
I’m only in my second module right now, but PubH6004 Environmental & Occupational Health in a Sustainable World with Dr. Gray as my section leader is definitely my favorite. Having spent my life in Montana and Vermont — two mountainous, beautiful states — environmental issues are important to me, and connecting these issues to health is always interesting. And Dr. Gray is a fantastic teacher, very entertaining!
What has been your favorite part of the experience at MPH@GW?
So far, I really do enjoy having weekly class sessions. Connecting for a moment with people from all over the world who share similar interests is a great part of the program.
Do you know what you would like to do for your practicum experience?
I don’t have much of an idea yet. I’m in a pretty rural part of the state, so my options might be limited, but I’m sure I’ll be able to find something. I would like to continue in the prevention, physical activity and healthy eating vein if possible.
In your opinion, what’s the best thing about earning your MPH online with GW?
I am able to live, work and play in my own home. Physically relocating for school would make it simply impossible for me.
What are you hoping to accomplish upon graduation?
Change can come slowly to rural areas, but I would like to quicken the pace of it here. I could work just about anywhere, but my goal is to make change happen.
What else should we know about you?
I love to garden. I helped start a small network of community gardens in the area and spend as much time out in them as I can during the summer. Seeing the change stemming from one small community garden in the center of a neighborhood makes it all worthwhile.