MPH@GW Student Spotlight: Leah Palmer
Current Position: IT Governance Manager, Procter & Gamble
Leah Palmer is an experienced IT professional and a mother of three teenagers. With a passion for health and wellness, Leah was inspired to earn an MPH in order to transition into a meaningful, new career. She wanted to attend a top program that offered a mix of flexibility and challenge. Known for its distinguished faculty, rigorous coursework and live online classes, MPH@GW is the perfect option for her. Leah plans to relocate to the Pacific Northwest and hopes to connect with classmates and other public health professionals in that region.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been an IT professional with Procter & Gamble for nearly three decades and have held a variety of positions, ranging from hands-on technical to project management to strategic and organizational leadership. My specific discipline is IT service management, which is focused on the implementation and on-going management of IT services to support business needs — more of a customer-centric model as opposed to traditional technology based. Throughout my career, I’ve been based in Cincinnati, but I’ve been fortunate to lead global teams and travel frequently to Asia, Europe and Latin America.
On a personal note, I have three teenagers (two of my own and one soon-to-be-stepson), all of whom are in the process of launching their own lives in college and the military. My interest in health and wellness came a bit late in life when I discovered running at age 39 with a simple goal of running a 5k. Within a year, I was running marathons and finally felt like a true athlete after running in Boston in 2010. I’m getting married in September 2015, and my partner and I thoroughly enjoy all outdoor sports including hiking, cycling, running, kayaking, mountain biking and the occasional tomahawk throwing (a great stress reliever during finals!).
Why and when did you decide to earn an MPH degree?
In 2012, I began exploring my interests for a “post-P&G” career and began strongly considering something in health care. I was inspired by Cecelia Hurwich’s memoir, 92 and Dancing, which recounts the life story of a fascinating woman with a zest for life who, at the age of 70, earned her PhD studying the characteristics that make women vital well into their 70s, 80s and even 90s and became a leading authority on vital aging. While I’m proud of my career with P&G and the contributions I’ve made to improve the lives of consumers worldwide, I am ready to move from an indirect contribution to one where the “rubber meets the road.” An MPH degree provides the right education and training for me to leverage my business experience, coupled with my passion for health and wellness, and directly help others to improve their lives and potentially be “dancing” at 92 and beyond.
Why did you choose the MPH@GW program?
The MPH@GW program provides the ideal setting to lay a foundation for my health career. As one of the leading schools in public health, GW is well known for its world-class faculty and rigorous academics, attracting top students from around the globe. By offering the program online, MPH@GW has extended its reach to include an even more diverse set of students, which further enriches the interactive learning experience to prepare students for a challenging and meaningful career in public health. As a working professional, I can attest that this program provides the ideal mix of challenge and flexibility to progress my career goals.
Do you have a desired focus area?
I chose deliberately not to set a focus area until I had completed at least one year in the program. However, I see myself more likely to be engaged in implementing community health programs, educating on disease management and prevention and working within both the public and private sector to design and analyze public health policies.
What excites you most about the program?
I’m most looking forward to the culminating experience, and I hope to tap into the GW community for this. While I still have core courses to complete, I’m already beginning to percolate some ideas that would include conducting a small research project. Presenting my poster at a future American Public Health Association (APHA) conference is definitely a goal.
Do you have a favorite class and professor?
Two favorites come to mind: 1) Environmental & Occupational Health in a Sustainable World with Dr. LaPuma and Dr. Gray was thoroughly enjoyable, due in large part to their exceptional lecture styles; and 2) Biostatistical Applications for Public Health was not necessarily a “fun” course for me, but Dr. Hoffman’s explanations were very clear, and she truly went beyond the call of duty to assist me and other students in learning the material.
What has been your favorite part of the experience at MPH@GW?
My favorite experience so far was meeting fellow MPH@GW students at the APHA annual conference in New Orleans. The conference itself was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the opportunities in public health and be inspired by great leaders. However, I found the personal contact with classmates whom I’ve shared classes and worked together on projects was a highlight. Perhaps as the MPH@GW program grows, “local interest groups” can be formed for students to study and network in person.
Do you know what you would like to do for your practicum experience?
I’m just beginning to explore practicum opportunities, targeting summer 2015 for the experience. I’m currently researching nonprofits and county public health departments that will provide an environment that is significantly different from my for-profit IT career.
In your opinion, what’s the best thing about earning your MPH online with GW?
MPH@GW offers the appropriate mix of challenge and flexibility, one that is difficult to attain while working full time, especially in an unrelated field. As a nontraditional student, I am thankful for GW’s support and giving me the opportunity to enter a new field later in life without having to impose a “hard stop” on current employment.
What are you hoping to accomplish upon graduation?
I hope to be able to use my newly earned MPH degree — coupled with my business experience and skills in developing strategic plans, delivering projects with excellence and working with diverse groups of people — to make a fundamental change in the effectiveness of a variety of public health interventions. I hope that real people will see real improvements in their lives because I was able to make a difference in their health care and overall health.