From Tragedy to Triumph: Alumna Reflects on How MPH Experience Shaped Her Future

Two weeks after Jameta Nicole Barlow, PhD, MPH stepped on campus to start her MPH at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences (what would one day become the Milken Institute School of Public Health) at the George Washington University (GW), terror struck the United States. It was September 11, 2001 – a day that would become a pivotal event that would shape her experience at GW.

“Just when I was learning a new city as a young adult, life completely changed,” said Barlow. “It was a time where myself and many of my classmates were experiencing fear, anxiety, and trauma, and my professors were amazingly supportive of us.”

Barlow is now an assistant professor of writing in the University Writing Program, as well as an affiliate faculty member in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and in the Milken Institute School of Public Health's Jacobs Institute of Women's Health, and credits the relationships she formed with her peers and professors as a major reason why she returned as faculty.

“The faculty at GW really opened doors for me,” said Barlow. “Through my advisor, professor, and now colleague, Dr. Karen McDonnell, I was able to intern at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office on Women's Health. I was also connected with a job in my field in maternal and child health through a guest that lectured in one of my classes. I have made life long professional and personal connections based on the networking and opportunities, nurtured in the classroom.”

In addition to the formative relationships she made with faculty, Barlow also recognized how the diversity in the student body enriched her experience at GW.

“In many of my classes, my peers shared their  personal experiences working in public health – discussing the challenges they faced, improvisations they were forced to make when dealing with crisis situations, and more,” said Barlow. “These conversations opened my worldview in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to experience if not for GW’s commitment to diverse students. This is something that sets us apart and should be nourished, especially within the public health programs.”

Barlow is committed to improving the health of Black girls and women through her academic and professional work as a community health psychologist. In these roles, she applies many of the public health skills she acquired at GW to her work.

“The practical skills I learned at GW have enabled me to succeed while working with the federal government, national nonprofits, and local communities,” said Barlow. “The health of Black girls and women is personal to me, and I’m proud to work every day to move the needle on many of the issues affecting them. My education at GW was really the springboard to my career, and I carry a lot of what I learned during my time as a student with me every day.”

Jameta Nicole Barlow, PhD, MPH, a Charlottesville, Virginia native, is a community health psychologist and an assistant professor of writing in the University Writing Program, as well as an affiliate faculty member in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and in the Milken Institute school of Public Health's Jacobs Institute of Women's Health at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.