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WHRY Undergraduate Scholars Pursue Our Mission


Since 2015, Women’s Health Research at Yale has mentored 25 undergraduate students and counting. Along with our young faculty and graduate students, they learn crucial lessons about women’s health and sex and gender differences in health with them as they continue their education and begin their careers. Here is a sampling of what our alumni are up to now.

Nafeesa Abuwala, ’19

As a WHRY Fellow, Nafeesa worked with the Mental Health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) partnership to help implement a culturally sensitive program for immigrant mothers and their children to overcome barriers to care.

In 2020, she completed her Masters in Public Health through the five-year BA/BS-MPH program at the Yale School of Public Health. For the past two years, she has worked as a postgraduate fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Hugh Taylor, chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine. She has contributed primarily to research on reproductive endocrinology and fertility, focusing on the biology of the uterus.

Before applying to medical school, Nafeesa will spend a year conducting public health research remotely with one of her mentors, exploring the benefits of peer counseling and breastfeeding in underprivileged communities. financial ressources.

She credits WHRY and MOMS for helping shape her career goals to become an obstetrician-gynecologist with a strong connection to community and research to achieve social justice.

“I benefited from being around other female scientists who felt the same way or had similar interests,” she said. “They felt confident in what they wanted to do in a way that gave me confidence in what I wanted to do. And that’s to advocate for patients and make sure they have agency when it is their own body.

With WHRY, Nafeesa practiced her Spanish language skills while conducting and transcribing interviews and organizing data for qualitative research projects with MOMS. She said the experience cultivated skills that she will continue to use as she pursues her goal of becoming a public health-focused physician and helping improve access to healthcare for people. marginalized. Particularly women.

“One thing that I really loved about our WHRY Fellowship roundtables was speaking critically about the gaps in our health science regarding women,” she said. “It was eye-opening at the time and a critical conversation that we all need to have.”

Anjali Walia, ’21

Anjali’s time at WHRY helped inform her decision to pursue a career in women’s health. She recently completed her freshman year at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, where she is considering a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology and is conducting research to see if pregnant patients with severe preeclampsia should undergo a trial of labor.

“I am very grateful to WHRY for focusing my interest in the area of ​​women’s health, especially as it extends far beyond reproductive health,” she said, noting that medical education does not always include evolving knowledge about how sex and gender influence so many people. aspects of biology and behavior. “I spoke to clinicians about possible research into sex and gender differences affecting conditions that don’t strictly involve female organs.”

In addition, Anjali also sought outlets for the science communication skills she developed while writing for WHRY’s student blog. At UCSF, she joined a writing group and volunteered for a podcast dedicated to sharing the voices of healthcare providers through storytelling. She began coordinating an elective for students to serve as health coaches for inpatients at San Francisco General Hospital. And she explored opportunities with a group working to integrate sex education into the curriculum for medical school professional staff.

Ke’ala Akau, ’22

Last fall, Ke’ala began classes toward a master’s degree in public health through a five-year BA/BS-MPH program at the Yale School of Public Health. She focuses her studies on social and behavioral sciences as well as social justice and health equity.

“As someone who wants to become a doctor, I think it’s important to understand the social determinants of health,” she said. “How does history influence the factors that create health disparities? »

Last summer, she received a competitive scholarship for a scholarship with Downtown Soup Kitchen in New Haven, in collaboration with Executive Director Steve Werlin. Her work included writing and tracking grants, developing a social media strategy, and contributing to and writing the nonprofit’s newsletter.

Ke’ala plans to take a year off before entering medical school, possibly working with a community organization while conducting research.

“I’ve embraced what’s called community-based participatory research,” she said, noting how WHRY works with the policy lab. raise and its local collaborators. “It can be very helpful to involve community partners in every step of the process, from choosing study topics to analyzing and disseminating the results.”

As a communications officer at WHRY, she explored the importance of inclusive language and policies to increase access to menstrual products. And while she’s not sure exactly where her career might take her, she imagines those skills will remain invaluable.

“For physician leaders within health systems, communication is a big part of their role,” she said. “Whether it’s talking to a patient at the clinic, making an announcement, or advocating for a cause in the community. It is important that people have the information they need to make decisions about their health.

Cecilia Crews, ’19

Cecilia has just completed her first year as an MPH student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. She is spending the summer in Ghana working on a research project evaluating a new emergency response system in the northern region of the country.

“My public health interests have changed a lot over the years, certainly with the help of WHRY,” she said. “I’m interested in the systems that underpin these vertical programs, like HIV treatment or malnutrition. With my degree, I want to build stronger health systems in countries that are striving to expand beyond an aid relationship with the international community. Promote more sustainability in their health system.

Her experience helping WHRY integrate sex and gender research findings into the medical school curriculum has continued to shape her thinking.

“It needs to be integrated into every conversation,” she said. “Women’s health and the role that sex, gender, race and ethnicity play in health. To better prevent and treat diseases and conditions, we need to understand the social determinants of health. »

This summer will mark Cecilia’s second service-related trip to Africa. Before the pandemic forced her to return home, she worked as a maternal and child health volunteer with the Peace Corps in Rwanda. Even though her plans take her far, her thoughts often return to her time with WHRY at home, working with WHRY Director Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, and her mentor on the program project, Dr. Njeri Thande.

“In the women’s health sections of public health classes, we might learn facts about women’s health status and not necessarily feel empowered or optimistic that the world can change,” he said. she declared. “But at WHRY, I learned to be more than an advocate. They helped me see what needed to change and take action.

Nardos Kebede, ’20

As a WHRY Fellow, Nardos Kebede worked in the behavioral neuroscience lab of Dr. Nii Addy, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, focusing on sex and gender differences in the neurobiological mechanisms of depression and addiction processes. After graduating, she spent the last two years in Dr. Addy’s lab advancing this work, including projects exploring gender differences in the effects of chronic stress exposure.

“Before my fellowship with WHRY, I had some exposure to how research was conducted,” she said. “But the fellowship, that long lab time, and having mentors focused on women’s health has helped me articulate what’s missing and what kind of research I want to do.”

In August, Nardos will begin a doctoral program in neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta.

“To move forward in my academic career, I really want to conduct studies where sex and gender are a primary focus of analysis and not just an afterthought,” she said. “I’m happy to be in this field and that others are moving in this direction.”