Journey to becoming a faculty member and why mentorship is at the core of everything, with Gwendolyn Francavillo

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Gwendolyn Roberts Francavillo, a professor at the School of Health Sciences at Marymount University and an active leader and member of the American Public Health Association. They talk about mentorship, the various paths into academia, and how Gwendolyn is working with the APHA to support the education and professional development of public health professionals

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Gwendolyn found her way to public health through her sociology degree and her experience working as a peer health educator
  • How Gwendolyn’s 24+ years of work experience in public health has influenced the way she teaches and mentors students
  • Gwendolyn’s areas of research that she focuses on including women’s health, public health ethics, and holistic wellness
  • The importance of taking care of yourself and Gwendolyn’s work with the American Public Health Association to help public health professionals connect and grow
    • What led to Gwendolyn forming the Learning and Professional Development Committee of APHA’s Public Health and Health Promotion Section
  • What a day in Gwendolyn’s life looks like and how she balances her work in academia and with the APHA
  • How collaboration, social support, and mentorship can help you learn and expand your career opportunities
  • The biggest challenges Gwendolyn faced through her career in academia and advice she has for others considering a career in academia
    • The different nontraditional ways to enter into academia and teaching

Today’s Guest:

Dr. Gwendolyn Roberts Francavillo is an experienced, tenured Associate Professor of Public Health in the School of Health Sciences at Marymount University. She has taught and conducted research at universities since 1998 with expertise in holistic stress management, public health ethics, wellness, sexuality, and global health. Dr. Francavillo has an interactive teaching approach to make any topic fun and engaging! A professional endeavor of hers is to establish an interest among her students in research methods and theoretical foundation. She was recently elected President-Elect of Marymount’s Faculty Council. Dr. Francavillo has a PhD and Master’s degree in Public Health, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). One of her passions is teaching yoga to varied populations for over 20 years and is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT). She has received funding, published findings, and presented at national conferences. For APHA, for the PHEHP section, Dr. Francavillo is a Governing Councilor, Founding Chair of the Learning and Professional Development Committee, and Vice-Chair of the Membership Engagement Committee. Dr. Francavillo feels her calling is to help others embrace positivity, feel empowered to take responsibility for their own health, and be the best selves they can be!

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Gwendolyn 0:00
Finding the passion in your studies, you know, in public health and really investing yourself and finding out what interests you and applying that to your future career is really important. And I think working closely with students makes that happen. Because I think that, you know, not just seeing students in the classroom and then letting them go. But you know, having them get personally invested in their futures is important. And that’s one of my favorite things of working with students.

Sujani 0:33
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT. Hi, Gwendolyn. And welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. It’s so wonderful to have you here. And I’m really excited to get in on your journey. But also, I think we’re going to be speaking about something that’s very close to both of our hearts, which is mentorship and and really giving back and helping others in their careers.

Gwendolyn 1:08
Yes, I’m excited. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Sujani 1:12
Okay, so let’s start from kind of the very beginning. You know, one of my favorite questions is how some of my guests have discovered this field of public health and decided I’m gonna build a career here in this space, because, for me, it was very accidental, you know, I did not know this field of public health and epidemiology existed. And I discovered it because of a wonderful elective course during my undergraduate years. So curious, you know, what the journey has been for you? I know you have a bachelor’s in sociology. So at what point did you discover this field of public health?

Gwendolyn 1:49
Very interesting. I also discovered public health in my undergraduate studies as well. And like you said, I did get a degree in sociology initially, but I extracurricular really was a Peer Health Educator. So in 94, my sophomore year, found out about this program and decided to apply because I was really interested in women’s health and became interested in women’s health through sociology. So decided to apply for this position on campus. And it could also be integrated as credit for my study. So I thought that was great. But for three years, I was a pure health educator in my undergraduate college, and it just, I thought, wow, I could really do this, you know, for a career. So the director of the program, he himself was studying for his mph, and I thought, Wow, this seems unbelievable. To me, this is just so fun. And, you know, in talking with him, and him, being a mentor to me, decided to take that path. So instead of changing my undergraduate major, I decided to get an emphasis in women’s health and work with the professors within that major, to then be able to springboard into getting a Master’s of Public Health, and then a PhD in public health. So I kind of had building blocks along the way from being a Peer Health Educator, to then working as a assistant health educator there at my college as I was preparing to go to graduate school, in between also doing AmeriCorps for a year, just kind of building up through my career being health and wellness director, all the way up to working in the community and then becoming faculty. So I knew where I wanted to end up and had to figure out the path of how to get there.

Sujani 3:46
Yeah, it sounds like maybe going into academia may not have been a part of the initial plan, or, you know, maybe during your undergrad, did you consider that as a potential path? Or was that something you’re discovering along the way?

Gwendolyn 4:00
I think sociology and public health have a lot of underlying similar characteristics, such as theory, research methods, looking at the community, the types of variables used in study, survey, collection of data, things like that. So two of my professors in my major undergraduate work were strong role models to need to women and their research in women’s health and getting NIH grants and, you know, all of the work that they did really helped me plan my trajectory, I guess, and I kind of saw working on a university campus. I did that for over a decade, but 15 years actually, more in student affairs, community work, things like that, kind of working towards getting a PhD and getting experience and then ultimately thinking I’d like to be a professor. It wasn’t as clear kind of path is so I’m have with research, assistantships and so forth, I was a graduate assistantship with my Master’s of Public Health at the George Washington University. But I kind of then went back to working or in health and wellness. But I think that working outside the classroom has really given me the advantage of, of having a different perspective in the classroom. Because I’m not just lecture based, I really like discussion. I really like interactive activities. And I think that gives the students a different perspective to learning than a lot of just other academics who are lecturing or teaching from a text. So I think my experience of working outside the classroom has helped make the classroom more alive for my students. And I love that because they’re always engaged, they’re talking, they’re participating. And I think that really is the most important part of teaching and learning is having the students engaged and seeing how the material is really a life lesson and not just regurgitation of information. So I do value my outside the classroom, public health experience on the university campuses, as well as in the community, because I think that that has made my classroom more alive. Yeah.

Sujani 6:15
When you explain it like that, I’m thinking about that first job as a peer educator, the skills are very much transferable to being a professor and teaching students. And, of course, they’re not your peers anymore. It’s a different kind of population that you’re working with. But those skills that you learned, throughout, I guess, I think you said about 10 years are very much useful in this new path that you then stepped into after your PhD.

Gwendolyn 6:44
Yeah, and I think too, I was a Peer initially. And then at George Washington University and at Gallaudet University, I lead peer health education programs. So I was able to then kind of take the other role of guiding and training and mentoring. So that I think added a new light as well. And like you said, I’m not the peer. But I think having a closer relationship with the students than just in the classroom too, with training and interacting and teaching them to teach their peers gave us another more relatable experience. So when I’m in the classroom, yes, you know, I’m the professor, I’m the expert. But I think having my lessons be more discussion based and interactive, allows me to be more relatable. And like, you’re saying, I’m not on the same level. But I think my role also is to learn from students. I mean, yes, I have the knowledge, I have the information about public health. However, I think that everyone has different backgrounds, everyone brings something different to the table, and different perspectives. And I think that’s really important. And that’s why I think it’s very valuable to have students participate and share their experiences and their information so that everyone’s learning from one another, including myself, and then that just helps me be a better professor as well.

Sujani 8:08
Absolutely. Yeah, I kind of think back to my grad school days. And, you know, a lot of the memories I have were when students were kind of sharing their experiences about the different topics that we were talking about. And, you know, our classroom was quite rich, because we had a lot of students from, you know, various countries, and everyone was kind of sharing their experiences and their countries and how public health worked. And I think to this day, those are the strong memories I have. And to your point, learning from each other is huge when it comes to just graduate school learning.

Gwendolyn 8:41
Yeah, and I think in the program that I teach, now, at Marymount University, we have undergraduate and graduate public health programs. So I think initially when I came to Marymount, it was more of a health promotion focus. So I hope to morph that into more public health focus with kind of health education, health promotion emphasis. I really am proud of seeing that transition, because I think that, especially now, coming through the pandemic will say, I think that prior to public health was not as well understood. And they think because there’s so many opportunities in public health, it’s so broad, that people think, Okay, well, what can I do with this field? And I think now, it’s become a little more in the forefront of people’s minds. And people are seeing what public health professionals do. Even say, for example, through American Public Health Association, we have dozens of different sections focusing on different parts of public health, from like I said, health promotion, health education, to epidemiology, to advocacy, to policy to all different kinds. I think that people are starting to understand how important it is at all levels. So it’s, it really impacts all professions that can be a compliment at our university, we have a minor in public health. So we have nursing students or psychology students or political science students minoring in public health, and I just think it’s such a great complement to so many fields. And I think people are really starting to understand that and it’s just so exciting.

Sujani 10:22
Yeah, it is, it is a kind of want to go back to something you were talking about where you were talking about the courses that you’re teaching, and I think you mentioned like health promotion, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s rare to have professors who have worked for like a decade out in the field before they come and teach those courses. And I think, for you, or for your students, at least, you know, getting to learn from quote, unquote, your real world experience must be that much better for them. I don’t know if you have anything more to add to that in terms of just your journey. And having had that decade of experience before you can go into the classroom and kind of essentially train the next generation with what you had experience, in addition to, of course, the research that you’re doing.

Gwendolyn 11:13
it does definitely give me a different perspective, which I value, because I think that, like you said, a lot of times, academics go through their journey through schooling, and then continue on just to teaching. And I think that having health and wellness as well as community experience allows me to be able to talk to the students about what kind of opportunities are out there more, because they’re in the forefront of my mind of what I’ve experienced and and what they can do. So I have worked in health, education, health promotion, in a variety of things. One of my first jobs, even before college was working through a hospital, working in their community outreach center. So teaching group fitness classes, and doing health fairs and things like that. And I think that kind of allowed me to realize that I do like that field. And then I guess, when I saw the peer health education opportunity, I thought, hmm, you know, this is kind of along the same lines of what I had been doing. And it’s just interacting with people and helping them be the best selves they can be and live better lives. And I think health education, health promotion isn’t necessarily just the knowledge because, for example, smoking, everyone knows smoking is bad, though there’s still people smoking, right? So it has a lot more to do with working with individuals than just teaching them what’s good and bad for their health. So it’s learning about what the influences are on their life, and who was involved in their life? Where did they learn to choose their behaviors, the attitudes about behaviors? Do they feel confident in the behaviors that they’re choosing? Do they feel confident to make different choices next time. So a lot of times with my students, I teach a health psychology class. And I think that that is really the underlying foundation of behavior change and health, education, health promotion, it’s understanding where people are coming from and helping them learn how to make better choices for themselves, have them feel empowered, I think empowerment really is the key word because I think that people know, right and wrong health behaviors, but they are not quite sure how to get to where they want to be. Or they have influences. We talked in my classes about even social support, right? Belongingness sometimes we’re making choices because we want to feel like we fit in or we, you know, want to go along with people that we care about family and friends, what decisions are they making? Oh, if they’re doing it, that must be okay for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going along with people’s beliefs. So I think that, you know, I kind of take the holistic approach to teaching public health education and health promotion, where you’re looking at all parts of an individual, it’s not just okay, if I eat well, and I’m not sedentary and I reduce my stress and I get enough sleep, then I’m good. That’s not the case. So I think that looking at the whole person, and trying to help them feel empowered to make the decisions that they really believe in is really one of the most important things and a lot of my research focuses on that too. Initially, my research focused on sexual assault, which was pretty heavy, but very important. And then public health ethics, which was more on how to make ethical decisions for behaviors. So it still was the Public Health Education and Health Promotion approach, and most recently focused on trying to help individuals with emotion focus coping, how to reduce our stress and I think that’s really kind of come into play a lot during COVID. I work a lot with the American Public Health Association. And we were planning National Public Health Week of 2020. And it was going to be an in person event. And it was a no go, of course. So I become involved in leadership in 2019. And we all came together and said, Alright, what do you public health professionals need? How can we meet their needs? What do they need? And we really figured out that people needed to come together, they needed the connection, needed the support, they needed mentoring, they needed to destress. So things that I think a lot of people were realizing during that time, but we also need to take care of ourselves as public health professionals, not just those that we are serving in our communities.

Sujani 16:01
Yeah. Your involvement with APHA did that happen throughout being a faculty or is that something that you felt was important much earlier in your career?

Gwendolyn 16:12
I first went to APHA meeting when I was in graduate school, it was fine, a group of us went and I’ve been involved throughout presenting different years and so forth. But then just decided to take more of an active role in 2019. And it was great became involved in membership engagement, and then was elected a governing counselor to help guide policy for the organization in 2020. But like I said, as the pandemic started, individuals were really isolating, that’s when we realized that something really needed to be done. And those that were out in the field, were having stress issues. And like I said, most recently, my research focused on trying to deal with reducing stress and the negative health outcomes related to that, and a lot of emotion focused coping variables that are related to that things that maybe people wouldn’t necessarily realize. So helping others altruism really has a great benefit for those that you’re helping but also for yourself, and forgiveness, and just social support, and a lot of things that we realize are important things, but not how much they really impact our mental health. So I proposed coming up with some destress sessions at the beginning. So starting in May of 2020, we did some bi weekly destress sessions and pulled together some of the experts from our section in APHA. And they were so well attended, and people came back multiple times to multiple sessions. And we got great feedback to show that it was very beneficial, especially with the time where we are isolating. And as research shows, social support is very necessary for positive health outcomes. So even those that were not getting COVID and having health issues because of COVID. They were slowly deteriorating, or you know, we had a lot of other deaths because of not having the social support not having those around them that people needed just for mental health. So we started to then collaborate with other sections in APHA to, to have different webinars just to have public health professionals come together, we started doing more networking types of things. And then in March of 2021, I propose to the section that hey, let’s make this an official committee and let’s get some leaders. Let’s get other people. So I found two vice chair so I decided to chair the committee. Over 50 members of APHA joined to help in the committee to start planning events and webinars and networking and different sessions and people were really on board and we sent out a needs assessment survey, figure out which topics people were interested in. So we kind of were branching out from destress to talk about other topics that were of interest individuals, we had great response rate. So we just were off and running. And we have one to two sessions a month we collaborate with the other section. You know, we’ve had 1000s of people come to these sessions over the past two and a half years. We have teams that are helping to plan these sessions. So the committee is learning and professional development committee. We now are collaborating with lots of different experts. So I think it’s really important because we are utilizing the strengths of members of APHA, and then this year APHA’s goal, one of their work plan goals was to focus on mentoring. So in addition to focusing on the topic interests of members, we have really taken that on and especially with some people still working virtually, and, you know, people not being as interactive as they were prior to early 2020. People really need to figure out ways to connect. So this mentoring goal, so we’re doing webinars, we’re doing matching of mentors, getting experts for online teaching, it could be in the community, or academia, or professional development, we’re having these webinars that are supposed to last an hour, and people are wanting to stay on for two hours and more just to ask questions or, you know, interact with each other. And it’s so inspiring that people are so excited and involved.

Sujani 21:00
I think the numbers that you’re sharing of how people are coming back, and they want this is a testament to how huge the need was, because you know, I’ve been on wellness committees at different jobs I’ve been at and I know we gotta you gotta pull people off, they’re off their chairs to come to these sessions till to hear that people are staying behind or coming back for more, I think it’s either you guys are doing amazing job at these sessions or the pandemic, really, you know, through this need, and you are able to identify that for your members.

Gwendolyn 21:34
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think it’s excellent that this is fulfilling a need for people, you and I were talking earlier about how your podcast fulfills the need for providing backgrounds for individuals so that people can get more involved in public health. And I think that’s excellent. And a couple of the webinars that we’ve done just this year in 2022, one was finding passion and your public health journey. So similar to your podcast, which focuses on one at a time, we had a panel of different individuals talking about their experiences, how they got to be a public health professional, their studies their experiences, because not everyone has a path where they start out and say, Yes, public health, this is for me. And I think that having people like I said before, public health is so broad, sometimes people will maybe get a little bit overwhelmed with all the options are not quite sure, you know, the path to get to where they want to be, or even the options that are out there. So I think that providing like these podcasts, or, you know, the webinar, we had another one in September, just talking about different public health professionals and their experience with COVID response. So just seeing how people out there, their experiences, their lived experiences as a public health professional can really help others say, oh, yeah, you know, that’s what I’d like to do. And I think that started with me all the way back because, you know, like I said, I was doing it for fun. And I realized, oh, my gosh, you know, people really do this for their career. I think that I love what I do as a faculty member and you know, all the APHA work that I do is, is for fun, and I’ll say in quotes, because a lot of work. It’s so fulfilling.

Gwendolyn 21:48
That takes me to one of my other questions is like, yeah, how are you balancing your days and weeks as a very active member at APHA as well as being a tenured faculty member at Marymount? So yeah, what does a day in the life look like or week if you want to summarize it by the week?

Gwendolyn 23:47
Well, I will have to say it is a juggle. I love my real job, as I’ll say in quotes again, as a faculty member, there’s a lot of commitments as well teaching. Like I said, before I teach health psychology I teach global health. I teach stress management. In the past, I’ve taught research methods theory, one of my favorite classes that I teach is, kind of just, like commonly na experience for students bringing everything together. I just love to see the students applying everything that they’ve learned and bring it together and find passion in their research. And I think that’s, it’s kind of funny, my students always laugh at me, but I say, All right, I’m gonna get you all excited about research and how can you find passion in this because you get to pick the topic and have you get excited because you get to invest your time and effort in this and I love to see that and my students. We have a student research conference every year at Marymount and I also initiated a fall research day as well for our students, but my students have won a ton of awards at these conferences and you know, they’ve gone on to get jobs at NIH and CDC and straight into doctoral programs from undergrad and I just, I think, finding the passion in your studies, you know, in public health and really investing yourself and finding out what interests you and applying that to your future career is really important. And I think working closely with students makes that happen. Because I think that, you know, not just seeing students in the classroom and then letting them go. But you know, having them get personally invested in their futures is important. And that’s one of my favorite things of working with students. Also, we have a service component of what we need to do as faculty. I was just recently elected as president elect of our faculty council. So and the faculty council leadership committee, so you know, I jump right in, I guess, yeah, things like I said, my research recently is focused on stress management, which kind of makes me giggle, because I need to practice what I preach a little more, a little more self care. I think what I say it’s always is the best reminder to yourself is when you’re teaching others, so when I’m teaching students or if I’m, you know, conducting studies, about stress management, I like oh, yeah, right. Okay.

Sujani 26:18

Gwendolyn 26:19
Remember, for yourself as well, right? And I think you know, with APHA in the committee, and I have found some awesome vice chairs that take on a lot of load, their names are Kim,and Ashley, we’re a team. And you know, I think we work well together. And like I said, there’s 50 Plus committee members, everyone steps up, they either present, they get presenters, their marketing, it takes the load off. And I think some of the things I’ve learned in public health, that I think are most important are collaboration. And I think, I didn’t know that initially, I thought, all right, how am I going to get to, you know, where I want to be? A lot of times people focus on what do I need to do? And how do I do this, but I think that collaborating with others, is good for everybody. It takes the load off you a little bit, but it also brings people together. And I think, especially, it’s been a reminder during COVID, that that’s one of the most important things that makes the world go round that bringing people together is one of the most important things I mean, it helps our mental health, it helps our career opportunities. Like we’re talking about mentoring, I learned from everybody. So even being a leader in Public health and the university and the community. APHA, I think I’m still learning, and I think I love to collaborate and network with others, learn from them, integrate new ideas, I think things should be dynamic, they should always be in motion and talk about mentoring. And a lot of times that students and early career professionals, but even public health professionals at all levels, it’s really important to work with one another and, and learn from each other. And, you know, I see mentoring working in different directions. And I think that that’s really important, because, like I said before, with my students, we all have different backgrounds and experiences. And that makes us all better public health professionals if we can continue to learn and grow and integrate new ideas and perspectives.

Sujani 28:33
Yeah, no, I completely agree. And that’s one of my top advice is to and I get asked, it’s always, you know, invest in your relationships, invest in the people around you. I think that’s the key to building your career, whether it’s in public health or any other field, it’s definitely the people the community that you have around you.

Gwendolyn 28:52
Yeah, definitely.

Sujani 28:53
Yeah. I want to ask about, you know, just as you are, you know, getting into almost two decades in your role as a faculty member in various universities, what are some of the challenges that you faced in building a career in academia, and I know, there’s no shortage of articles and social media posts around how challenging it is to build a career in academia, but curious to hear not only the challenges, but also advice for any of our listeners who may be thinking about a similar path to yours.

Gwendolyn 29:28
Like I mentioned, my path is a little different than other academics. I think it’s pretty traditional to kind of go straight through undergrad masters, PhD, research assistant or graduate assistant and then continue on teaching. But I kind of mixed it up a little bit. I actually gave up a graduate assistantship during my doctoral studies so I could stay working at Gallaudet, in health and wellness, directing the programs on campus and working with the Peer Health Advocates have made it a little more challenging. But like I said before, I think that really gave me a different perspective. I had mentors here and there. During my time, I think I had an excellent mentor and my graduate studies during my MPH at the George Washington University, Pat Sullivan, she was excellent. She really took me under her wing and helped me kind of figure out what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be. And I think during my doctoral studies, Robin Sawyer, he was really instrumental to and good balance, I mean, focusing on teaching and research, but also life balance. And I think those are some of the most important lessons that I learned. But I think finding mentors that can help you. And like I said, it wasn’t one person throughout my career saying, you know, this is what you need to do step step, step. But like I said, my first mentor, the director of the peer health education program, in my undergraduate studies, he was getting his mph and I thought, wow, oh, I could do that, too. I mean, modeling, right is one of the things that we focus on in public health, at least in public health, education, health promotion. And when I’m working with students to figure out what they want to do I say, What do you enjoy? What do you like to do? What would you want to do during a day? Where do you feel valued? What kind of people do you want to work with? And I think, my mentors in undergraduate, Patrick, and they all just worked with me to help me decide my path. And I think somebody that wanted to go into academia is I know, this sounds silly. But I would never recommend someone get a PhD just to get a PhD. That if it’s where, if you need it for where you want to go, I would highly recommend it. It’s really an endurance.

Sujani 31:57
And is that the reason you went for a PhD is because you knew that you wanted to, like become a faculty member, as you were exposed to the university environment with your peer educator type of work?

Gwendolyn 32:10
Yes, I knew that I would need it. So I actually, I took a year between my undergraduate and master’s I took a year to do AmeriCorps than after my master’s, I took three years to just work at Gallaudet University, just to get that real world experience, and then you appreciate your, your education even more, it’s not just a straight through, it’s not just a Okay, another fall, let’s get started in this other, you know, academic year, I think that realizing and appreciating each step of the way and, you know, confirming this the path you want, and, you know, a PhD is a marathon. But I think, you know, if that’s what you need to get to where you want to be, then persistence, motivation. My family was very supportive. You know, I have friends that were in my doctoral program that abd still never finished that final dissertation. And I think that going back to social support, it really takes the people on your life supporting you to finish and having the mentors to help push you through and investing time. So I think finding key people in your life, because getting to academia, I think it takes endurance, but it’s worth it. I love it. I love the variable things that I’m able to do. I love working with students, there’s a lot of interdisciplinary work that I love being able to, you know, get different perspectives in teaching and in research.

Sujani 33:44
Yeah, you know, goes back to some of the questions that you ask your students like, What do you enjoy? Where do you see yourself? Asking yourself those questions. And, of course, you know, if you want to be a tenured faculty member, a PhD is almost a must. But then I’m also seeing nowadays that you can become a part time lecturer with your professional experience. And sometimes I’ve seen that, you know, a PhD is an asset. And I’ve also spoken to people who have been able to like either guest lecturer, or be a part time lecturer without a PhD. And I think, you know, again, going back to just understanding why you want to pursue a PhD and if it’s just to be able to mentor students and to teach them, perhaps there are other ways and I don’t know if you have more to add to that and just being kind of on the inside, are seeing any changing trends around, you know, how universities are hiring faculty members, part time and in full time, tenured and everything else.

Gwendolyn 34:52
Sure, and I even have colleagues that have master’s and you know, I recommend teaching at the community college level. There’s a lot have great programs at community colleges as well, where you don’t have to have a PhD. And a lot of times, there are specific tracks and agreements that community colleges have with for your institutions. So it’s a great place for those that want to teach with a master’s to start work at Canadian colleges, because then those students will get this great foundation from them, and then transfer to four year institutions for the last two years. Like you said, there’s different types of faculty positions. Now, some institutions are moving away from tenure track, which is unfortunate, but understandable. But like you said, you know, there’s professors of practice, there’s instructor or lecturer positions or even visiting professors. So opportunities for people to get experience where it’s more of a teaching focus than having, you know, multiple responsibilities with research and services. Well, that allows individuals who are interested in teaching that also may have real world experience to bring that to the classroom. And I think that’s really most valuable, because that’s what students need. They need to have individuals teaching them that know what it is like in the field that can share that information. I think one of the most common conversations I have with students is, what job can I get? Major, right. And like I said, people are minoring in public health and to use it as a compliment, but also transferring into the major from other majors or, you know, saying, oh, yeah, because of COVID. Public Health. Yeah, I’ve heard that now. And but I think that you were talking about getting into academia, I think that there’s all different ways to get into academia now that aren’t, you know, just the traditional method as before. And I think that’s a great opportunity for the career path, but also valuable for the students to be able to have professors teaching them from different perspectives, and not just traditionally going through schooling to teachings.

Sujani 37:12
You know, on a personal level, I definitely enjoyed those guest lectures. And these were professionals, public health practitioners who are working out in the field, and our professors would call them in to teach a special lecture and just hearing about their day to day work. And the way they were using whatever we’re being taught out in the real world kind of really solidified some of the theories that we were learning. And I know, I definitely appreciated having instructors or lecturers who had that real world experience. And I really hope that more and more of those individuals can become educators.

Gwendolyn 37:51
I agree. And I think like you’re saying with guest lectures, but I think whoever is in the classroom, and internships and shadowing, and however students can get experience too, with professionals inside and outside the classroom are so beneficial. And I tried to mix things up for my students, you know, especially depending on geographic location, too, though, on opportunities. I’m in the DC area. So I mean, we have you know, federal government agencies and lots of nonprofits and APHA and SOPHIE and all these different organizations are, you know, right here, to meet in person or to at least reach out to and say, hey, you know, I’m in the area, but I think that that’s most advantageous to students is either having Professor interactions with real world, students can see the true application, their futures to how it applies to their life, if they are using public health as a compliment, or if they choose to have it be their career path. Like I said before, it really interacts with so many fields, and it’s so worthwhile.

Sujani 39:05
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. When you look back at your, your journey today, Gwendolyn, do you ever kind of get the sense, you know, maybe I would have done things a little bit differently, or are you like, I don’t know, I’m really happy about the the path that I took.

Gwendolyn 39:21
My journey was a little more challenging, maybe just because I didn’t take a traditional path, but I am still happy with the path that I took. I think that it is given me different perspectives. I felt like I had to go and search more of mentors or be a little more persistent sometimes. But I think that made me stronger. And in turn, then I want to provide more services. And I think that’s why I’m so invested in this APHA program of mentoring In providing professional development, throughAPHA to students, early professionals, all public health professionals, I just think that I would have liked to have some of these opportunities for myself and providing them for others, I hope that it makes it a little bit easier for others. I don’t look back and say I wish I had done it differently. But I wish there had been more opportunities. And so therefore, I try to do that for others now.

Sujani 40:27
Oh, I love that. I love that. And yeah, no, thank you for finding that need, and then really pushing that through. And we’ll be sure to link up some of those resources when your episode goes live by and share that with our listeners as well. Yeah, so what are you looking forward to? What are some of the goals that you have or excited about when you think about the future of your career?

Gwendolyn 40:51
I’m happy with the path. I feel like, you know, I’ve invested a lot of time, I think it’s interesting looking back over the last two and a half years, I feel like a lot of times people have taken up extra hobbies and had more downtime. And I’ve kind of jumped more into public health work, which I’m happy about. And I think it’s really made a contribution to the field. I look forward to more collaboration to kind of spread the load out. I’m happy in my faculty position. I look forward to introducing new things to students. Something that we’ve done through Marymount is global travel. So I students to Costa Rica, it was actually March of 2020. So well, let’s get stuck in Costa Rica. But but I like to, like I said real world experiences, so do more of that with students. So I think that continuing on the path, I’m happy with where I am, I feel great satisfaction with what I contribute. And I really am enjoying my work as a faculty and the time that I contribute to APHA as well.

Sujani 42:09
It’s wonderful. Thanks so much, Gwendolyn. For yeah, just coming on the podcast, sharing your journey and all the wonderful advice that you were able to share with our listeners. And I really hope we’ll be able to connect again to do this again.

Gwendolyn 42:23
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure. And I’ve enjoyed talking with you. Thank you.

Sujani 42:30
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more or want to join the club, you can visit our page at And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how it this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career club.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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