Reevaluate and recalibrate regularly, with Shaniece Criss

hosted by:

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Shaniece Criss, an associate professor at Furman university and community leader. They discuss how Shaniece’s passion for media and performance led her to public health and how to incorporate your own interests in order to create a job that is fulfilling for you.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Shaniece’s three spheres of influence and how they have affected her career 
  • How Shaniece found her way into public health through an interest in media and performance
  • Shaniece’s experience going into an MPH straight from an undergraduate degree and the differences she saw between those who had previous work experience in the health field
  • What made Shaniece decide to pursue further education after her MPH
  • What the “golden handcuffs” are and how to take and incorporate aspects of certain professions/interests that bring you happiness to create your own perfect career 
    • How Shaniece has taken her love of media and created a space for it in her various positions
  • What made Shaniece interested in academia and where she hopes to progress to in the future
  • The importance of being involved in boards and councils and how that can further public health in your community
    • How you can start to get involved in various boards and organizations
  • What a day in the life of an associate professor looks like

Today’s Guest:

Dr. Shaniece Criss is a multifaceted, enthusiastic leader who works in the areas of higher education, research, government, and health media. In academia, she is an Associate Professor in the Health Sciences Department at Furman University and a community-engaged qualitative researcher addressing health equity and health communication. As a founding member of the Big Data for Health Equity Research Collaborative, she works with university researchers from across the U.S. to investigate how societal issues impact health. At Furman, she partners with the Institute for the Advancement of Community Health and serves as a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach.

Dr. Criss is an elected official on Travelers Rest City Council and serves on the board of directors for Prisma Health and South Carolina Hospital Association. She also serves as a community advisor for the Jolley Foundation and Greenville County Schools. Most recently, she created the Dr. Shaniece (@DrShaniece) Instagram account to educate others about public health. For her professional and community endeavors, she was recognized as one of eleven leaders from across the state with the “Women Vision SC” Award from ETV. In addition, she was named a “ChangeMaker” by Multiplying Good, inducted into the Greenville County Schools Hall of Fame, and received the UNCF Mayors’ Ball Community Award. 

With a passion to implement effective interventions and policies, she earned her doctorate from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Master of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she was awarded a Presidential Public Service Fellowship. She has a Master of Public Health from Emory University and an undergraduate degree in communication from Oglethorpe University. As a public health practitioner, Dr. Criss served as producer and host for a national television show for the Ministry of Health in Guyana during her Peace Corps service. She also held positions at ICF International, Centers for Disease Control, and CNN.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Shaniece 0:00
You don’t have to do what someone else is doing. The world needs what you have. And so I think the best advice is not looking to the left or to the right to compare. You can look to the left and the right to be inspired, and to support. But you can have a freedom to be on your own path. And so just doing things, however small or big, because that’d be something that can help someone else.

Sujani 0:32
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 Shaniece, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So wonderful to have you here with us.

Shaniece 0:55
Thank you so much. I am so happy to be here.

Sujani 0:58
I love the enthusiasm and the energy. So you know, there’s this one question that I always start my interviews with my guests. But for you, I had this like question on my mind, which I kind of like need to get out of my system before I start with the official interview questions. And it’s kind of around all the wonderful things that you’ve been doing throughout your career. And then I’m like reading up on you. And just following along that journey. And then thinking to myself, when someone asks you Shaniece, like, what do you do? Or who are you? How do you answer that question, just given all of the great projects and work and like teens, and just like everything that you’re a part of?

Shaniece 1:43
Thank you so much. I look at myself as a multi faceted individual. So I like to say I’m an enthusiastic leader who joyfully inspires growth for individual and collective action. And so whatever I do, that is the goal that I have.

Sujani 2:00
Okay, so regardless, if it’s a public health professional coming up to you, or a city official, or, you know, student, you can take your your conversation towards their interests, I guess, based on that response.

Shaniece 2:15
Yes. And then it gives me the opportunity and the freedom to talk about what is going to be helpful for our conversation so that into the public health, or professor, or city council, or content creator. It’s just exciting, because we have a lot of directions, we can go on the conversation.

Sujani 2:35
And so what is often the next question, someone will ask you, when you tell them, this is the work that I do?

Shaniece 2:42
Well, a lot of times get into the public health, especially being an Associate Professor, what does that mean? And a lot of people think of a professor focused on teaching. And I get to say, Okay, it’s teaching. And it’s also research, I part of a research collaborative, big data for Health Equity workers, researchers across the country, to look at how societal issues impact health. And then as far as being an academia, I say, we also have committee service. We’re starting a new master’s program, advocacy and equity studies. And I get to help with that. And then the last component I always mentioned, is just being community based. So that might be on city council. But I also focus on board service. So I’m part of the board for the largest health care system in South Carolina which is Prisma Health and other things. So I just say, I’m interested in a lot of things, but they all kind of had to come under three spheres of influence for me. So when I was 27 years old, I went to a church retreat, and we were just praying, like, what is God’s purpose for our life? And I saw very clearly, I had three spheres of influence. And that was an academia, government and media. So whatever I do, I try to make sure that it has some kind of connection to one of those spheres.

Sujani 4:07
Oh, that’s wonderful, so much clarity. And, you know, I am going to boldly guessed that that must have taken a number of years to get to just like having that clarity of where do I fit in with the work that I’m here on the planet to do?

Shaniece 4:23
Yes, so 27, I had that revelation, but I’m 42 years old now. And I continuously get refinement, and more clarity. And to be honest with you, I think it’s important that we always think about how we can grow, I like to say reevaluate and recalibrate. So I’m constantly reevaluating what’s going on in my life and recalibrating to make sure I’m on the path that I think I’m called to be on. And so one thing that helped me with that, this year in January, I got a career coach. I just love telling people that because no one has it all figured out. It’s good to take time to make sure you’re going the direction you want to go.

Sujani 5:05
Yeah, all great topics that I hope we’re gonna get into for the rest of our episode. So the first question that I often asked my guests when I when I start these interviews is how did you discover the field of public health? Was it accidental? Was it something you knew you always wanted to do? I saw that your undergraduate education was in communications, sociology, urban leadership. Did you already know about public health at that point? Or was the discovery of the field kind of much later? Yeah, tell us about your story there.

Shaniece 5:39
So I did not know about public health. When I was in elementary school, I had really bad childhood asthma. And I will have to go to the pediatrician all the time. And at that point, I want to be a pulmonary pediatric specialist, because they just helped me so much. But as I continued on my journey, I realized I did enjoy communications and that public facing media aspect. So when I was at Oglethorpe University, I did the communications majors. You know, I’m a senior in college, I’m thinking, Oh, my goodness, what am I going to do? So I was like, you know what, I want to be an actress. Yes, an actress. So I go to Los Angeles, I go to a conference, it’s to pair you up with the agent or a management company, I actually get a management company.

Sujani 6:31

Shaniece 6:31
And then I think to myself, Do I really want to do this right now? And I realized the answer was no. And so I said, Oh, my goodness, what is next? So I literally knew I wanted to stay in Atlanta. I wanted to go to Emory University. So literally, I just googled Emory, I looked at all their graduate schools. And that is how I found public health.

Sujani 6:56
Wow. So there was no previous like interest in the field. Other than that, you know, you had your childhood experience it did that kind of, I guess, influenced your decision to pursue in this general field of health? Or did you just say, okay, for some reason, I want to go to Emory. And I’ll just find something that piques my interest based on the five lines of text that’s on the University website.

Shaniece 7:21
Literally, I said, I want to go to Emory. What piques my interest. But when I got to the Rollins School of Public Health, I said, this is me. So for instance, I was very passionate about people knowing how to take care of their health, I had someone I knew who had a sexually transmitted disease or infection. And that person didn’t know how you got an STD or STI. And I thought to myself, everybody should know about their body and how to keep themselves protected to health education. But I didn’t have a language to know there was something called Health Education. And then the other thing is, when I was growing up in middle school, and high school, and I would watch the news, I would always get so upset. Every time basically, I hear about a health disparity, I did not know that’s what it was called. But I would see that black people, African American people would just have worse health outcomes. So it’s something I was always interested in. But I didn’t not know there was a field that talked about it.

Sujani 8:26
You know, I kind of say, during the process of figuring out what you do like or what your passion is, or your purposes, is also figuring out what you don’t like, and, you know, you going towards this acting career is one of those kinds of steps in the process of figuring out what you what you do, like, what are indicators, whether it was an acting or whether, while you were reading some other program descriptions that told you this isn’t for me? And then on the contrary, when you’re reading, like the description for a Master’s of Public Health? Did you just feel these different emotions? Or are you kind of like putting together different puzzle pieces? Whereas when you’re sitting there in in the acting conference in the LA conference, were you having any sort of, you know, just reactions or emotions that told you, this probably isn’t for me?

Shaniece 9:18
Oh, that’s a really interesting question. Okay, so I want to be clear that I am a performer, I went to high school for the arts for theater and vocal performance opera. So that’s something that I’ve taken with me throughout my whole life. And even last year, I was in a play. And what I really want to do is move towards the media again and be a health correspondent, or be a regular contributor to a talk show, so that never left me. But I realized at that moment, that was not what I was supposed to do. I just didn’t feel that sense of peace when you’re talking about emotion.

Sujani 9:55

Shaniece 9:56
But when I looked through the website even at the School of Public Health, I saw biostatistics and I’m like, I don’t think I want to do that, even though now I really do enjoy statistics. I saw epidemiology. And at the time, I was like, what’s that? Then I got to behavioral science, health education is the department. And when I read it, is it, this is what I love. This is what I want to do. Even to the point, like that was the only program I applied to. And I went one day up to Emory, before I knew if I got in, I want to speak to admissions. And I was talking to the admissions officer, and she looked at my file, she said, You got in. And literally, we both stood up, held hands and jumped up and down at her office. That’s how excited we both were.

Sujani 10:46
Oh, that’s wonderful. How long did that process take for you from graduating from your undergrad to deciding, okay, this is the next step in my career at Emory?

Shaniece 10:57
So I applied during my senior year. So after graduation, in August, I started directly at Emory.

Sujani 11:04
Okay, so you get into the MPH program. And then what- what happens over those few years for you?

Shaniece 11:11
One thing I saw that I found very interesting, is to compare students who came straight from undergrad, compared to students who were actively working in the public health field or had some other career opportunity that they had done. I just felt like they were really able to bring really interesting examples. And they can apply it to their work.

Sujani 11:36
Of course.

Shaniece 11:37
And so that’s something that stood out to me was like, having work experience seems very important, especially in this field. But other things that stood out to me is that, okay, I was focused on health education, I realized that I loved intervention development, I love being able to reach out to the community and educate them on different things. But I also realized, at Emory University, I realized they focused on individual and group level thing. And it wasn’t until later when I went to the Peace Corps that was like, oh, there’s a lot of societal issues. And when I started my doctorate at the Harvard, TH Chan School of Public Health, realizing all these societal factors, so it was just helpful to see all these perspectives of public health. And that’s all within behavioral science and health education and hadn’t even gotten into the other departments. It’s just such a vast discipline.

Sujani 12:30
Yeah, yeah. I guess after your, your masters of public health degree, did you go out and get some work experience? Or did you continue to, you know, get more education?

Shaniece 12:43
I got some work experience. I worked at a public health consulting firm, ICF International in Atlanta. And I loved it, because I got to work on a lot of different projects, and use a lot of different skill sets. So it gave me an opportunity to see what I like, what I don’t like, but it was also a very powerful experience. So one of the projects I worked on was with the CDC, doing HIV prevention, and African American women. And we would go to these conferences, and we would do trainings, but it was just, even though it was like spiritual, all these women in a room, and we’re talking about deep issues, it was amazing. It was a beautiful time.

Sujani 13:26
And then what you know, pushed you to go and get more education, because I saw that you had another master’s degree, and then also a doctorate degree. And so were during your journey, were you convinced that yeah, I need to go back to school, get a bit more education, do a bit more research myself, perhaps?

Shaniece 13:45
So when I was working at the consulting firm, I asked the Vice President of the company, how can I be vice president of the company, and he told me, you’re going to have to get a doctorate degree. So at that moment, I decided, Okay, I’m gonna apply. But I prayed about it. And I felt that it wasn’t the time. So I literally stopped my application process. Then I worked at a church, had over 5000 members at the time, and 100 nations represented. I just love the diversity and inclusivity. And then my husband, and I apply for the Peace Corps. And so that was like a life changing experience. I worked at the Ministry of Health, which is like our health and human services. So it was on the national level. And I ended up having a talk show there. It was called Changing Course. And I focused on making good decisions. And I also did a lot of media literacy on this television show. And I had co hosts who were adolescents, young people, and they will have people a text into the show call into the show. And it was live once a week on the national channel, and it was the best experience and if I can get back to that, that’s what like to do. But when I was in the Peace Corps, I prayed about, if I should, can I be released to apply for the doctorate degree? And then there, I felt, yes. So I had that desire. But it was like three years later that I had to release. And I believe in timing. And so again, I applied to one school of public health. And that was the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. And I got in and funded. And I went there. And it was amazing. And then you asked about the second master’s. So when I was there, I took classes at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I loved it. I loved that there were leaders from across the world, there was so much energy there, it was electric. And I thought to myself, if I apply to the one year mid career masters, and I get in, fully funded, then I will go. And that’s what happened. So that’s how I ended up with a second master’s after doing a doctorate degree.

Sujani 16:05
So are you doing those two in parallel? Or was it was the Master of Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School after your doctorate?

Shaniece 16:13
It was after.

Sujani 16:14
Okay, okay. Wow, wow. So your work at Harvard, I saw that it was focused on media and health communication. So you stuck to that theme. Going back to your initial interest of you know, wanting to be a performer. It sounds like it was kind of intentional, you’re, you know, you knew what your interests were, and you knew where your passion kind of lied, and you were trying to create a path where all of those things aligned well for you.

Shaniece 16:43
Yes. And it’s funny, because sometimes, well, and you should explore different areas. But then you come back to who am I authentically?

Sujani 16:53

Shaniece 16:54
And I am someone who loves health communication, and media, and I use public health and all of that. And that’s where I am. And I feel comfortable there now.

Sujani 17:04
You know, it’s often easier when you can see somebody else in a role or a similar path to something that you’re interested in. Because obviously, you can kind of look them up and, and see what sort of education training skills that they’ve built throughout their years. Curious to know, was there anyone that that you were looking at? Or looking up to who had that like merge of media and health communication and that guided your path? Or was this something that you said, Okay, I know, these are my interests. Let me figure out how I can bring this to life. Because, you know, I personally don’t know many people who have this like blend of media and health communication. So if I’ve had those interests, I would either like struggle to figure out okay, where do I want to take my next step in my career? So wondering, like how that process was for you.

Shaniece 18:00
It was quite an interesting one. Because I definitely knew people who are experts in health communication. They have people in the communication, like you’ve done PhD and communication, but trying to blend them together was a challenge. But what I did is that just looked at people in their fields, and thought, okay, that aspect I like so I can pull that out. And then just really start to say, Okay, what works for me, because the worst thing you can do is try to be somebody else.

Sujani 18:33
Yeah, yeah.

Shaniece 18:34
That’s the worst thing.

Sujani 18:36

Shaniece 18:37
So I’ve just been me. And I think the biggest piece of advice that I got, that really helped me when I was deciding what to do, after my doctorate degree, there is a route that people typically want you to take. And that route is working at a research one institution, doing research, writing grants, getting money to do those types of things. But she told me, she’s like, Shaniece you don’t want to have the golden handcuffs. I said, the golden handcuff? What is the code handcuffs? You know, what is that? And she said, essentially, the golden handcuffs is you’ve done amazing thing. And society, or your mentors, or people think this is what you’re supposed to do. Based upon your background. She says, I know people who have been in the golden handcuffs. They’re in a job that people think it’s like the best ever. They’re getting paid well, but they’re unhappy. It’s just like, you don’t want to be stuck in a career where you’re unhappy. And so for me, that was the best piece of advice. Now I want to be clear, there are plenty of people who are happy to be doing research and grants that’s what they’re called to do. But for me, I knew I had to have this media, I had to have communication, I had to have freedom to work in the community and to explore all my interest areas. And so I took that piece of advice. And when an unexpected route, and it’s worked for me.

Sujani 20:17
I saw that at Harvard, you were a media advisor for four years. And following that you were also a media campaign manager with the Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research demonstration project, are these kinds of roles that were posted? And you were kind of like looking for them? Or were you creating these roles for you with relationships that you had built at these organizations?

Shaniece 20:40
There’s a little bit of both. So people would need, let’s say, a graduate assistant. And then based on my interest areas, I could say, Oh, can we add this aspect? Can I be the host for this? And so I think it’s really cool with jobs, how you can, in many cases, bring good aspects of something new that you really love. And that’s what I’ve been doing with all my jobs since then, I always bring an aspect that I like and make it individually mine.

Sujani 21:12
Yeah, that’s such great advice, because employers kind of will post a job posting based on their knowledge and their experience. But I think everyone has that opportunity to go in and say like, Hey, this is why I’m the perfect candidate for the posting that you have. But here’s something more I can do. Here’s how we can make this even better based on my interests and the impact that you’re looking for, for your project.

Shaniece 21:39
I appreciate that you said that. And it can also help with deciding what you don’t want to do. Like you were saying earlier about school or career path, what do you want to do with the map? So if there’s a job posting, and let’s say I like 80%, but 20%? I don’t. And I go on the interview, I don’t say I don’t like this 20%. I say this is how I would conceptualize the job. And I literally tell them exactly what would be the ideal posting for me. And sometimes, they’ll be like, that’s not a good match. And I think that’s still very valuable. Because I don’t want to go somewhere, and I’m unhappy.

Sujani 22:14
How do you bring up that conversation? Is that at the end, when they ask you? Do you have any more questions? Or do you find that that sort of conversation just naturally flows?

Shaniece 22:25
I think it naturally flows because I prepare ahead of time. So the main question people will ask is, you know, why do you want this job? What interests you about this job?

Sujani 22:36

Shaniece 22:36
Then I go into what interests me and then I say, and I had a new vision, that I think it really elevate this role. And it’s A, B, and C, you know, and also the things that you really love to do.

Sujani 22:47
Not only does that make sure that you’re able to do work that you’re going to love, but that also kind of shows the employer, okay, this person is going to take initiative at least like if I’m the the individually being are interviewing such a keen candidate, I would think, wow, like, I can count on this person to take initiative, bringing creative ideas, if that’s what the project calls for.

Shaniece 23:08
Oh, I like that.

Sujani 23:09
Yeah, yeah. Okay, so you do that role till about 2015. And then you join Furman University as Associate Professor, what was the thinking, you know, after your- you- you’ve done some media work, that you step into academia, I’m kind of thinking there, there was a turning point where you decided you want to perhaps maybe like mentor students, or be part of training the next generation? Those are the kind of hints that I’m getting based on my conversation with you.

Shaniece 23:42
Yes, so years before, I was in prayer, and I literally had a vision of me teaching a classroom of college students at a small liberal arts institution. That is the vision I had, and I was like, wow. So I carried that with me. So once I finished my education, I knew I wanted to work at a small liberal arts institution, in Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, which is also my hometown. And so when I was looking for jobs, I mean, timing, again, timing is everything. They were starting a public health major for undergrad, the year that I applied. So they were looking for public health professors. And so I decided, Okay, I’m going to apply here, and then my husband and I, we were living in Boston. And we were like, Okay, where do we want to settle down? And we said, we should be about family. So he’s from Los Angeles, and I’m from Greenville, and we decided on Greenville, and so I wanted to have that connection with students. I also want to have freedom to explore whatever type of research I wanted to do. And I wanted to have time to be really involved in the community. So it was just the perfect fit. And I came in as an Assistant Professor. And I just got tenure, and I just got promoted to associate professor.

Sujani 25:04

Shaniece 25:06
Thank you so much. I really feel like I’m in a beautiful state right now. And at this point in my career, I want to move into more administrative roles. So for instance, if we start a new master’s program, taking a leadership role there, or we have a institute called the Hill Institute that focuses on innovation, and they have leadership development, I can help in an area like that, because of my Harvard Kennedy School experience and the leadership courses that I took there. And so basically, at Furman, they’re always evolving, there’s always a new initiative. And so I feel that that’s a space where I can also do new things.

Sujani 25:49
Slowly, after you joined Furman University, you kind of really immersed yourself within the community by being part of the council or board of directors, why was that important for you?

Shaniece 26:03
I think of public health being very action oriented, making a difference where you live. And so being on City Council, it was exciting, because we could do ordinances, like all new neighborhoods have to have sidewalks. That’s a practical thing that makes life better to be able to walk around your neighborhood feel safe, navigating the space. And because I’m on city council, I’m able to vote on initiatives like that. Also, how we support public safety, even public works all the way to sewer. All those things make a difference in our society and quality of life and health. And so I just wanted to be practical with it. And then with the boards, the different boards that I’m on. Oh, my goodness, it’s been quite interesting, because I was on those boards during COVID-19.

Sujani 26:54

Shaniece 26:54
And how does a health system shift? And pivot and work with all the things happen with COVID-19? So I just like to be in the action.

Sujani 27:04
Yeah, yeah. Based on your experience being on, I want to say like more than half a dozen board since 2017 or so what’s been your learning? Just for any of our listeners who may be interested or keen on joining a board? How do you one, choose which board to be part of and then how do you bring that public health lens? And then how do you use the learnings from your role as a Board of Director back into the work that you’re also doing?

Shaniece 27:33
So I think, when it comes to board service, you think about what you’re passionate about, they look up the organizations that are doing that work, you could start with volunteering there, you can also meet with executive director, and let them know you’re interested in serving on the board. And there’s different types of boards. So some are more advisory, they want to give you updates about what’s happening with the organization. And they give feedback. Some boards are more operational, like Executive Director, or the CEO will meet with you. And literally, you can work through issues and get feedback. And so it’s good to kind of have a mindset of which type of board it is. In many cases, especially if it’s a nonprofit board, they want you to help financially, if you’re passionate about the issue, you’re happy to do so because it makes a big difference when 100% of the board members give towards things, especially when they want to apply for grants in the future. Now to bring that public health perspective, like for instance, I was on a board that focused on education, I would say okay, I know education is a big social determinants of health. These are things we need to consider. We also can think about how we can explicitly bring in public health. What I love to do is work on the policy level, what are the systems in place, so people don’t even happen make a decision? That is what we’re going to do. So for instance, one organization that I work with live well, Greenville, they had a partnership with schools. And so they have different things. They say like, Okay, we’ll celebrate birthdays, once a month. Everybody has a celebration, we really focus on water, we want to make sure everybody has opportunity for physical activity. So it’s not that people have to be like, Oh, am I doing this or that that’s just what the regulation is.

Sujani 29:23
I think it’s also a good way, like whether it’s volunteering, being on a board early on in your career to kind of just experience different populations and different interests that you may have. As you’re establishing your career in public health. I find that a great way to also know what you don’t like and don’t like.

Shaniece 29:41
I’m glad you said that. I do work with college students, and I always tell them to just do a lot of volunteering, do internships. Regardless, you’re going to gain information even if you hated it. You’re gathering data about what you like. And so even throughout our career, yes board service and volunteering is a good way to get your foot in the door to see what you like and don’t like. And it’s also helpful for consulting. So some people like to do consulting projects, you brought in your network. And it’s very helpful

Sujani 30:14
In your role right now as Associate Professor, could you tell us a bit about what does the day in the life of your job or work kind of entail?

Shaniece 30:23
It’s interesting, because right now I’m on sabbatical. And sabbatical is when what I don’t have to teach. So you have a project, but you’re not teaching. But typically, I would be doing course prep that I teach my class. And I love teaching, I’m gonna be honest, teaching is one of my stages. Remember, I like performing. So I feel like I’m definitely performing in the classroom with my students, or my audience members, and our energy goes between each other, I tell my students all the time, you can feel my energy, and I could feel your energy, let’s be here together, let’s move forward and learn about public health and how awesome it is. And all my student evaluations are always good. She’s so enthusiastic, she loves public health. And we’re learning how it’s everywhere. And that’s one of my goals, and other aspects with research. So I’ll have a research meeting on Zoom, because it’s researchers from across the country, and will be deep into our research, I don’t get a lot of research about racism, and health outcomes, sometimes is very heavy, and just being with this group of people in this virtual space, but doing very deep and meaningful work. And then, when you work at a university, you have university service. So for instance, I used to be the chair of the appeals committee when students want to take a different path academically. And it’s really looking at each bow and saying, Okay, what are the issues going on? And what are the different options for them? One thing that I really found as a professor, is that students have a lot of issues. I say that in the sense of, they’re in class, maybe an hour, 15 minutes with me in a day, but they have all these other things happening in their lives. And I like to keep that in perspective. I mean, there’s family members or friends, they’re dealing with sickness, there’s financial issues, there’s a lot of different things. So being a professor has made me more empathetic, because I hear about a lot of them because it does impact their classwork. And then the last thing about a day in the life is going to some kind of social event. Like on a college campus, there’s a lot of things and receptions and speakers, or games ,football games, basketball games, or in the community, there’ll be festivals, that’s not typical day.

Sujani 32:48
I think I read that you’re teaching about five to seven courses. Are they all in public health?

Shaniece 32:54
No, they’re not. So I teach several sections of fundamentals of public health. Then I teach a writing class called humor and politics, which is fun, and it’s always something going on. So we have a lot of materials. And we’ll look at Saturday Night Live sketches or late night talk shows and see how they’re talking about politics. And then the students write about it. I teach Intergroup Dialogue about race, which is fascinating, how can we talk about these issues and your experiences from the students, and then teach a health policy class for the community engage medicine masters that we have at Furman University. But the biggest new thing that I’m doing, I’m creating a class right now. It’s going to be a health media class. And part of it is going to have a talk show component where I’ll be the host. And then my students will be the content experts. So you can hear this full circle moment and always getting back to media.

Sujani 33:57
I, in a good way, Shaniece, I’m jealous of your students. I think they have such a wonderful professor, just so much enthusiasm, as they’ve already acknowledged and just the creativity that you’re bringing into each of the lessons that you’re delivering to them. I’m, I’m like grinning from ear to ear, just hearing about the work that you’re doing.

Shaniece 34:16
Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

Sujani 34:19
It’s so wonderful. You know, just as you look back on this journey that you’ve taken to where you are today, do you ever think to yourself, if I were to do this again, maybe I would do this a little bit differently.

Shaniece 34:34
Sometimes I think that, but then I’m like, I can’t change the past. I think every decision point has brought me some more I would say, data information to help me. Sometimes, especially being an academia now. I wish it maybe I started that track more quickly. But now that I have tenure, I feel a greater sense of freedom.

Sujani 34:59

Shaniece 35:00
So I really appreciate everything that I’ve done in the past. So I guess just people being open, I think the biggest piece of advice is learn from everything that you do, and again, reevaluate and recalibrate, to make sure you’re going the direction you want to go in.

Sujani 35:17
Were there moments during this journey where you thought that was tough? I’m so proud of myself for overcoming that.

Shaniece 35:24
Definitely. So, okay, I had to set the scene. So I was in the Peace Corps in a tropical environment, slower pace of life, really warm people, very hospitable in Guyana. Then I go from there straight into my doctorate program in Boston, where the weather is cold in jury, where the people are nice, but when you’re out in public, people are kind of focused on doing what they need to do. There’s not a lot of chitchat around the area, then I have the audacity to work in Residence Life, which is 20 hours a week of work. Then I took the train an hour to get to school one way. So that’s two hours of transportation a day. 20 hours of work. I was starting my doctorate program. That was hard.

Sujani 36:19
Yeah, I bet. And what kind of got you through that?

Shaniece 36:22
Well, my husband was so supportive, we definitely had a faith community that kept us grounded. And we were just like, Okay, this is four season, those two years, were incredibly hard. And I had a good friend there. And she was in a doctorate program as well. And we look at each other. And we’re like, why did we do this to ourselves, but thank goodness, we will say it at different times. So when she was struggling, I was in high space and vice versa. That worked out. So having good friends and other cohort members, very supportive. We were going through it together, almost like it was hazing. The first two years, especially having a qualifying exam, and it was a lot of pressure. Because if you didn’t pass the qualifying exam, you had to wait an entire year before you could take it again. And then if you didn’t pass it, then were you asked to leave the program. So it was just an incredible amount of stress.

Sujani 37:20

Shaniece 37:22
But made it through.

Sujani 37:23
Yeah, yeah, of course. Like when you shared about you and your friend, being in your moments of upward trend, and sometimes the dips at different periods of your season, I recently learned that advice. And then I thought that was just like one of the best advice kind of surrounding yourself with, you know, a good group of people who are going to support you on your journey. And then at once, not everyone is going to be at that dip so that you can really, you know, jump on their enthusiasm and their motivation and kind of get back out of that dip and go towards the- the height for that season for yourself. So yeah, I think- I think that’s kind of one of the best advices that I’ve heard very recently as well.

Shaniece 38:11
That’s good advice.

Sujani 38:12
Yeah. You know, you’ve shared a lot of great advice throughout our, our conversation today, is there anything more that you share with your public health students or other early career professionals that will come to you for just advice on how to establish their career in public health? Is there anything more that you really share with them?

Shaniece 38:35
In general, I like to have a bite of making sure that you’re doing things that are fulfilling you. And so most recently, I started an Instagram account, Dr. Shaniece, on Instagram, which is my name, and it focuses on positivity in public health. It also lets me do my health education, because each post is sharing some type of research, or fact, or just viewpoint or perspective dealing with public health. And so I tell my students, it can be completely you, you don’t have to do with someone else is doing. The world needs what you have. And so I think the best advice is not looking to the left or to the right to compare. You can look to the left and the right to be inspired, and to support but you have a freedom to be on your own path.

Sujani 39:29

Shaniece 39:30
So just doing things however small or big, because that’d be something that can help someone else.

Sujani 39:37
And I think one of the best things I learned from this conversation is like really bring in all of the things that you’re good at that you love that makes you happy that brings you joy and figure out how you can get creative and create a role for yourself within kind of your professional career. So that you do feel fulfilled and doesn’t have to be the job posting or the roles that we’ve traditionally seen in public health, I think we’re at a point in public health that we can actually, like, get creative and create these different ways of, yeah, just like changing behaviors and making an impact on the populations that we’re serving.

Shaniece 40:16
I love it. Create your career that is important. And I think the role of creativity, for me, is very important. So I have to be in a space or have some venue that I can be creative.

Sujani 40:31
Shaniece, this has been such a wonderful conversation with you, I love when I’m kind of leaving these talks, super inspired to just like, take the next step in my own career. So I want to thank you for that and for sharing your beautiful journey with our listeners as well.

Shaniece 40:47
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed my conversation with you. And I love what you’re doing and just keep doing it.

Sujani 40:56
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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