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CPHSJ Student & Alumni Q&A Series: Ucheoma Nwaozuru, Ph.D.

Recent Saint Louis University Graduate, Ucheoma Nwaozuru, Ph.D., did a Q&A with current second year MPH student and CPHSJ Marketing and Communication graduate assistant, Michael Vega.

Ucheoma Nwaozuru is originally from the Abia State of Nigeria. In 2020, she graduated with her Ph.D. in Public Health from CPHSJ with concentrations in Behavior Science and Health Education. Currently, Nwaozuru resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Implementation Science, at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Ucheoma Nwaozuru, Ph.D.
Ucheoma Nwaozuru, Ph.D.

MV: What was your first job after graduation? How did you get your first job?
UN: My first official job after graduation from the Ph.D. program was as a postdoctoral researcher at Saint Louis University. I had the opportunity to continue working with my mentor Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor after my graduation in 2020. It was an amazing year of honing my grant writing skills. Then my next position was as an assistant professor in the Department of Implementation Science at Wake Forest School of Medicine, which I started in July 2021. Regarding how I got the job, I primarily focused on applying to institutions interested in community-engaged research and implementation. I was applying to jobs shared by the network, Linkedin, and HigherEd. Of the offers, Wake Forest School of Medicine resonated with my interest in promoting value and people-centered care and research through implementation science. As my current research focuses on participatory and community-engaged research to promote the adoption and sustainability of evidence-based interventions.

Were you prepared for your job?
Great question! I think, for the most part, I was prepared for the job. The majority of my research skills were acquired working with my mentor, Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor, on several research projects. As a graduate student, I was exposed to grant writing, research implementation, and manuscript writing, which are all critical parts of my work today.

Describe your internship or practicum or field experience and how it led you to other opportunities?
As a graduate student, I had no internship experience, but got several field experiences working with Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor. I assisted with research implementation, survey/interview guide preparation, and data collection. I had the opportunity to travel to Nigeria on several research projects focused on promoting youth health, particularly in the area of HIV prevention. For instance, I assisted with the ‘4 Youth By Youth project,’ a research study that uses participatory approaches such as crowdsourcing to promote HIV self-testing among Nigerian youth. I am fortunate to still be involved with the project as a faculty member, where I help coordinate the activities of the youth advisory board and assist with implementing crowdsourcing open call activities for Nigerian youth. Another fieldwork experience would be my dissertation examining the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of an evidence-based economic-strengthening intervention among in-school adolescent girls and young women in Nigeria. I had to conduct the study in person in Nigeria. It was an enriching experience.

What is your favorite part of your job? Most challenging part?
The favorite part of my job is the opportunity to learn from partners and collaborators. I believe research provides an ecosystem to learn, even from brainstorming ideas to problem identification continually. My research centers on collaborating with various individuals and organizations, which is exciting as I see it as an opportunity to innovate.  I love that we can think outside the box [sometimes] to solve problems. For instance, I am working closely with an organization called ‘RAIN’ in North Carolina to make sense of promoting PrEP. Prior to this partnership, I had a limited understanding of the HIV prevention and management landscape in North Carolina. It has been rewarding to have this bidirectional learning opportunity. Another favorite part of my job is the feeling of added value to the communities I work with. However, a challenge I sometimes have is the disconnect between funding priorities and the immediate needs of the communities we serve. While I want to add value to the communities I serve, I feel the work is sometimes determined by the availability of funding for specific projects. So, that is a constant battle I have to toggle with.

What was your favorite memory when attending SLU’s undergraduate or graduate program?
My favorite part was the friends I made during my graduate program. They have become lifelong friends.

What class/field of knowledge do you apply the most to your career?
The most valuable classes in my current role include research methods and grant writing classes.

How do you stay current in the field?
Lately, it’s by following individuals’ work on social media [LinkedIn, Twitter], attending conferences, and reading manuscripts.

What have been the biggest changes in the field since graduation?
A significant change may be more interest in addressing trust and health communication in public health. While these have always been relevant issues in the field, the COVID-19 pandemic made them more evident. 

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Great question, five years from now, I see myself leading global health work focused on the intersection of people-centered approaches and technology to advance population health.

How do you like to spend your free time?
Honestly, most of my free time is spent sleeping. But on a good day, my free time is filled with reading books, shopping, and trying out new food. I love food!

What is one valuable piece of advice you would like to give students?
My advice will be to value your community and your time with your peers. It is a great opportunity to learn from each other. Also, if you have the opportunity to get experience from academia and industry, I will highly recommend that. I believe having both perspectives gives you a unique insight into how these two intersect, how to optimally leverage your skills for impact and to do work that brings you joy.

College for Public Health and Social Justice

The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States. Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the college offers nationally recognized programs in public health and health administration.