Student Spotlight: How Did Kristen Wanta’s RAship Prepare Her for the Real-life Experiences of a Career in Public Health?

A Center for MCH Interview with MCH Student Kristen Wanta

Center Research Assistant, Elizabeth Stanczyk, had the opportunity to interview former colleague Kristen Wanta on her experiences as a student and Research Assistant in the University of Minnesota’s (UMN) Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Program, in which she had the opportunity to present her work at a national conference. Read the interview below.

Q: Hi Kristen! First, could you please share a bit about your background and how you ended up at the UMN’s Maternal and Child Health program?
A: Yes of course! I got my Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health Education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and I minored in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I knew that I eventually wanted to pair what I was learning in both programs into a career one day. Therefore, when I decided to apply for MPH programs to further my public health knowledge, I was specifically looking only at MCH programs- there’s not many of them out there! Although I was accepted into three different MCH programs, I was attracted to the UMN because it is one of the first and top rated MCH programs in the nation. I was also intrigued by the UMN’s multidisciplinary approach to learning. I love that my professors come from all different backgrounds, and not just from public health disciplines. It really provides a comprehensive understanding of public health issues and innovative ways to address them. Another reason I chose the UMN’s MCH Program was for the flexibility. I personally enjoy online classes a lot but still find value of in-person classes as well, so the Program offered a good balance of the two!

Q: How did you have the opportunity to attend the Making Lifelong Connections (MLC) meeting you attended in spring 2018?
A: Being an RA for the Center was great because I always felt “in the loop” about upcoming events and activities. I was aware of the MLC Meeting through email blasts and newsletters and was encouraged to apply! Attendance is open to any student trainee with a HRSA-funded Center of Excellence, so it’s pretty broad. In the open-ended application prompt, I talked about the research I am involved in with the Lactation Advocacy Committee (LAC) for my Culminating Experience. They must have loved it because I was selected to do an oral presentation about the research at the meeting

Q: Wow, that’s great! Tell me more about what you presented on with your research.
A: I’m doing analysis of existing qualitative data that the LAC collected. An online survey was sent out across campus asking people to share their stories about breastfeeding/pumping on the UMN-Twin Cities campus. 123 stories from staff, faculty, students, and visitors were collected and I am responsible for the initial analysis. The data is extremely interesting. I was still in the analysis stage when attending the MLC Meeting, so I presented on the background of lactation resources at UMN, the goals of the LAC, how the data was collected, and some initial themes I was noticing while reviewing the stories. A lot of the attendees were interested in this study, and I had some really good conversations with others working in lactation advocacy. The biggest issues we discussed were how students are not covered under the same campus policies that breastfeeding faculty or staff are, and the need for multiple, clean lactation spaces on a university campus since there are so many people across so many buildings and acres.

Q: What was the highlight of your experience at the MLC Meeting?
A: In general, I loved meeting and getting to talk to other trainees and past-trainees; everyone is doing such interesting work to advance the health of mothers, children, and families! Although there were 4 of us from the UMN attending the meeting, I had a random roommate that the organizers of the meeting set me up with. It ended up being great because it turns out she is an alum of the UMN MCH Program and a previous Center RA! We talked about some of the professors we both had, and about the Twin Cities in general. She now works for a state WIC office, so it was interesting to learn all about her experiences after graduating and get her advice about professional development opportunities. I also got to connect with some other trainees from across the country and learn about their passions. I loved that everyone had such diverse interests and goals for the future of MCH. We also got to have fun and explore the historic Ybor City in Tampa, and I can’t forget about the beautiful 80 degree weather in April!

Q: How did your experience as a Research Assistant at the Center support you for the future?
A: When working as an RA for the Center, I had several tasks and responsibilities that helped me gain real-life experiences for a career in public health. One of the strongest skills I learned through being an RA is modifying the marketing and promotional messages to the interests of the target audience. Being responsible for several of the Center’s promotions and social media accounts required me to write to the audience, whether they are current students, prospective students, faculty and staff, public health professionals, community members, etc. I am so appreciative of this experience because in my current role, I am learning that one of the biggest influencers of a successful public health program is the promotion and ability to connect with the audience. Making others understand why your program is important is one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my short time as a public health professional, but I feel confident in my public health communication abilities thanks to mentorship I had during my time as an RA.

Q: What advice would you give to MCH students when job searching post-graduation?
A: The biggest thing that helped me was keeping my options open. MCH allows us to do SO many things, which is one of the reasons I was initially drawn to the concentration. However, that flexibility can make it hard for job searching because of the wide range of job titles, employers, and responsibilities MCH students can have. Throughout my MPH Program, I increasingly wanted a job working in lactation advocacy and support, but it was hard to find a position with that specific focus when I finished classes and started searching. I broadened my job search, and ended up in a position working with child health, and I absolutely love it. Another tip I would tell students is to start making connections with public health professionals as soon as possible, and use them to help you find a job. I got my job by reaching out to a past internship supervisor, who was also listed as a reference of mine, informing her I had graduated and asking if I could list her as a reference on upcoming job applications. She happened to be looking for a Community Health Coordinator for her team and encouraged me to apply. It was a pleasant surprise that I am very thankful for!

Kristen Wanta (MPH ‘18) worked as an RA for the Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Health for two years during her graduate studies at the UMN. Her Master’s research project with the University of Minnesota (UMN) Lactation Advocacy Committee (LAC) evaluates the lactation experience mothers have had breastfeeding or pumping while on campus, and has been accepted to have a poster at APHA in San Diego in November of 2018. Kristen currently works at Lakeview Hospital as a Community Health Coordinator for HealthPartners. Her main focus is on PowerUp, a community health initiative aimed to make it easy, fun, and popular for kids and families to eat better and move more.

To read about another MCH students’ involvement in the LAC–and her MLC presentation on lactation advocacy at the UMN–read the Student Spotlight “How did Emily Laurent get the Opportunity to Present Her Research at the Annual Making Lifelong Connections Meeting?”

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Interested in learning more about getting a degree in Maternal and Child Health? Visit our MCH Program page for more information.

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