A hundred different thoughts were racing through my head as I waited to give my first professional presentation at the 2nd annual Making Lifelong Connections meeting… Will I remember to take a breath and slow down? How do I connect with the audience? I have to remember not to read the slides and just tell my story. Do I really have something to contribute to this field?
Luckily, all my worries were quelled as I told a room full of Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) current and former trainees about my field-experience as data collector on the Mobile Youth Survey (MYS), and discussed how my interactions with participants and their families shaped my secondary data analysis. My analysis examines the influence of hopelessness and self-worth on pregnancy feelings and intention among sexually-active adolescents in Mobile, Alabama. I witnessed how environmental stresses of poverty, poor housing, and neighborhood violence influences adolescents’ decisions to engage in high-risk behaviors and how these factors affect their feelings of self, community connections, and peer and parental relationships. I told the audience about conversations I had with adolescents and their care-givers (mostly mothers and grandmothers), reflecting on how those conversations led me to my research question and provided me with a context for interpreting my research findings. I emphasized the importance of examining adolescent health holistically, through understanding the intersectionality of the social influences and feelings of self. This holistic approach informs research that examines the etiology of risk-taking behaviors, such as adolescent feelings about being involved in a pregnancy as a distinct outcome, which ultimately informs future sexual decision-making that could lead to a pregnancy.
After my presentation, I had wonderful conversations with MCH professionals that work with adolescents. We discussed how more health research needs to focus on the process of decision-making or lack of decision-making as a distinct outcome. Many of them had worked on adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives that solely focused on access and behavioral modification through providing sexual health information. They see a gap in this type of programming that fails to address the complexities of adolescent feelings towards pregnancy, which is shaped by psychosocial factors. Through these conversations, I became more confident that my research would contribute valuable information about adolescent pregnancy feelings and intention. I was also able to connect with professionals working at the University of Alabama who had grown-up in the state. They reflected on their experiences as adolescents and validated some of the field observations that I shared in my presentation.
Professional connections were also spurred through my presentation, as I provided adolescent health professionals with information on other MYS published studies and they provided me with helpful job search advice. Several Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (LEAH) fellows provided me with tips on how to communicate my data collection and research experience in job interviews. LEAH fellows receive extensive training on public health policy and programmatic communication. They also have extensive knowledge on adolescent health theories and current practice, such as utilizing a healthy youth development framework in designing programs that promote protective factors that negate sexual risk-taking behaviors among adolescents. It was helpful to see how my analysis fit into the larger discourse of adolescent health.
Overall, my first presentation experience exceeded my expectations. I was able to use my MCH training and skills to execute a secondary data-analysis and more importantly, translate my research findings into an engaging presentation to share with leading MCH professionals. The goals of the MCHB annual meeting were to provide leadership development and networking opportunities. I met both goals through presenting and attending this meeting. I now feel ready to join this skilled cohort of MCH leaders in the field.
Annie Fedorowicz is an MPH student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. She is currently writing her Master’s paper for her Maternal and Child Health degree on hopelessness and self-worth on pregnancy feelings and intention among sexually-active adolescents in Mobile, Alabama.