Dr. Thalia Williams is passionate about all realms of public health. We spoke with Dr. Williams to find out more about her role as Community Engagement Coordinator at the Zilber School of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the path she took to arrive there.

When Dr. Thalia Williams was teaching middle and high school science, she realized that she wanted to take a broader approach to science education. The topics that piqued her interest – the units she taught about adolescent health – got her thinking about how she could expand beyond her classroom to study population health. This in turn led her to the field of epidemiology, which she explains as gathering data to detail the health status of an entire population of people. From there, you find out the who, the what, the when, the where, the why – for example, why is one particular condition more prevalent in one area of the population rather than another? For Dr. Williams, studying epidemiology was an opportunity to have a greater impact. Here, she could plan and come up with viable resources to support the health needs of an entire population. In her own words: ’that’s powerful!’

Dr. Williams’ areas of expertise – statistics, epidemiology, and science education among many others – lend themselves nicely to the multifaceted nature of the field of Public Health. As Community Engagement Coordinator at the Zilber School of Public Health at UW-Milwaukee, Dr. Williams is in charge of day-to-day engagement and outreach initiatives. Dr. Williams’ work is designed to establish community partners and networks between schools (e.g. the Milwaukee Public School system), businesses, and the public health community in general. One way she accomplishes this daunting task is through a community advisory board, where the Milwaukee community is able to share what they need from the University. After hearing about the needs of the community, Dr. Williams works with masters students at UW-Milwaukee to match these students with external preceptors, as they are required to complete a field experience as part of their degree. For example, Dr. Williams recently brought a masters student with her to the Bread of Healing clinic, which is a free medical clinic providing services to low-income communities that may not have access to healthcare. In building relationships with this clinic, Dr. Williams is able to provide them with University resources in the form of students, and students are able to glean experiences integral to their career journey in public health. These kinds of reciprocal relationships are mutually beneficial to members of the Milwaukee community.

Many individuals consider the doctor or the nurse to be the go-to person when it comes to health; however, social determinants of health outcomes are also critically important to consider, according to Dr. Williams. Her doctoral research involved considering depression and neighborhood safety as variables that impact outcomes involving Sexually Transmitted Diseases among adolescents and young adults. She considers these variables, and others, including violence and injury, to also be critically important in examining public health in the city of Milwaukee. All of these factors affect family members, community members, law enforcement, and hospitals. Health outcomes are also closely tied in with racial disparity.

The intersection of all these variables and affected parties is a complicated web, and Dr. Williams agrees that epidemiologists and statisticians have their work cut out for them in establishing appropriate solutions for such vast problems. In Milwaukee, collaborating with a diverse network of partners to provide solutions for those who don’t have access to healthcare is critical. Dr. Williams’ work establishing networks and relationships between schools and businesses is a key step in the right direction.

Dr. Williams was among the panelists at the June 11th MASA Kickoff event at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. in Walker’s Point, Milwaukee, where a panel of experts discussed how climate change impacts science education, public health and sustainability.

Written by Lisa Taxier for the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates

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