“The goal of a doctoral program is to break you down until you feel like you know nothing, then build you back up as a strong scientist – everyone struggles, everyone wants to quit at some point, but you have each other for support to keep moving forward,” said Charlan D. Kroelinger, PhD.
Take it from someone who’s been through it – and flourished. She earned her bachelor of arts from Auburn University, her master’s from the University of Alabama, and her doctorate in epidemiology and biostatistics from the University of South Florida. Last week, Kroelinger once again returned to the USF College of Public Health, this time to deliver a Dean’s Lecture in conjunction with the college’s 30th anniversary.
Kroelinger spent her early career in two separate county health departments, but switched paths with the hopes of affecting change. In her own words, she “wanted to conduct scientific work that would reach at-risk populations rather than only sit on a shelf!”
Now, she works as the team leader of the Maternal and Child Health epidemiology program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There, she works to develop and implement national strategic plans in MCH epidemiology and provide scientific oversight while focusing on national leadership on maternal and child health issues. She also serves on the editorial board of the Maternal and Child Health Journal and as a chair member for the Coalition for Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology.
During her time with COPH, she worked as a research assistant for two years, a teaching assistant for one, and then as a teacher. Kroelinger also worked as a junior faculty member during her post-doctoral fellowship and was named the 2014 Division of Reproductive Health Award winner for administrative management and staff expansion in the MCH epidemiology program. According to Kroelinger, the COPH graduate program provided her with two huge advantages – wonderful mentors and opportunities.
“The doctoral-level courses provided opportunities for discussions often missed in more structured classes,” she said. “Heather Stockwell joined the department as chair during my fourth year as a doctoral student – she was an incredible manager and mentor.”
According to Kroelinger, Stockwell shared her experiences working in the federal government, and “emphasized that in order to truly teach, individuals need to work in the field first.”
“I have always remembered those words,” said Kroelinger.
She credits Dr. Tom Mason for recruiting her to the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department, and later for influencing her decision to take a position with the CDC.
“Tom Mason led discussion classes that forced students to work as a team in response to exposures,” she said. “These mandatory discussions supported students’ understanding of working in a team environment, identifying each individual’s skills and abilities.”
Kroelinger presented her Dean’s Lecture Series talk, “Practicing the ‘Applied’ in Applied Public Health: Using Evidence to Understand Public Health Systems for At-Risk Populations,” on April 17 in the Samuel P. Bell III Auditorium.
Her lecture, she said beforehand, would allow her to get to what really interests her about public health, which is “taking scientific findings and translating them for use in public health settings.”
Returning to COPH also offers Kroelinger an opportunity to reminisce, she said. The first COPH undergraduate course was offered during her last year, and she said she never could have fathomed the size or success the program has today.
“My years at COPH were some of the best years of my life,” she said. “I hope that all graduate students leave the college with the same feeling!”
Story by Shelby Bourgeois, College of Public Health writing intern.