Mindy Spyker: making every moment count

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“COPH rocks because of the enthusiasm that’s there and what you can be because of it,” said USF College of Public Health graduate Mindy Spyker.

Spyker earned her MPH with a concentration in global health practice.

Mindy Spyker

Graduate Mindy Spyker, MPH, CPH (Photo courtesy of Mindy Spyker)

Originally from South Dakota, Spyker’s mother has worked for many years with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Spyker says seeing her mother’s passion has helped her discover her own.

“She was kind of my sounding board, and has helped me figure out my interests in terms of public health,” she said.

Spyker studied sociology at Emory University as an undergrad, with a career as a clinician in mind. But after a year of hands-on experience in South Africa, she realized that what she really loved was the social side of health care work. She found her passion in talking to patients and interacting, just not in the hospital setting.

After her year abroad, Spyker knew she wanted to pursue her master’s, and USF’s reputation combined with its proximity to her family made it a great choice.

“I was ready to be back near family,” she said. “And it’s the best public health school in the state.”

One of the keys to her success was her drive to expand her mindset and push past her comfort zone.

“I really made an effort,” she said. “I thought, ‘hopefully I’ll get some yeses,’ and then I got a lot of yeses.”

The college is structured in a way that makes student initiative an important factor for success, she said. She thinks that those who put in the effort will see a high return.

“I think that there is a lot of opportunity,” she said. “There are students who expect to go to class and get taught everything you need to know, and yeah, you can and still walk away with a decent education… But I think that you’d just miss so much if you only expected the college of public health to do that for you.”

In an effort to make the most out of her experience, Spyker has pushed herself to explore every opportunity available to her. She recognized that her two years would pass by quickly, and so she made it her goal to attend and participate in as many events possible.

“They wanted me to put in the effort; they wanted me to want to be taught and to ask questions and to learn from my peers,” she said. “If you take the initiative, it’s a really good thing.”

So that’s exactly what she did. Spyker found herself attending extra lectures and pursuing research opportunities, all in the name of making the most of her time at USF. She even took a sailing class at USF – St. Petersburg because she wanted to take advantage of her newfound closeness to the water.

As part of networking and challenging herself, Spyker worked closely with Dr. Jennifer Marshall an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health, who Spyker said was her main inspiration at USF.

Spyker explained how Marshall helped her cultivate her interests and bridge the gap between the community and family health and global health departments.

Marshall helped encouraged and support Spyker in her application for a U.S. Borlaug Fellows Grant, which Spyker was awarded to research livestock practices and their relation to women’s empowerment in Kenya and Tanzania.

This spring, Spyker spent five months in Africa conducting research and collecting data to see how giving women the power in livestock production helped empower the women in the communities.

When you give women influence and power, whether its income or just influence, it translates to better nutritional outcomes, she said.

“I helped conduct focus groups on topics like women empowerment, and their [women’s] role in nutrition and whether or not they perceived any link between empowerment in livestock and nutrition,” she said.

While the findings from the study weren’t exactly what she expected, she said that the experience was invaluable and helped reinforce how much she enjoys qualitative research.

Currently, Spyker is working in Austin, Texas, as an independent consultant for a qualitative research firm called Smart Revenue, where she helps clients conduct market research.

And as for the future, she said, “I’m already dreaming of a Ph.D.”

Her dream job, she said, if everything went to plan, would be working as a university professor at a smaller school, because it would combine teaching with her love of research.

Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley, USF College of Public Health