Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Meet Tomorrow's Policy Advocates & Researchers: NCCP's 2017 Summer Interns
by Tiffany Thomas Smith, NCCP Communications Consultant

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From left to right: Imani Davis, Renee Wilson-Simmons, Martevia Bledsoe, and Aiyana Porter.

To truly tackle the factors that drive child poverty, it’s important to support knowledge in the field today — and plant seeds for advocacy and insight in the future. That's why NCCP welcomed three undergraduate interns this summer, offering them the chance to explore issues related to reducing health disparities and improving public health opportunities for low-income children and their families.

This summer, NCCP welcomed Aiyana Porter, Imani Davis, and Martevia Bledsoe, each of whom brought a distinct passion and point of view to the center’s work. “They’ve all done an incredible job during their ten-week internship,” said NCCP Director Renée Wilson-Simmons. “and we’re excited to see where their careers take them in the future.”


Aiyana Porter, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Aiyana is entering her junior year, majoring in political science and psychology, with a concentration in Africana studies. She is the recipient of Williams’ highly prestigious Stephen H. Tyng Scholarship, which offers a handful of incoming students a financial aid package and summer stipend to encourage career exploration and independent study. Aiyana spent her time at NCCP exploring partnerships with other organizations focused on health equity and prevention, and recommending points of potential collaboration to improve community outcomes.

When asked how her internship influenced her career plans, Aiyana spoke about the importance of quality data in conversations about policy:

“I really liked the holistic approach that NCCP offers, and the tools that are available to regular people and policy makers. And that's where I see myself one day: Translating the needs of regular people to those in power. I want to focus on child poverty but, more specifically, on poverty in brown and black communities. Through my studies, I definitely see that there's a need. [Given what we know about disparities in health access and outcomes,] if any sub-population needs an advocate, it's brown and black children.”

One way that Aiyana is helping to address disparities at Williams College is by supporting other students who, like her, are the first in their family to attend college. “There's something unique about being a first-generation student,” she said. “So many others have legacy.”


Imani Davis, Cornell University, Ithica, New York

A rising junior in the Biology and Society Program, Imani came to NCCP through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Summer Public Health Scholars Program.  The program, for undergraduates in their junior and senior year and recent baccalaureate degree students, is designed to increase interest in and knowledge of public health and biomedical science careers.  It includes public health course work; hands-on field experience and immersion in a diverse, economically disadvantaged urban environment; seminars and lectures with public health leaders; and mentoring by faculty members to ensure students' exposure to the breadth and importance of public health as a career option.

Imani is minoring in policy analysis and management, and spent her time at NCCP helping to advance the center's recent focus on the resiliency of low-income parents. She said this work resonated with her and has helped cement her interest in a career in health policy:

“I want to do what I can to help relieve disparities. I haven't figured out what I want to do in my career, but growing up in Akron, I've seen disparities, and I have an interest in women's and children's health. Being here at NCCP has affirmed that health policy is something I'm interested in. I haven't quite figured out if research in general is something I'd like to do, but I definitely appreciate getting these skills.”

Imani is looking forward to applying what she has learned next summer when she studies abroad through her global health studies program.


Martevia Bledsoe, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Martevia graduated this past spring with a B.S. in public health and a minor in medical sociology. She was also a participant in the CDC Summer Public Health Scholars Program, which requires that each student conduct a research project that addresses a public health challenge or intervention.  At the conclusion of the program, each student delivers an oral presentation and submits a final paper on his or her topic. Martevia worked with NCCP’s Family Economic Security unit, examining the effects of state and federal family leave and pregnancy policies on maternal and child outcomes.

Martevia said that her project illuminated issues that she hadn't realized were barriers for low-income mothers:

“I've never taken the time to think about how parental leave affects families. I never thought about it as a health disparity. It's one of those things that's in your face, but you don't realize it. For some of these families, the choice is literally ‘If you stay out of work with your baby, you don't eat.’ In my undergraduate program, my concentration was global health studies, so I've looked at these issues in a very broad way. But this work was way more practical and real world.”

Now that her internship is complete, Martevia is planning to enter the workforce and study for her graduate entrance exam so that she can pursue a master’s degree in public health at Emory University.

“Special thanks go to the NCCP staff who worked closely with these talented and committed young people,” said Dr. Wilson-Simmons. “We’ll continue to follow their careers, watching them develop with great interest and extremely high expectations.”