Global Epidemiology, MPH ’22
“I don’t think I would be able to be so connected to community health work, engaging in work on a partner level as opposed to academia, if it wasn’t for Rollins.”
Second-year Rollins Global Epidemiology MPH student Chenmua Yang chose to study public health to be a positive change agent for the shared experience that refugees, immigrants, and migrants (RIM) might go through in this country. This passion stems from his personal experiences as a member of a refugee family.
Part of the Hmong/Hmoob/Moob community, an ethnic minority from the mountainous regions of Laos, Yang’s parents and grandparents eventually resettled in Wisconsin and Minnesota after they arrived in the late ‘70s and mid ‘80s.
“Growing up with that family dynamic, I was always aware of what health services were available to us,” says Yang. “Toward the end of my grandmother’s life [in 2015], I saw how vital public health is and how access can be limited because of language barriers. She never learned English.”
During his time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated from in 2016 with a major in microbiology and certificate in European studies, Yang studied abroad in Barcelona and took Spanish classes. After graduation, he served with two AmeriCorps programs, one in San Francisco and the second in Milwaukee, where he worked as a community health program coordinator for family health education classes for non-native English speaking communities. Then in 2018, Yang served in the Peace Corps for two years in Togo, West Africa, where he served as a health volunteer and learned to speak French and dabble in the local languages. These collective experiences combined with his Hmong heritage, offered Yang insight into how important language is to a community and how that might play into public health.
Yang put his French language skills to work in his Rollins Earn and Learn position with the vaccine exemplar project, which is also tied to his Global Field Experience Financial Award. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project seeks to identify and understand “exemplar” immunization programs, such as those in Senegal, Nepal, and Zambia, which performed better than their peers in driving improvements in high and sustainable vaccine coverage. Yang worked on research related to Senegal in West Africa and communicated with the Senegalese team.
In addition, Yang has been working on a Fields Scholars Award Program funded by the Emory Global Health Institute that awards funding to a multidisciplinary team of students at Emory University to conduct global learning projects in partnership with organizations globally. The project was a collaboration between Emory University, the Clarkston Community Health Center, the Refugee Women’s Network, and various community-based organizations in Clarkston, Georgia, and focused on how COVID-19 vaccine confidence can be increased among the area’s diverse community of RIM families. He’s learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone and hyper-localized approaches to collaborating with communities that have people with different languages, backgrounds, and history is key to positive outcomes.
“I don’t think I would be able to be so connected to community health work, engaging in work on a partner level as opposed to academia, if it wasn’t for Rollins,” says Yang who really enjoys hands-on field work and building human connections to understand and analyze data, which is why he selected the Global Epidemiology track for his MPH studies.
Another hands-on experience that has stood out to Yang was participating in the student-led Rollins Election Day Initiative (REDI). As a second-year student, he is now REDI’s co-president.
“Being part of REDI in my first year helped me meet classmates despite COVID and made me realize that voting and civic engagement is a public health issue,” he says.
And, being from the Midwest, Yang appreciates Atlanta’s moderate temperatures.
“I enjoy the weather and the nature in Atlanta and around Emory. Going out walking on a trail is a great way to destress and relax, year-round!”
Post-graduation, Yang is interested in working for an international NGO. “The CDC would not be a bad second option,” he quips.
Yang would like to contribute as much as he can to the field of public health, specifically where vaccine-preventable diseases and preventative health services are concerned. He hopes his unique perspective and personal experiences as a son of refugees and a Hmong American will serve others well.