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Shaping Two Lives At Once

Drexel MPH Alumna Receives Young Investigator Award for Work to Help Philadelphia Moms Stay On Track with HIV Care

Joella Adams

January 7, 2015

When Joella Adams, MPH '14, realized that she could have a positive impact on two lives at once – mother and baby – she knew she'd found her public health passion. She was working for Operation Smile at the time, coordinating medical missions in the Middle East and Africa, and recognized differences in international health care that had a striking similarity to socio-economic disparities she'd seen in the United States. Following a subsequent experience helping domestic violence victims in Southern Virginia, Adams took the opportunity during her MPH program at Drexel's School of Public Health to amass a collection of research opportunities and cobble together a team of mentors that approached maternal and child health from multiple angles – epidemiological, clinical and public health perspectives.

Her hard work and focus has paid off. Adams was recently awarded a competitive scholarship for young investigators to present her research and attend the leading U.S. research conference on HIV, the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI). Her work, which started as a Community-Based Masters Project (CBMP) during her second year at Drexel, focuses on improving comprehensive interventions for HIV positive women during and following pregnancy here in Philadelphia. When women are reconnected with HIV care 3 months after delivery, her research showed that the mothers are more likely to stay in care and be virally suppressed over the following 2 years.

Next month, she'll travel to Seattle to present her research at CROI. She'll also get to participate in a special training day for young investigators, where she'll gain insight into community health, laboratory science and vaccine development efforts and opportunities to have an impact on ending HIV. She'll get to participate in small group mentoring workshops with experienced investigators.

"I'm really excited," she said in a phone interview, "as it's hard to afford attending conferences and this gives me an opportunity to work with other young investigators and present our research."

Mentors - including Yvonne Michael, ScD, SM, Associate Professor in Epidemiology and Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affair in the Drexel School of Public Health, Florence Momplaisir, MD, MSHP, Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases in the Drexel College of Medicine and Kathleen Brady, MD, MSCE, Medical Director of the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health - allowed her to work on long term and in depth projects to help vulnerable populations here in Philadelphia during her CBMP. Those projects translated into her current position helping manage Philadelphia's contributions to the CDC's National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System in her post at the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

"My advice to current MPH students is to choose something you are really passionate or care about. Be open minded and explore different options," said Adams. "Take opportunities, say yes if you can, be open minded. If you could offer to help with a research study – even if it's not paid – go for it. The Drexel School of Public Health has a great track record working in the Philadelphia community and serving vulnerable populations. I wanted to learn that approach, and that's why I chose Drexel."