2015 Alumna Transitions from AJ Drexel Autism Institute to NIH Office of Autism Research Coordination
July 12, 2016
Can you talk a little about your background and why you’ve focused your work on Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Julianna Rava, MPH ’15, is now a health services policy analyst at the NIH in the Office of Autism Research Coordination and recently assisted in writing the Presidential Proclamation on autism. Julianna described the connections she made working at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute during her time at Dornsife SPH, and what she’s working on next.
I knew I always wanted to go into the health field but wasn't sure what my role should be. During my first year in Drexel's MPH program I became interested in psychiatric epidemiology and also discovered Drexel had its own public health research institute focused on autism. I was lucky enough to volunteer there during my first year and then do my practicum and CBMP with Paul Shattuck, PhD, associate professor of Health Management and Policy. Dr. Shattuck showed me that autism research was more than just looking for risk factors in genetics, the environment and biology. Beyond the molecular mechanisms underlying the disorder, there are lifespan issues and social implications for individuals on the autism spectrum and many of them consider autism a form of identity that requires social justice reform. The many facets of autism make it extremely interesting from a public health perspective.
How did the opportunity to work for the NIH Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) come about?
I worked for Dr. Shattuck at AJDAI during most of my time in the MPH program, he was a great mentor and gave me many opportunities to network within the autism research field. Last May at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) I was introduced to the Director of the Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) at NIH, during our conversation she mentioned she a vacancy for a new health services policy analyst position.
What was your role in crafting the presidential proclamation on autism?
The Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) requests input from NIH, HHS, and other federal agencies that fund autism research, then we write the first draft of the Presidential Proclamation based on input and previous presidential proclamations on autism. Once it goes through a few different streams of review, the White House sends us back a final draft that we edit before it is finalized at the White House for the public. Specifically, I took part in all three stages of the development of the proclamation.
What other projects are you working on?
Right now I am working along with my colleagues in OARC on several reports required by Congress. I am analyzing 2013 autism research funding data from federal agencies and private organizations for our 2013 IACC Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Report. We are also collecting data from agencies and organizations for the 2014-2015 IACC Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Report. Along with analyzing the United States autism research funding trends, we coordinate and manage the Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and are in the process of developing a new IACC Strategic Plan, which is the guiding document on autism research trends as well as the research gaps and community needs that need to be addressed within the field.
Do you have any advice to current students and recent graduates from the Dornsife SPH?
My experience at Drexel was a big part of landing a job in the field I want to be in. I think it is important to take advantage of all the opportunities available at Drexel and at Drexel's partnerships throughout Philadelphia. When you put the time in outside the classroom, it will lead to valuable networking opportunities in the long run.