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Dornsife Doctoral Alumna Starts ASPPH/CDC Public Health Workforce Development Fellowship

April 26, 2017

Purni Abeysekara, DrPH ’16, MPH, learned that she had been accepted for a fellowship supported by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) two days before she presented her Community Health and Prevention doctoral dissertation defense in December.  

In February, Abeysekara moved to Atlanta and began her new fellowship assignment in the CDC’s Division of Scientific Education and Professional Development within the Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services. Her team works with other units to assess, develop, and train new public health professionals.  

"The CDC is a great environment to apply skills in qualitative and quantitative analysis while continuing to learn new things,” said Abeysekara. “My mentor is very open to providing learning opportunities, hearing about what I want to learn and providing resources to do that." 

Her unit focuses on public health workforce development, as well as succession plans across federal agencies - in preparation for a large number of workforce members who are set to retire soon. Abeysekara is currently analyzing large datasets of federal public health employees, which can be used to guide strategic workforce development activities.  

Abeysekara was “lucky to have a variety of experiences” during her DrPH program. She participated in the Opening Doors for Diverse Populations program and worked closely on community-based research with Dornsife faculty. During her third year, she started working on various maternal and child health projects with Jaime Slaughter, a perinatal epidemiologist and assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. 

Abeysekara applied for the ASPPH/CDC Fellowship in September, interviewed in November, and received word that she’d been accepted in early December as she was about to graduate with her DrPH in Community Health and Prevention, with a focus on Maternal and Child Health.  

In preparation for applying for jobs and fellowships, "Dr. Slaughter and I printed out job postings to see which skills I had and which I didn’t, and then worked on developing the skills I didn’t have,” she recollects. During the CDC hiring process, Abeysekara noticed that “most people can do hard skills such as data analysis and writing, but the CDC is big on soft skills. What sets you apart might be your communication or potential leadership skills." 

Abeysekara will be at the CDC for at least the next six months. She’s hoping her fellowship can prepare her for another position at CDC, or in another public health practice position at the federal level.