Alumnae Voices: On and Off the Beaten Path
Featured Alumna: Mikisha Browm


August 9, 2004

Since her graduation from Dartmouth in 2000, Mikisha Brown has been constantly on the go. Having recently completed the Emerging Leaders Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services, she currently works in Washington DC as a Public Health Analyst. When she’s not tackling national projects involving child and adolescent mental health, she is actively involved in her church, serves as a youth mentor, takes dance classes, and recently became engaged to Dartmouth alum Desmond Nation '02. More importantly (for us), she also made time to discuss her science career with WISP. The road she took to discovering a job she loves in a field she’s passionate about is simply inspiring…enjoy!

DISCOVERING SCIENCE

While growing up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, I attended the Horizons summer program which combined enrichment classes with sports, camping, and swimming. I went on to spend two summers working with Horizon summer programs before 9th and 10th grade, serving as a teacher’s assistant in basic science to 7th and 8th graders. After that program was completed, I spent the rest of my summer as an assistant instructor for a Maritime Education program at the Norwalk Seaport for 3rd and 4th graders. What I enjoyed most about this experience was seeing enthusiasm for science in the eyes of young children as they conducted experiments in chemistry lab or examined the sea life in the Long Island Sound.

During high school my academic activities related to science included participating for three years on Central High’s Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) team and attending the Connecticut Scholars summer program at Choate Rosemary Hall. Both activities were the result of my teachers encouraging me to seek out opportunities to explore math and science. Coming from an innercity public school I did feel blessed with excellent teachers and challenging classes. However, during my two summers at Choate I had access to state of the art technology that was not available at my school. I really enjoyed my anatomy and physiology course and my experimental physics class.

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND - The College Years

I majored in psychology and I was one course short of a minor in
education.

I picked my major based on what fascinated me, human behavior. Psychology was the major where I found a common ground for exploring both the biological and environmental factors that influence behavior. While studying at Dartmouth I discovered that psychology was very interdisciplinary. I liked the idea of majoring in an area that connected to other subjects like biology, sociology, and education.

During my freshman year, the Women in Science Program played a pivotal role in my exposure to sciences at Dartmouth. Through the first-year internship program, I worked as a research assistant in the neuropsychiatry department at DMHC. Through this experience I learned a great deal about the anatomy of the brain, the neurological influence on disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, schizophrenia and the various methods of cognitive/psychological testing and assessment. Because of my experience in the WISP program I went on to work in the DHMC Child Psychiatry department for two years. WISP had a very inclusive definition of "careers in science". I was able to consider exploring opportunities in science that were more representative of the spectrum of career possibilities (i.e. not just chemist, researcher, or doctor). This was pivotal to my development because I chose to pursue a master's degree in public health; a topic that was not discussed in detail in my Dartmouth courses.

While at Dartmouth I participated in the Peer Education Action Corps (PEAC). I really enjoyed coordinating programs that addressed the challenges of eating disorders, depression, sexual assault, and substance abuse in the Dartmouth community. The training I received from the PEAC programs as well as my experience with providing outreach was my first exposure to health education. I was doing public health but at that time I did not even know there was such a field of study.

As much as I wanted to be home during my sophomore summer, I really enjoyed that term because it helped shape my decision to pursue a career in the behavioral sciences. During that summer I took Child Development with Professor John Pfister and I also cajoled him into being my advisor for an independent study project on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in Youth. I was also assisting a faculty member with a cognitive neuroscience project related to visual memory. I purposely set out to challenge myself with these two seemingly different projects because I wanted to find out where my true interest and focus resided. I quickly realized that I was willing to trade the stimuli-response type of controlled experiments in cognitive labs for the messy and complicated world of child development and psychology. I was particularly interested in the factors that contribute to the health, academic performance, and psychological well-being of children and adolescents. I think my experience as a WISP intern and the subsequent research opportunities that followed helped cultivate that interest. They also gave me confidence in my ability to take on any challenge. There were so many things I did in graduate school that people thought were "impossible" or "unheard of", but I always asked “why not?” In grad school I was in the research track of my program, I completed a minor in another subject, I worked for two different research projects, all while taking full course loads and participating in student leadership. My Dartmouth experience gave me the skills, confidence, and attitude to look at the impossible as possible. For this I am very grateful.

THE NEXT STEPS – Out Into The Real World

I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to do something related to psychology that would influence the lives of young people.

First, I made a note of the things that I definitely knew I did not want to do (i.e. corporate recruiting). I started by discussing career ideas with my major advisor Professor Pfister, and also made a visit to Career Services. I decided to seek out career opportunities related to psychology, children and/or education. I applied to the Teach for America program and started an application for the Peace Corps. While applying to the Peace Corps, I stumbled across a program in the Corps related to a master’s degree in public health. Truthfully, I did not know anyone who had a career in public health and I did not know what public health folks did. After hours of Internet research, the Peace Corps application fell by the wayside and I decided to seriously consider a masters-level graduate program in public health.

So, my path took an interesting and fulfilling turn. I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School for Public Health. I majored in Health Behavior and Health Education with a minor in Epidemiology. While at grad school I completed a research fellowship with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. I also helped design the psychosocial component of an obesity prevention project for preadolescent African-American girls. Also, while working at North Carolina Institute for Public Health, I worked on a project related to the psychological impact of natural disasters.

TODAY - Developing Careers

Following my graduate studies, I was selected for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). This is a two year career/leadership development program intended to recruit and train future leaders for HHS. I am a member of the first class of sixty people, and we just had a graduation ceremony on July 15th.

During the last two years I have been actively involved in the sciences. HHS’ mission centers on preserving the health and well-being of the nation. During my rotations I had the opportunity to experience first-hand major initiatives addressing the challenges of bioterrorism, violence prevention, the psychological impact of disasters and terrorism, and the co-occurrence of mental and physical health disorders in children and adolescents.

I currently work as a Public Health Analyst for HHS at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at the Center for Mental Health Services, in the Emergency Mental Health and Trauma Stress Programs Branch. My major responsibilities at SAMHSA are related to the child trauma and disaster mental health programs. My professional career is giving me a chance to develop and fine-tune my skills while also learning how to navigate complex government processes. I currently work on projects related to child and adolescent mental health and trauma, as well as the psychosocial impacts of disasters and terrorism on communities. I am very interested in the benefits that can be gained in child and adolescent mental health through effective treatment, the development of new interventions, and prevention efforts. Therefore, a major focus of my responsibilities at SAMHSA will be related to Mental Health program evaluations, as well as exploring opportunities for enhanced collaboration between Public Health and Mental Health.

FINDING A BALANCE

My top priorities today are God, my family/friends, and my career. These priorities have not changed much since my graduation from college. While I was in college community service was something that I really enjoyed but it was an extracurricular activity in the background of my educational experience. I tried to participate in organizations that made a meaningful contribution to the Dartmouth community by increasing student participation in service projects and creating opportunities for dialogue around culture, race, and diversity, such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Green Key, the Afro-American Society, and PEAC. I am currently very passionate about public service, even more so than when I was involved in service organizations at Dartmouth. Through the Emerging Leaders Program and my opportunities at HHS I have come to realize that it is possible to merge my love of public service with important health issues to form a meaningful and fulfilling career.

I try to strike a balance by making time for the things I enjoy and by spending quality time with my family and friends. I try to exercise regularly because physical activity is a great stress-reduction tactic for me. When time permits, I take dance classes at a studio in DC. This really helps me relax and express my creativity in a way I cannot in my work world. I talk with my family at least three times a week on the phone to stay connected, catch up on major events, or to get/give advice. I make time to go to the movies with my girlfriends, to go dancing, or read a book at least once or twice a month. The two most important things that have helped me to stay balanced over the last two years were learning to say no (to avoid being over-committed) and to become better at articulating what I need in order to have a balanced lifestyle.

TENDING TO YOUR EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING

I find that I doubt my capabilities most either immediately after a difficult academic or career experience OR when my motivation/drive is waning. To overcome self-doubts I often pray about challenging projects and I pray to reduce my worry and anxiety. I also draw on support from my family and friends. They help me keep things in perspective.

ADVICE TO SHARE

Science is more than just studying biology or becoming a doctor. There is a vast array of career opportunities in science and health-related professions. Feel free to explore areas beyond what others are doing. As much as possible, you should try to get exposure to the practical application of science. Science subjects that you liked in college or even the topics you “tested well” in may not be the best indicator of what a professional career in science is like. Try to vary your internships, work experiences, and research projects to give you a flavor for what it is like to work in a particular field.

If you are interested in talking to Mikisha about her Dartmouth experience, or her medical school experiences, you can contact her via e-mail (miki_brown@msn.com). Take advantage of wonderful Dartmouth resources such as successful alumni who have been through it and are there to help!

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