Vice President, Public Policy for Moderna
Washington, District of Columbia
Master of Public Health, Health Policy & Management
Graduation Year: 2008
Why did you choose to attend COPH?
I became interested in public health for a few reasons: In 2006, I survived a brain tumor right after I was appointed by Governor Huckabee as the youngest ever member of the Arkansas State Board of health. Because of my own survival, I became involved in health policy, volunteering for the American Cancer Society and advocating for vaccine access. I lived in Little Rock at the time and was talking with a friend about the critical role that public policy plays in improving health outcomes and eliminating health disparities. He told me I was describing public health and mentioned that UAMS had established a College of Public Health. I applied almost immediately.
What is the most important thing you learned while at COPH?
That improving public health is about “multiple interventions on multiple levels.” I have found that this is true in everything from improving the health and health behavior of an individual person, to driving policy changes that shape population health. This means that one single approach is almost never enough to effect positive change.
What advice do you have for current students who want to make the most out of their experience at COPH?
Be open-minded about the path you will take when you finish because there can and will be unexpected opportunities ahead.
Describe COPH in three words.
Essential. Pioneering. Transformative.
Describe what you are currently doing for work and the path you took to get to this point.
I serve as the Vice President of Public Policy at Moderna. My path to this point involved trying to create the right opportunities to advance in my career, while also staying true to my core personal mission of improving public health. Right before graduating from the COPH, I came to Washington, D.C. for the first time on an advocacy trip and realized that I wanted to impact health policy on a national scale. On that same trip, I remember going to a “speed networking” event for young health policy professionals and handing out as many business cards as I could. Funny enough, my office ten years later would overlook the bar in Dupont Circle where I handed out those cards.
After I graduated from the COPH, I made the move to D.C. and started out leading a program at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials that advised state public health leaders on policy issues. I then joined Merck in its vaccine division to advance vaccine access through state policy. Going to the private sector from nonprofit public health was not an easy decision, but I found that Merck had a culture that was intensely focused on improving public health. I recognized that I could try different things in my career while being true to that core personal mission.
I later decided to accomplish my longtime goal of attending law school. By the end of law school I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant to Professor Sara Rosenbaum, one of the country’s greatest health law and policy scholars. Professor Rosenbaum modeled for me what it means to be an expert in your field and how to wield that expertise for good. After law school, I decided to practice healthcare law at a firm where I had the opportunity to learn and try many different things, including helping clients understand the Affordable Care Act, learning about healthcare quality and payment, and advising the British Virgin Islands on the implementation of its National Health Insurance program.
After my detour in law, I found my way back to vaccines, joining the D.C. healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health. I founded the firm’s vaccines group, which did groundbreaking work to improve vaccine policy in the United States. The world was then unexpectedly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a race to develop an effective vaccine to combat the virus. Among the companies developing a vaccine at unparalleled speed was a Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company called Moderna. I knew about Moderna’s mRNA technology for years, but then the world took notice that it could help end the pandemic. I realized that the promise of mRNA went far beyond COVID-19 and could prevent many other diseases in the future. So I joined Moderna to be a part of our bold and relentless mission as its first head of public policy.
How did your education at COPH prepare you for what you are doing today?
Because of my education at the COPH, I can navigate many different conversations in a given day on a variety of challenging topics. I work with epidemiologists, clinical experts, health economists and scientists. As a lawyer and policy expert, I could never possibly understand all of those areas of expertise as much as the respective professionals, but my MPH provides me with the necessary knowledge and credibility to work with them every day to improve public health in a meaningful way.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Shaping policy to improve access to vaccines.
What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
If you want to shape public policy, be bold! I have often told younger professionals that no idea is a bad idea. We might need to shape the idea to make it work in the world, but to be successful, we must all find a way to champion our ideas. Along the way, you will figure out how to be your own effective champion and it is worth the trying.
What is something people may not know about you?
I was a poor student through college and tried and failed many times to gain admission to law school. At many points, I doubted myself and my abilities and it took me many years to feel that I was really a successful person. Many days, I still have to remind myself.