Jess Gannon was in Tanzania when she realized that public health research might be her calling.
Gannon, MSW ’18, was on a 4-5- month practicum as part of her concentration on international social and economic development, charged with working for an organization doing hands-on educational water sanitation and hygiene programs in rural Tanzania. Her work involved analyzing thousands of rows of data from an annual health screening to see if the educational programs had been effective. “I had shied away from data, but once I started doing it, I discovered I really enjoyed it,” she said. “The data was showing improving health outcomes, and it was like a light bulb for me. That’s where I realized public health might be a better fit.”
She also realized she didn’t want to live abroad and returned to St. Louis, where her partner lives. After working in another job in student affairs and event planning, she was furloughed due to COVID and reached out to her former practicum organization in Tanzania, which needed data analysis for their new screenings. She did the data analysis from St. Louis. “I rediscovered that spark,” she recalled. She applied to the PRC and began working in 2020 as a research assistant.
Gannon became a project manager this past summer, leading two projects. One is a study aimed at increasing the capacity for sustainability among 23 evidence-based state tobacco control programs through in-person training. While an assistant on the project, she checked in with states every few months to see what was working and what wasn’t. “The calls were a lot of fun,” she said. “My background in social work focused on people, so qualitative data was something I found very easy to carry out and I enjoyed it,” she said.
Her other project, with only a few months remaining, is Public Health in Action, looking at the extent to which misimplementation occurs in cancer control, and then using information graphics to disseminate to state health departments.
The spark that brought her to the PRC is still going strong.
“The people there are wonderful,” she said. “I have a lot of great interaction with project managers, which has allowed me to communicate with people working on other projects,” she said. “I love working in public health research because I love to learn.”
She also appreciates the opportunity to work remotely, mainly because of Mama. Not her mother, but her cat, who needs a lot of attention and often shows up on Gannon’s Zoom calls. When she’s not Zooming or tending to Mama, Gannon can be found playing women’s club rugby in Forest Park. “I just showed up one day,” she said, and she’s been enjoying it ever since.
As she looks ahead, Gannon said she will keep in mind the advice of her PRC supervisor and mentor, Sarah Moreland-Russell, associate professor of practice. “She’s been so wonderful and always very encouraging,” Gannon said. That advice? “Continue to follow what you love and the rest will fall in line.”