Q&A with CBH Professor Rema Afifi

Rema AfifiRema Afifi joined the College of Public Health in summer 2017 as a professor of community and behavioral health. An alumna of the UI, her academic career and passion for public health have taken her to many places around the globe. Read more about her work in global health, special interest in youth populations, and why public health is a great fit for students interested in issues of equity and justice.

Q: What does your academic background look like?

Rema Afifi: I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology here at the University of Iowa, actually. I was fascinated with behavior and the brain. At some point, though, I realized that I wanted to be on the prevention side of behavior change rather than on the more curative side. So, after I finished my undergrad, I went to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to get my Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in health behavior and health education. I later went on to get my PhD in health services research with a minor in behavioral science from Saint Louis University.

Q: What other institutions have you worked at besides the University of Iowa?

RA: After I got my MPH, I moved to Atlanta to be an intern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for nine months. I was in the Office of Public Health Planning doing interesting work strategizing with state health departments. It was exciting work, but I felt I needed more on-the-ground experience.  I then shifted from that position to be a health educator at a very local level, at the DeKalb County Board of Health. I worked for four years doing injury and violence prevention specifically for children through the Safe Kids Campaign. In 1993, I moved to St. Louis and pursued my PhD. Then, in 1997, I actually moved back to my home city and country — Beirut, Lebanon. I’ve been there the last 20 years working at the American University of Beirut, Faculty of Health Sciences. I just recently moved back to the United States and specifically to the University of Iowa College of Public Health in July 2017.

Q: Do you feel like your life growing up overseas has influenced your professional life throughout the years?

RA: Oh, absolutely. Growing up, I was exposed to the idea of diversity early on because my parents had an intercultural marriage. I think they and my grandparents were very progressive in accepting a cross-cultural marriage. Being the result of two different cultures has allowed me to understand and accept differences and feel very comfortable in at least two global regions: the Arab world and the United States. I also grew up having access to an American passport, which was such a privilege and not common, and I was aware of that. I was aware that I had a lot of opportunities that many of my extended family members, friends, and neighbors did not have.  I come from a place that struggles with various layers of inequity in the local and global spheres.

Q: A lot of your research has revolved around the health and well-being of youth populations. What has made you so passionate about this?

RA: From the vantage point of war, conflict, and uncertainty, which is where I have spent most of my working life, interventions have tended to focus on maternal and child health along with water and sanitation.  Young people are often not paid much attention. They are, however, incredible assets to any community, and have energy and hope that, if engaged effectively and equitably, can truly make a difference in their own lives and that of their community. Also, globally, we have become so much better at keeping younger babies alive, but have not focused much on the second decade of life. Unless we start to focus on that next stage, we risk losing all the momentum and success we have achieved in that first decade.

I believe that young people have this incredible potential that we tend to ignore. We tend to be “scared” of young people because they are passionate and they want to make change. They are a group who are hopeful and energetic and can make wonders happen, but there’s no space for them to do it. I fell across this concept of positive youth development, which is about focusing on assets and strengths rather than risks. And I was exposed to the concept of “youth at promise,” which was paradigm-shifting for me–what if we thought of all youth “at promise” instead of “at risk”? It changed my perspective completely, and I have conducted research and practice with young people from this starting point.

Q: What do you believe you can bring to the table as director of graduate studies in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health?

RA: I believe I have a unique perspective to offer because I have insight and 20 years of experience in global health from the developing world. I also bring a lot of administration experience with me. Graduate public health education has been such an important part of my academic career from the very beginning.

Q: Is there anything you would like to say to undergraduate students who are thinking about pursuing public health at a graduate level?

RA: Public health is a life mission. It’s hard to separate your non-work life from it because it becomes a way of life. Public health is very much about values. For those who are passionate about issues of equity and justice, public health is a great field. Very few people get into this field because they know exactly what it is. They often pick public health because they find a place in which to be an activist and there are so many things that you can be an advocate for. It’s truly a great profession.

Skye Corken is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Global Health Studies and earning a Certificate in Writing.

Celebrate Black History Month with free movies in February

In celebration of Black History Month, the College of Public Health’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee will be showing three movies/documentaries.

All films will be shown at 7 p.m. in Callaghan Auditorium (N110 CPHB).

Free and open to the public.

Tuesday, February 13

13th film poster13th
In this thought-provoking documentary by Ava DuVernay, scholars, activists, and policticians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.



Thursday, February 22

Hidden Figures film posterHidden Figures
Hidden Figures tells the story of brilliant African American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind the launch into orbit of astronaut John Glenn, a stunning achievement that turned around the Space Race.




Wednesday, February 28

I am not your negro film coverI Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, a radical narration about race in America, using the writer’s original words, as read by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Alongside a flood of rich archival material, the film draws upon Baldwin’s notes on the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to explore and bring a fresh and radical perspective to the current racial narrative in America.

HEAL presents Second Annual Science of Health Equity summit

The University of Iowa’s Health Equity Advancement Lab (HEAL) is presenting the Second Annual Science of Health Equity Summit from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on April 5 at the College of Public Health Building.

HEAL’s mission is to promote health equity through community engaged public health research and practice, with a particular emphasis on communities in the state of Iowa and Midwest region that experience inequities. HEAL’s Annual Science of Health Equity Summit will highlight current evidence-based health equity work being done here at the University of Iowa as well as by our colleagues at the Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health in Minneapolis-St. Paul, among others.


Schedule of events

The summit will be from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 5 at the College of Public Health Building at the University of Iowa.

  • 9 -10:20 a.m. Welcome and student poster presentations (CPHB Atrium)
  • 10:30 – 11:20 a.m. The Secrets of Making the Science of Health Equity Work: Community and Academic Perspectives on Ensuring Health Equity (CPHB C217)
  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. Gaining the Edge: A Lightning Round of Field-based Health Equity Research (CPHB C217)
  • 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Kathleen Call, Professor of the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, and Farhiya Farah, a Senior Consultant at GlobeGlow Consulting and Research, Inc in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  Using Community Based Participatory Research to Help Advance Public Health Policy (CPHB N110)

Welcome and Student Poster Presentations (9 – 10:20 a.m.)

The day will start with student poster presentations in the CPHB Atrium.  Posters presented at this event will focus on the current groundbreaking work students at the University of Iowa and other surrounding universities are doing to advance the field of health equity.

If you are a current University student and would like to present at this event, please respond to our call for abstracts.  To be considered for entry in the poster session, abstracts must be submitted by March 2, 2018 at 11:59 PM CST.  Please send all questions pertaining to poster abstracts to rebecca-bucklin@uiowa.edu. While guests or the summit enjoy the poster session, free light refreshments and coffee will be available.

The Secrets of Making the Science of Health Equity Work: Community and Academic Perspectives on Ensuring Health Equity (10:30 – 11:20 a.m.)

Following the poster presentation in the CPHB Atrium, Dr. Paul Gilbert will moderate a panel of community public health practitioners and academics in C217. This panel will focus on providing a mixture of community and academic experience on previous work focused on increasing health equity in communities. This discussion will focus specifically on the practical implications of working with and in communities to ensure the promotion of health equity. Panelist names and bios will be released at a future date.

Gaining the Edge: A Lightning Round of Field-based Health Equity Research (11:30 AM-12:20 PM)

The research lightning round will consist of brief individual presentations provided by HEAL research staff on the research they are currently undertaking and how this research pertains to the field of health equity.  Speakers will present for around 10 minutes with some time left at the end of their presentations for questions.  This lightening round will take place in CPHB C217.

Becky Bucklin is a Research Assistant at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.  She received her MPH from the University of Iowa College of Public Health in Community Behavioral Health and her BS in Nutrition and Wellness from Bradley University.  Her work focuses on applying the principles of health equity put forward by the HEAL program to ensure the CBPR projects she manages move forward equitably. Specific areas of study involve physical activity promotion, healthy retail interventions, and falls prevention programming for underserved populations in the state of Iowa. She works in conjunction with community stakeholders and members within intervention communities to identify and reduce barriers to health promotion programs, which, in turn, reduces current health inequities that exist in rural and minority populations within the state.

Portrait of Angelique Foye of the Kansas City Health Equity Advancement LabAngelique Foye is a Research Assistant II at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. She received her MS from the Purdue University Northwest Behavioral Science Department in Child Development and Family Studies with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. She received dual BS degrees in Psychology and Family Studies and Human Services from Kansas State University. Her work focuses on managing and implementing CBPR research projects to break the intergenerational cycle of toxic stress by enhancing capacity of caregivers to promote resilience in children at-risk for lifelong health problems. Her work also focuses on assisting with building community-engaged capacity efforts with the 2Gen Thrive Community Action Board.

A photo of Adriana Maldonado of the University of Iowa College of Public Health.Adriana Maldonado is a doctoral student in the department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. She received her M.A. in Experimental Psychology from California State University San Marcos and her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from San Diego State University. Her work focuses on understanding the mechanisms that drive health disparities for Latino immigrants in the United States and identifying areas for action. Specific topics of study include hypertension, physical activity, healthy retail interventions, and housing inequalities for populations at risk in the state of Iowa. She is currently working in the implementation of an intervention to promote physical activity among Latinas and a qualitative study to understand barriers and facilitators to proper hypertension management among Latinos residing in a micropolitan city.

Portrait of Nicole Novak, postdoctoral research scholar at the Prevention Research Center in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.Nicole Novak is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Prevention Research Center in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.  She holds a PhD in Epidemiology from the University in Michigan and a Masters of Science in Medical Anthropology from the University of Oxford, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. She conducts epidemiologic and community-engaged research on health and health equity, particularly with regard to psychosocial stress, race and racialization, immigration, and rural residence. Specific areas of study include the impacts of immigration enforcement on community health, the health implications of local policies that promote inclusion for people facing barriers to government-issued photo ID cards, and community-level influences on health and health equity in midsize rural communities. Nicole will share her experience conducting qualitative research in the mid-size community of Ottumwa, Iowa.

Kathleen Call and Farhiya Farah’s presentation on “Using Community Based Participatory Research to Help Advance Public Health Policy” (12:30 PM – 1:30 PM)

The keynote speakers for the Science in Health Equity summit are Drs. Kathleen Call and Farhiya Farah.  This talk will take place in CPHB N120 and will be a part of the College of Public Health’s Spotlight Series.  Their talk is titled “Using Community Based Participatory Research to Help Advance Public Health Policy.” This talk will take place in Callahan Auditorium in CPHB.

Portrait of University of Minnesota prof. Kathleen CallDr. Call graduated with her PhD in Sociology from the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on access to health care and health insurance among disparity populations; how well health insurance translates into equitable access to health care, and developing community-driven solutions to overcome the barriers that people face to accessing health care. She is a professor in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and is the co-director of the School of Public Health’s Healthy Equity Work Group. Community advocate and consultant, Dr. Farhiya Farah, will join Dr. Call for this talk.

Portrait of Farah Farhiya, Senior Consultant at GlobeGlow Consulting and Research, Inc. Dr. Farah received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences and is a Senior Consultant at GlobeGlow Consulting and Research, Inc. in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Her work includes the provision of consulting services in multiple public health arenas including food safety training, ethnic food business, community based participatory research work, healthy homes and lead poison prevention policy, and grant Development. She has been very involved in her community and serves as a liaison between the Somali Community in Minneapolis-St. Paul area and the University of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Public Health Department, and other community groups and organizations in the area.

The speakers will describe community-engaged work they collaborated on to identify solutions to barriers to health care services for diverse cultural communities already enrolled in Minnesota’s public health insurance programs. Dr. Call will situate the barriers project on a continuum of community engagement, describe the structure and decision making processes adopted to balance of power and build trust, develop community-driven system level recommendations, and evidence of the project’s impact and sustainability. Dr. Farah will describe a food safety project focused on the Somali community in the Minneapolis-St. Paul. In 2006, Minneapolis Health Department conducted a Multicultural story telling project that surfaced community assets and represented a long term engagement process between the Minneapolis Health Department and city residents from diverse cultural communities. It highlighted the values of inclusive policies and practices in overcoming barriers. The food safety project demonstrates critical knowledge gained through engagement and how that knowledge informed changes in city policies and practices that both improved public safety and ensured the success of local restaurants.

Register for The Science of Health Equity

Please register for this event by Wednesday, March 28, by filling out the form below.

Science of Health Equity Registration

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Becky Bucklin at rebecca-bucklin@uiowa.edu or 309-678-2352.


Take part in the Relay for Life cancer walk

Relay for Life 2018 posterCPH students, faculty, and staff are invited to register or form a team for this year’s Relay for Life cancer walk on Saturday, April 7, at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex.

Learn more: RelayForLife.org/JohnsonCountyIA

Join or donate to the College of Public Health team: bit.ly/CPHrelay18

There’s also an opportunity to join planning committees for the event. If you’re interested in helping, please contact:

Christy Manternach | Senior Manager, State Health Systems
North Region | American Cancer Society, Inc.
4080 First Avenue NE Suite 101
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
Phone: 319.866.7108