Alumni Profile: Erica Spies, MS ’09, PhD ’13

A portrait of Erica Spies, MPH '09, PhD '13

Current Position:
CDC Foundation Evaluation Fellow, Transportation Safety Team, Home Recreation and Transportation Branch, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What interested you in Public Health?
I became familiar with the field of public health during my junior year of undergrad. I was taking a maternal and child health course as well as fulfilling a requirement to do service learning at a non-profit agency. I had the opportunity to volunteer in a program that provided new and expecting mothers with services that ranged from housing and education/skill development to sexual and reproductive health care. During this experience is when I gained an appreciation for the continuum of preventive health services. As I continued to explore the field of public health, I became (and continue to be) excited about the opportunity to conducted applied research to inform public health practices.

Why did you choose Iowa?
Short answer: “It just felt right.”
Longer answer: I visited several different graduate schools before ultimately selecting the University of Iowa to call home for graduate school. Even from my very first visit at the College of Public Health’s degree day, I could tell the Department of Community and Behavioral Health would be great fit; the students were enthusiastic, the staff was extremely helpful, and the faculty I was able to talk to were genuinely interested in my academic and career goals. I decided to stay at U of I for my PhD because of the supportive relationships I was able to establish with my advisor, the faculty, and students in the department and the sense of community CBH provides.

What was your favorite experience in Graduate School?
I had many wonderful experiences in graduate school. Outside of the milestones like completing my MS thesis, passing my qualifying and comprehensive exams, and successfully defending my dissertation, some of my favorite experiences came while working with Drs. Shelly Campo and Natoshia Askelson on the campaign, Until You’re Ready, You really cannot beat going to a events/festivals such as “Awesome Biker Nights” (bikes = motorcycles, not bicycles) and being hugged by complete strangers because they are excited about your public health message.

What piece of advice would you offer prospective students?
I think that it is extremely important to visit the departments you are applying to for graduate school. While you’re there, talk to faculty and students, sit in on a class, go to dinner, explore the community, etc. While it is probably most important that you feel like you belong in the department, it is also important that the department is part of a larger community that you feel like you belong in.

What piece of advice would you offer current students?
Do not take any of the opportunities presented to you during graduate school for granted. I know it is easy to get bogged down in and feel overwhelmed by all the readings and assignments. And at times, some of the things you are asked to do seem like “busy work” or irrelevant to your ultimate career goals. The reality is, none of us really know where we are going to end up, I never imagined ending up in the injury world, and you never know what skills you are going to need. Take advantage of the faculty members’ expertise and your course assignments and projects, I promise you will appreciate it when you leave. Even the logic models! And yes….you will use theory!

How does your CBH education manifest itself in your current work?
A better question might be, how doesn’t it? My current project is evaluating a teen driving program that brings together the collaboration of corporate, non-profit, and government partners. My responsibilities include developing the program’s conceptual and logic models, identifying and implementing evaluation strategies and methodologies, conducting qualitative and quantitative data analysis, writing evaluation reports, presenting data results, and further developing and modifying program curriculum. I am also responsible for facilitating the relationships between and among all partners involved. On any given day, I can draw on the vast array of knowledge and skills I gained while in CBH from program design, implementation, and evaluation to understanding the health literacy of your target audience to facilitating partnerships.

Anything else you want to share or you think prospective students should know?
Enjoy your time in graduate school! You will meet some of your lifelong friends in your graduate program and you will start (if you have not done so already) building a network of colleagues you will be able to count on for the rest of your career. Also, while you will be busy, it is important to continue to do things that make you feel like you, whether that is exercising or spending time with family and friends.