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Michelle Garrison: Using Data to Make an Impact

Michelle Garrison, PhD, MPH, will teach the Interpreting and Using Health Data course at the 2015 Summer Institute for Public Health Practice. She talks about her lifelong love of data and bringing that passion into the classroom.
Michelle Garrison: Using Data to Make an Impact

2015 Summer Institute instructor Michelle Garrison, PhD, MPH

Michelle Garrison, PhD, MPH, will teach the Interpreting and Using Health Data course at the 2015 Summer Institute for Public Health Practice. She talks about her lifelong love of data and bringing that passion into the classroom.

April 27, 2015

Michelle Garrison, PhD, MPH, knew she would be an epidemiologist early in life and so has many insights into using facts and figures effectively. She will teach the data course at the 2015 Summer Institute for Public Health Practice for the first time and is excited to share what she knows with scholars.

What led you to a career in public health and public health education?
When I was in high school, my US history teacher told us to focus our term paper on any research question we wanted, as long as it took place within the US and before 1940. I chose to learn about the effectiveness of Prohibition. I looked at whether liver cirrhosis mortality changed in conjunction with Prohibition, and whether those changes were different in parts of the country that had stronger enforcement. I went a bit overboard and turned in a term paper with about 40 pages of tables and graphs. My teacher told me I needed to be an epidemiologist when I grew up.

In addition to teaching, what other projects are you working on?
I have several new and ongoing research projects related to child sleep and development, looking at family-centered ways to improve sleep and tracking the impact on health and development over time.

You have a wide variety of experiences. What lessons have you learned about using data that might be helpful to Summer Institute scholars?
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that it is incredibly important to know at a precise level both your underlying question and your audience. The right approach to using data and presenting those findings will be found only at that intersection.

Why are you excited to teach the data course?
I’m excited to teach this course because I’ve seen what a huge impact it can have—both for departments and for individual careers—when people learn to use data more effectively and efficiently.

What can people expect from your course?
Participants will learn about articulating a precise question, identifying the best data options, creating a plan for how to utilize the data efficiently, and presenting results effectively for diverse audiences.

Who is the ideal participant for your course?
Someone who sees unmet needs around data use in their jobs and is excited to grow their skill sets to meet those needs. Participants can feel confident knowing they will leave with tangible skills they can really use.

Public health is challenging work. How do you stay motivated?
There are two things that really help keep me motivated. The biggest thing is when I hear stories from families or staff about how they’ve seen our projects result in positive, tangible changes for them. Those moments may not come frequently, but I store them up and treasure them. Secondly, I really find it motivating to work with diverse learners—they come to the table with different perspectives and new energy, and I always walk away from those encounters excited and with new ideas.

For more information about this and other courses, visit the Summer Institute site. Early bird rates end June 1, 2015.

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