MHC Planning Committee
The Minority Health Conference is a major undertaking led and organized by students and guided by a group of advisers.
The co-presidents develop a vision for the Minority Health Conference, which includes selection of a conference theme, setting the objectives and timeline for each of the sub-committees, and managing their progress throughout the planning process. They are responsible for general conference management, monitoring logistics including registration, budget management, and communication with all key stakeholders.
Bio: Takhona G. Hlatshwako is a BSPH student in the Health Policy and Management department. Takhona served as the planning coordinator for the 42nd Minority Health Conference and is thrilled to serve as the co-chair for the 43rd conference. She is interested in research methods that advance health equity locally and globally. As an international student who’s lived in different parts of the world, the equity agenda for global health feels personal and urgent. Outside of school, she loves to read and tend to her house plants.
Why MHC?: I was drawn to the organization’s goal to bring people together to discuss minority health issues. I immediately wanted to get involved in making the conference a success! I’m excited to be working with passionate individuals from different fields of public health.
Bio: After earning my bachelor’s from UNC in 2017, I worked for the UNC Institute for the Environment doing community engagement and research around environmental and public health issues. My interests lie at the intersection of climate change, environmental justice, community engagement, and health promotion. Currently, I am a first-year MPH student studying Health Behavior. I came to Gillings to learn how to connect stakeholders with science to promote health by changing the factors within our control, from the individual level to the policy level.
Why MHC?: I am serving as one of the co-chairs for the 2022 Minority Health Conference because I am excited to bring my perspectives to the planning of the 43rd annual conference and be a part of such an amazing collaborative effort to highlight and celebrate health equity solutions.
Planning Committee Coordinators
They are responsible for all organizational elements of the Minority Health Conference and work closely with the Conference Co-Chairs and Committee Co-Chairs to ensure smooth operations and logistics. The Co-Coordinators oversee collaboration between all seven committees to ensure effective and efficient communication including taking meeting minutes, making sure each committee is on track, and sending out reminders/action items. The Planning Co-Coordinators also manage the website and assist with other logistical tasks such as coordinating meeting times, booking meeting spaces and organizing MHC social events. They play an important role in providing additional assistance to both Co-Chairs and the Committee Chairs throughout the planning process.
Bio: I am a first-year Master of Public Health-Nutrition/Registered Dietitian Internship student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. I am also a member of the Fall 2021 cohort for the Certificate in Innovation for Public Goods and a member of the Carolina Dining Services Advisory Board. I previously earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition & Food Science from Louisiana State University and also worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the Baton Rouge’s Mayor’s Office for the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative. My main interests include studying food security and food system sustainability in urban environments and how municipal government can intervene through public-private partnerships.
Why MHC?: Conferences are a great way to communicate with other students, researchers, and community experts that can expand our knowledge and perspectives that lead to innovative and evidence-based interventions. As The Gillings School is preparing us to be global health leaders, it is important that we engage and offer meaningful experiences that will facilitate an individual’s scholarship academically and professionally.
Bio: I am an undergraduate student at Gillings, where I am studying for a Bachelor of Science in Public Health in the field of Nutrition. I’ve interned with the Orange County Food Council on incorporating racial equity into the food policymaking process. Currently, I’m working on my honors thesis with the Global Food Research Program. I’m passionate about the intersections between nutrition policy, global health, and equity. Outside of public health, I enjoy ice skating, reading, and attempting new recipes.
Why MHC?: Since coming to UNC, I’ve been inspired by MHC’s mission of bringing together a diverse set of researchers, advocates, and students to discuss minority health. I joined as soon as I could! I’ve also loved getting to work with an incredible, compassionate team.
The co-chairs oversee the work of the Speakers Committee which includes developing break-out session topics and identifying speakers for the conference breakout sessions. They arrange and organize all logistics pertaining to the creation of breakout sessions. The co-chairs work with the NC Institute for Public Health and committee members to coordinate interesting, engaging, and interactive sessions.
Bio: Malia is an undergraduate junior majoring in Medical Anthropology and Biology. She is passionate about global health disparities especially involving nutrition and genetic predispositions. In the future, she hopes to get her MPH and MD. In her free time, she rereads Stephen King books and plays Guitar Hero.
The co-chairs manage the work of the Communication Committee which includes developing and marketing promotional materials for the Conference (e.g. flyers, email blasts, etc.). They craft standard language and coordinate all communications about the conference, such as notices to listservs, calls for posters, registration reminders, and webcast announcements. They also brainstorm, organize, and implement advertising campaigns for social media accounts and communications with both on-campus and community organizations. This committee also manages the graphic designer and has creative control over the graphics and look/feel of conference materials.
Phong Dinh – Communications Co-Chair
Bio: Phong Dinh is a second-year graduate student in the executive MHA program in the Department of Health Policy and Management. He graduated fromUNC Chapel Hill in 2018 with a B.S. in Psychology and has been working as the Clerkship
Coordinator in the UNC School of Medicine – Department of OBGYN for the past three years. He is interested in racial health inequities and the intersection between academic medicine and healthcare administration.
Why MHC?: I’m inspired by the way the conference brings together people from different academic and professional backgrounds and motivates us all to promote health equity and advocate for change as leaders in healthcare.
Zara Mehta – Communications Co-Chair
Bio: Zara is a first-year MPH student studying Health Behavior at Gillings. Zara is from Greenville, NC and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021 with a B.S. in Quantitative Biology and a B.A. in Medical Anthropology. She is passionate about maternal health, environmental racism, rural health, and working to eliminate health disparities in marginalized communities, and is enthusiastic to develop her problem-solving skills during her time at Gillings.
Why MHC?: I am energized to contribute to the largest student-led health conference in the nation, and I feel that the focus on health issues as they relate to racism, discrimination, and overall disparities is of the upmost importance. I look forward to amplifying voices of color in medicine and public health during my time with MHC and in my career.
The co-chairs work with their committee to identify groups, organizations, and companies that match the conference theme that will exhibit materials on the day of the conference. The co-chairs also serve as the primary contact for exhibitors in terms of communicating logistical information.
Tatum Shamiso Kodzai – Exhibitors Co-Chair
Bio: Tatum Shamiso Kodzai is the MHC Exhibitors Committee Co-Chair. She is currently a Junior at UNC with a Nutrition, Health and Society Major and a Medical Anthropology Minor. Along with her work with MHC, she is also a volunteer with Carolina CSSC and a research assistant with UNC Gillings School’s Food, Fitness, and Opportunity Research Collaborative (FFORC Team).
Why MHC?: I wanted to be a part of the MHC Planning Committee because I wanted to help uplift the voices of people of color in the health and wellness field. I also wanted to help raise awareness about the vast inequities that people of color face in health care and how we can reshape the medical field to correct this.
The co-chairs oversee the Poster Committee with responsibilities such as issuing a call for abstracts for poster presentations, reviewing and selecting poster abstracts for presentation at the conference, and serving as the primary contact for poster authors in terms of communicating logistical information.
Ashley-Laren Smalls – Posters Co-Chair
Bio: Ashley-Laren Smalls is currently a first-year student at MPH@UNC with a concentration in Leadership in Practice. Ashley-Laren is an East Carolina University graduate and she graduated in 2018 and 2020. She is currently a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate in the state of North Carolina and is passionate about health equity.
Why MHC?: Ashley-Laren is very passionate about promoting health equity and excited to work with others who are passionate about the same thing!
Mary Peter – Posters Co-Chair
Bio: Mary is a first-year MPH Student with a focus in Environmental Health Solutions and a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering. She is a Russian-trained Physician by background and has spent 3+ years working as a Primary Care Physician in her home Country, Nigeria. Due to her passion for service and health, she volunteers with the Carolina Student Services Corps, where she aids faculty, staff, and students carry out COVID-19 self-test. She is also part of the Carolina Across 100 Initiative, where she conducted interviews on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges for full recovery with community leaders from sectors and regions across North Carolina. Mary is very committed to health equity for vulnerable and marginalized populations. During her free time, she enjoys cooking, meeting people and bowling.
The co-chairs organize the duties of the Fundraising Committee which solicits donations and sponsorships, both within UNC (e.g. departments, schools, and institutes) as well as from local and national foundations and corporations in order to cover the cost of the Conference. They devise a plan that allows for potential donors to be solicited in a timely manner, assign tasks to committee members in order to maximize the number of solicitations, and researches and identify new potential donors (i.e. individuals, organizations, departments, schools, etc.).
Talia Kieu – Fundraising Co-Chair
Bio: I am a second-year MSPH-PhD in Health Behavior and interested in addressing health equity broadly, with my specific research interests being in LGBTQ+ health across the lifespan and community-based participatory approaches. Outside of school, I play on the UNC women’s club water polo team as a goalie and organize with Southerners on New Ground Durham Chapter.
Why MHC?: Attending MHC was one of the reasons I applied to Gillings for grad school. I loved my experience as an attendee so much, and I’m excited to contribute to its legacy for other community members and students to enjoy!
Manish Nayak – Fundraising Co-Chair
Bio: I am a first-year Master of Healthcare Administration student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. After completing my undergraduate degree in Medicine from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, India, I moved to the U.S to pursue my interest in healthcare administration. My interests lie in the fields of patient safety, quality improvement and value-based care. I came to Gillings to learn more about how to use my background and connect it to my interests to improve patient outcomes. Outside of school, I love to play golf and cook Indian food.
Why MHC? I believe that healthcare should be accessible to all and the COVID pandemic has exposed that it is not. I want to be a part of the change that MHC is promoting in the field of health equity and work towards a better tomorrow.
The Evaluation committee designs, sends out, collects, compiles, and synthesizes evaluation information from attendees on the day of the conference, planning committee members, speakers, poster presenters, etc. They conduct interviews with key stakeholders to evaluate the processes and outcomes of the Minority Health Conference and generate an evaluation product for the use of next year’s conference Planning Committee. Most of the committee’s work happens just before and after the conference.
Bio: Lauren is a second-year pre-nursing student with a double minor in PPE and medical anthropology. Along with working with MGC, she also volunteers with UNC Hospitals, works as an athletic event management supervisor, is on the special events committee for CUAB, and serves on the executive boards of the Multicultural Greek Council and UNC alpha Kappa Delta Phi. She is interested in learning how culture interests medicine and what that means in terms of health equity – how we can further understand these inequities and address the structures that reinforce them, whether that be cultural or socioeconomic. In her free time, she likes to go back home to visit her five dogs and three cats!
Why MHC?: I chose to join MHC because I am passionate about learning, understanding, and promoting health inequities. Health is a common issue around the world and across communities and minority voices are often overlooked in healthcare and underrepresented in healthcare education. I was drawn to MHC because of how it addresses minority health issues by bringing people together from different professional and cultural perspectives.
Bio: Kiara is a first-year MPH student in the Health Behavior concentration at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her interested include health equity as it pertains to marginalized communities, HIV prevention, and mental health for adolescents. She graduated from The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH in 2020. Before enrolling at Gillings, she worked as a Child and Family Program Coordinator at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Tucson, AZ.
Why MHC?: I joined MHC because I have a passion to promote health equity and I want to be a part of the legacy and impact the MHC leaves behind.
Minority Student Caucus Co-Presidents
Vanessa Amankwaa (she/her) is a second-year MPH student studying Health Equity, Social Justice, and Human Rights and serves as the Co-President for Minority Student Caucus. She is honored and so excited to serve in this role and work alongside fellow MSC members to advocate for the needs of all BIPOC students across Gillings. Vanessa is passionate about advancing health equity through food sovereignty, reproductive justice, and community-based participatory research. Outside of Gillings, she enjoys reading, gardening, and playing fetch with her cat.
Co-President – Sophie To
Sophie To (any pronouns) is one of the Co-Presidents of the Minority Student Caucus and is a third-year PhD student in Health Behavior. Sophie is excited to continue MSC’s commitment to helping build a safe, inclusive, and joyful community for BIPOC students. Sophie’s public health interests include how various media shape health and health perceptions, and how to leverage mass media for social change. Sophie also loves teaching, and she is the Gillings MPH Core Teaching Fellow this year. Outside of Gillings, Sophie enjoys reading and writing news satire, talking about how much she adores cats, and sitting at coffee shops pretending to get work done.