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Sommer Scholars

Katherine Abowd Johnson

PhD Student, Health, Behavior & Society

Kate Abowd Johnson’s path to public health was, quite literally, circuitous: She started her career in information technology. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 2006 with an undergraduate degree in management information systems, Johnson worked as a consultant in Washington, D.C. But the work left her unfulfilled. “I didn’t feel like I was making a difference,” she says. “So I started volunteering.” While serving as a mentor in an inner city public school, Johnson was struck by the number of students whose weight and health problems interfered with learning. “There was one girl who had worked so hard to get into college,” Johnson says. “But she had gotten so big that she was afraid to go because she didn’t think she could walk to her classes. It was a touchstone moment for me.” Ultimately, she says, the girl chose to attend school—and Johnson decided to do the same, enrolling at Tufts University, where she earned her master’s degree in nutrition. Her next stop was the Bloomberg School for a PhD in social and behavioral sciences. Her new career goal: childhood obesity prevention. “I never thought I’d want to do research. I thought I’d work for a nonprofit or a government program,” she says. “But I realized that we really don’t know how to solve the obesity epidemic. So I became very interested in being part of the research community that’s trying to address this problem.” 45: Number of Johnson’s first cousins