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Center for Injury Research and Policy

Student Success

The Center has the largest offering of injury and violence prevention training programs for students and practitioners anywhere in the world.

Alumni Profiles | Student Dissertations

Over the course of their careers, our graduates have gone on to run major government and academic programs, and they are some of the most highly respected thought leaders in the field.

Here are snapshots of some of our recent graduates. They share what prompted them to come to our program and reflect on their professional lives after graduation.  Meet some of our recent graduates and see a selection of dissertation topics from graduates below.

Alumni Profiles

Suliman Alghnam, PhD, MHA | Samantha Illangasekare, PhD, MPH | Erin Reiney, MPH, CHES | Gregory Tung, PhD, MPH | Merissa A. Yellman, MPH

Suliman Alghnam profile pic

Suliman Alghnam, PhD, MHA

Associate Scientist, Population Health Department
King Abdullah International Medical Research Center
King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences
King Abdulaziz Medical City, National Guard Health Affairs
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

After completing his PhD program at the University of Wisconsin, Suliman Alghnam came to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to do a post-doctoral fellowship from 2014–2016.

While at the School, Alghnam had the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant for his advisor, Renan Castillo, and to present at two Center seminars. He also published six papers on a range of topics including opioid use, insurance access among patients with disability resulting from injury, recidivism, and the total cost burden of trauma focused on out-of-pocket costs for patients. “Hopkins is ‘the place’ when it comes to public health. I owe a great debt to the Center for encouraging and supporting me in pursuing cross-department collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the School of Medicine,” Alghnam says. Alghnam began his career as a physical therapist, which exposed him firsthand to the burden of preventable disabilities, primarily among teenagers. He started wondering if he could play a bigger role. After his best friend died in a traffic crash, he was motivated to do something at the population level.

Originally from Saudi Arabia, Alghnam has returned there, and now works for a medical research center that is affiliated with a hospital and a university. He is part of the Population Health Department, where he focuses on trauma and teaches medical students and physicians. He also works for the National Guard, which is similar to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and has 1 million beneficiaries in Saudi Arabia. “I would not have achieved this at any other school in the United States—or in the world,” Alghnam says. Some of Alghnam’s current projects include:

  • “Saudi Vision 2030,” which aims to establish a trauma system including creating a national trauma registry
  • New interventions such as monitoring seat belt compliance and the illegal use of mobile phones while driving to eliminate motor vehicle injuries, which cause 70 percent of trauma in Saudi Arabia

“The Center faculty are very down to earth, incredibly knowledgeable, approachable, and supportive. It feels like a family of public health professionals,” Alghnam says. “Sue Baker [the founder of the Center] is one of the biggest stars in the field. She and others were early pioneers who changed the entire U.S. approach to seeing injury as a preventable health issue. Still today, the pioneers in the injury prevention field are at the Center.”

Suliman Alghnam profile pic

Samantha Illangasekare, PhD ’11, MPH

Senior Social Science Research Analyst, Administration for Children and Families
Office of Planning Research and Evaluation
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Samantha Illangasekare completed her PhD at the Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2011. She also did post-doctoral work at the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute and worked as faculty there for one year.

Illangasekare earned her MPH from the Yale School of Public Health before heading to Baltimore. She came to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health expressly to work with Center Director Andrea Gielen. Illangasekare was committed to studying intimate partner violence, and was very aware of the seminal work Gielen had done in that area.

“When I got accepted to Johns Hopkins, I knew I would get to work with Andrea, and then I also received a training grant from the School of Nursing to work with Jacquelyn Campbell,” Illangasekare explains.

At first, Illangasekare did not consider herself interested in injury prevention, but she soon made the connection that gender-based violence is intentional injury. Her interest in violence prevention and intimate partner violence began from a summer internship during her master’s degree program. She worked with a professor researching the needs of women in abusive relationships. The women’s experiences and stories stuck with her, and she developed a passion for working to prevent violence against women and girls.

“Injury is one of those areas that doesn’t seem like an obvious public health problem. But when you look at the actual numbers when it comes to mortality, morbidity, cause of death, all of it, injury is in all of those,” Illangasekare explains. “Working in injury prevention gives you the opportunity to impact large numbers of people. That is what makes it so exciting.”

As a student at the School, Illangasekare worked with several Center faculty members (A. Gielen, S. Frattaroli and D. Webster). “I felt like I was in a special place being in the Center with the amount of attention I got and how much the professors were really committed to making sure that I was getting the most out of my experiences,” Illangasekare says. “I was offered so many opportunities just because I was affiliated with the Center. Being in a Center that values students so much is just special.”

Since 2014, Illangasekare has worked as a senior social science research analyst in the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning Research and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “I use the training, skills and knowledge I learned at the School every day in my work,” she says.

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Erin Reiney, MPH ’08, CHES

Acting Division Director, Division of Child, Adolescent and Family Health Maternal and Child Health Bureau
Health Resources and Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Erin Reiney first connected with the Center in 2006 when she attended the Summer Institute. She was working at a local health department in Maryland at that time. After completing the Summer Institute, she realized her health department had not been focusing on the right injury prevention goals for a state-funded grant program. She led the charge to take a take a data-driven approach, shifting the focus to the prevention of suicide and falls among older adults.

In 2007, Reiney enrolled in the MPH program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. During her master’s program, she completed a work study, and Center Director Andrea Gielen was her advisor. In addition, Reiney was a teaching assistant for the Summer Institute.

“The Center faculty are pioneers in the field of injury prevention and you have access to them as a student,” Reiney says. “Andrea Gielen and Carolyn Fowler have both served as critical mentors to me many times over." This is unique to the Center. All of the faculty invested in me, welcomed me. The field of injury prevention is like a small family.”

After she graduated, Reiney became the injury prevention coordinator for the Maryland Department of Health, where she was able to drive improvements in injury prevention across the state through the Partnership for a Safer Maryland. “My training with the Center taught me skills in stakeholder engagement. You have to learn how to work laterally, how to be an effective partner,” Reiney says.

Since 2010, Reiney has worked at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She became the acting director of the Division of Child, Adolescent and Family Health at HRSA in the Maternal and Child Health Bureau in 2017.

“If you care about public health, you will need to care about injury and violence prevention. The data speak for themselves,” Reiney explains. “Injury prevention has emerged in a unique way, and lessons learned can be applied to other areas. A career in injury prevention has offered me an opportunity to bring a scientific perspective to public health practice.”

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Gregory Tung, PhD ’12, MPH ’07

Assistant Professor, Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy
Program for Injury Prevention, Education and Research
University of Colorado School of Public Health

When Gregory Tung’s employer offered to pay for him to get a master’s degree, his manager suggested an MBA. He decided to pursue an MPH instead.

As a hospital administrator, Tung says, “I felt like I was a cog in a broken system. I didn’t really understand what public health was, but I was beginning to understand it was the direction in which I wanted to go.”

Tung completed his MPH through the School’s distance learning program in 2007. He then took a position at the Institute of Policy Studies at the University of California San Francisco, where he gained applied research experience to build on the skills he learned in the MPH program. He returned to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2008 to pursue his PhD.

“The PhD and the online MPH at Johns Hopkins were really transformative experiences for me. I went in with really high expectations, and I feel like the reality of it was still just so much better,” Tung says.

Tung credits the Center for Injury Research and Policy with playing a huge role in his surpassed expectations. “My advisor, Jon Vernick, will always be one of my greatest mentors,” he says. “He and many others devoted a lot of time and effort to my professional development and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

Tung was a Sommer Scholar Fellow, a competitively awarded fellowship given by the School, from 2008-2012. His dissertation looked at a spectrum of state health policies that cut across tobacco and injury prevention, and the factors that make states most responsive to translating research and scientific evidence into policy.

Tung has a strong interest in policy translation. He says: “A striking thing about injury prevention and policy is that it’s one of those areas where there should be more research happening on it given the burden it has on public health. Then the translation of the research that does happen doesn’t match or adequately reflect what the research and the strong evidence base tells us.”

Now, as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, Tung continues to build a diverse portfolio of research including:

  • Health services research such as work related to Medicaid innovations
  • Injury subject areas from a research and a translational perspective, such as research on child abuse and suicide prevention, and prevention of child injuries in public health practice

“My experience with the Center helped to shape who I am now and my interests. It built the foundation for everything I am doing in my work now,” Tung says. “I’m super grateful to the School as an institution and to the faculty and mentors I had at the Center for all they gave to me.”

Merissa A. Yellman profile pic

Merissa A. Yellman, MPH ’17

Public Health Analyst, Synergy America, Inc. / Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, CDC
Former Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) Guest Researcher at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

In 2016, after working for several years in the field of injury prevention, Merissa Yellman decided to pursue an MPH as a full-time student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. During her studies, Yellman explored a variety of public health topics, yet found continued enthusiasm for injury prevention. Her enthusiasm is what led her to apply for the Injury Control Research Center internship with the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC).

“I knew that experiencing a small taste of the work at the government’s leading public health agency, especially in a topic area about which I had become very passionate, would be insightful and would inform my future career goals,” Yellman says.

Through the internship, Yellman saw firsthand how the CDC translates science into important information that the public and other stakeholders can use and put into practice. Yellman contributed to several projects as an intern, including co-authoring a manuscript that analyzed texting and driving behaviors among adolescents, and conducting research and reviewing evidence related to drowning surveillance and prevention.

“Experiencing public health [and injury control] from this standpoint was very informative. It gave me a much better perspective as to the complexity of conducting critical scientific research and relaying important health information, recommendations, and guidelines to other stakeholders and to the public,” Yellman says.

Yellman received an MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in May 2017, with core faculty member Vanya Jones as her capstone mentor. She also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology for Public Health Professionals through the School.

“I am incredibly thankful to the team at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy for making me feel welcome even before I officially became a student, for mentoring and guiding me during my studies, and for providing me with an excellent internship opportunity, which has led to my current role,” Yellman says. “It is not an overstatement to say that this internship experience greatly influenced my professional career and changed my life.”

Student Dissertations

Our doctoral students devote their dissertation research to a wide variety of injury topics and methods.  Topics range from prevention to acute care to rehabilitation following injury.  Methods include both quantitative and qualitative analyses.  Dissertation results are often published in premier biomedical journals.  Below is a selection of some recently completed dissertations.