Alumni Spotlight

Margie KieperAnne Frankel

A young professor, Frankel offers practical and sage advice to any graduate student. She found her niche in Public Health at FIU and beyond, and she says that by following a few key principles, you can too.

New mother, new graduate, and new professor Anne Frankel seems to have it all, yet the many novelties in her life also bring the burden of doubting herself. The rapid transition from graduate student to professor has clarified the principles that got her here: find your passion, follow it, and be the person you want to become. For her, it meant learning to feel like a professor while still a student.

Today she is inspiring students to pursue public health with the same passion she brings to the field. Frankel had excellent mentors at FIU, and that legacy lives on through her. To learn about her research, read her dissertation Predictors of Adolescent Sexual Intentions and Behavior: Attitudes, Parenting, and Neighborhood Risk.

Q&A Interview

  • FIU connection: Ph.D. in Public Health, 2012
  • Current location: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Tell us about your new faculty position at Temple University.
I am teaching three graduate-level courses in the Department of Public Health: Fundamentals of Public Health, Fieldwork, and Program Evaluation. I also have several different courses that I'll be responsible for during the spring semester. Beyond that, I am Temple University's Masters in Public Health (MPH) coordinator for the Harrisburg campus, so I advise students, work on program development, and help with recruitment activities.

What is most challenging about the transition from student to faculty member?
I think my biggest challenge thus far has been making the mental shift, in terms of confidence. You spend most of graduate school scraping by, trying desperately to glean as much information as you can from your courses and world-renowned researchers and professors. Then suddenly you have your Ph.D. and you can't help but think: how did this happen! I'm not like them! I know nothing! I remember one very wise FIU professor's advice: start thinking during graduate school as though you are already a colleague. I feel fairly confident about my teaching and research skills, but not about my new role as Assistant Professor.

What do you hope to accomplish as a professor at Temple?
My goal is twofold. In my courses, I hope to prepare students so that when they leave Temple they are ready to practice public health in the community and face the challenges commensurate with that role. I also hope to introduce innovative online and distance learning techniques in the classroom. I believe that utilizing online learning is essential to maximizing the availability of education for our busy working students. Second, with the Temple Harrisburg program, I hope to raise awareness about Public Health and the MPH in particular, giving people information about job opportunities within the field. There is a dearth of public health programs in central Pennsylvania, which makes it an interesting population—people are not familiar with Public Health, and we truly have to introduce and explain the field when pitching the program.

How would you describe your overall graduate experience at FIU?
Overall, I would describe my graduate experience as "supported." During my studies, I was supported by FIU, by my department, and by my cohort. I was fortunate enough to be well supported, financially, from the Presidential and later the Dissertation Year fellowships. These funding sources attracted me to FIU and facilitated opportunities to work on my research, unfettered by financial worry. Most importantly, they allowed me to volunteer with professors, which was ultimately how I found my dissertation research. Earning a Ph.D. can be an isolating process, because despite support from the department and colleagues, dissertation research must be driven solely by the individual. However, it's important to find professors who can help you foster your autonomy. I had a committee and other professors in the department that taught me how to set my own schedule, follow through, and navigate a political environment, which are skills that will be applicable in any type of career beyond graduate school. Finally, I had an excellent cohort that I started grad school with and that I miss terribly now that I'm 1,000 miles away! Band together with your fellow students. You're not competing, and they will be your strongest allies. (Plus, they can remind you to register for classes before you get charged a late fee).

What do you consider the greatest takeaway from your time here at FIU?
I think my greatest takeaway was how to be passionate about your work and let it guide your career, in whatever form it may. I had several truly inspirational professors on my committee that were mentors throughout graduate school. My major professor was an exceptional man, the late Robert Malow. He was the most brilliant, dedicated person I've ever met. He read literature in every free moment, and therefore was always on the cusp of the next "big thing." Another mentor, Dr. Luther Brewster, taught me not to limit myself to academia (though it just so happens that's where my career is starting!), but to find my guiding principal, and follow it in whatever manifestation it takes. Finally, Dr. Jessy Devieux, whom I worked with both on my dissertation and for my graduate assistantship, provided amazing support and sound guidance throughout the process, helped me navigate administrative roadblocks, and was a wonderful model for balancing family and career. The example that these three and other professors set is by far my greatest takeaway from FIU.

Your doctoral research sought out to contribute to the development of more effective health education programs. How do you think your research has and will impact the field?
I am not convinced that my work has impacted the field just yet. Mostly I hope that it spurs people to think about the role that parenting and neighborhood factors have on adolescent health, and why those elements warrant more study. Health program development can become myopic, particularly in a field as fraught with political agendas as adolescent sexual health. In the media, the argument somehow always is funneled down to whether we should be teaching abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education. But adolescent health education can and should be about so much more, and considering those external elements, including the role that parents and neighborhoods have on our youth, will ultimately help us develop more effective programs.

Are there any hobbies or activities you pursue?
I love to read, and my evenings are generally spent with my nose in a book (or my Kindle). I love to run, though I admit that I miss the Florida weather for running, particularly in the winter. I am also an avid cook and baker. I have 18-month old twin sons, so at this point most of my non-work activities involve playing with trucks and reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar over and over (and over) again. It's not such a bad life!

Do you have any words of wisdom that you would like to pass on to incoming grad students?
Yes. I'll pass on two very good pieces of advice that mentors gave to me. When I started at FIU, a mentor told me that your dissertation is not your life's work. It is an extremely tedious learning process with roller coaster ups and downs, so it's important not to get so bogged down in topic changes, endless literature reviews, and thinking that you're going to change the world. Get it done, and get on with your next project. Second, as I noted earlier, try to start thinking of yourself as a colleague to your professors and other researchers. Reach out to authors of your favorite papers. Email the corresponding author of that seminal work that you're basing your thesis on. Call the developer of the health behavior theory that you're using as a model. You'd be surprised at how willing people are to speak about their research and help you.

Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on?
Right now I'm editing a few manuscripts on adolescent health in Haitian adolescents with FIU's AIDS Prevention Program. I've also been doing peer reviewing for several journal articles, which simultaneously helps me stay abreast of the literature (and makes me feel like I'm not writing enough). I'm giving an oral and a poster presentation at the American Public Health Association conference in Boston this fall. Otherwise, I plan to prepare parts of my dissertation for publication—it's long overdue.


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