Ashley Vaughn, MPH

Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences
Health Promotion and Health Behavior

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

To me, public health means acknowledging the interconnectedness of our world and using it to address the root of the inequalities in health outcomes that we see today.

What inspired you to study public health?

Prior to pursuing my MPH, I worked as a high school science educator. We know that high school and college graduation are social determinants of health but I frequently saw barriers to achieving these goals. I was inspired to study public health to work towards developing systems level solutions that address the barriers that I saw inside of the classroom. Specifically, solutions focused on food and housing insecurity and educational attainment.

What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career/studies so far?

The single most rewarding experience of my public health studies so far is working with undergraduate students who are Wellness Agents at Oregon State University. The Wellness Agents program is a peer education network that facilitates health promotion programming on campus. We work together to design interventions and strengths-based solutions that empower and unite communities. I work as a mentor helping them achieve their goals as Wellness Agents. Hearing their ideas for creating a more just and equitable campus and world brings me hope for the future.


One piece of advice that I wish someone would have given me is to not be afraid to ask for what you want. The world gains nothing from you hiding your talents and gifts. If you find someone that is doing work that you are interested in, ask for an informational interview. If you find a professor that is doing research that aligns with your goals, email and ask if they have room on their research team. The connections that you build in asking for opportunities will be vital in the upcoming years.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

“I think the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on is dismantling systemic racism and the inequalities that stem from it. Addressing racism is central to eliminating racialized health disparities and should be central to public health research and practice (1,2).

1. Ford CL, Airhihenbuwa CO. Critical Race Theory, Race Equity, and Public Health: Toward Antiracism Praxis. Am J Public Health. 2010;100:S30-S35. doi:10.2105/AJPH. 2009.171058
2. Jee-Lyn Garcia J, Sharif MZ. Black Lives Matter: A Commentary on Racism and Public Health. Am J Public Health. 2015;105:e27-e30. doi:10.2105/AJPH. 2015.302706”