Professor Spotlight: Cheri Pies

Cheri PiesCheri Pies

1.What module do you teach?

I teach the MCH Module each spring.

2.How did you get involved in your current work?

I have been doing work in the field of women’s health and reproductive health/justice for over 35 years.  I started this work when I graduated from U.C. Berkeley where I earned my Undergraduate degree.  I worked for Planned Parenthood in the early 1970’s and my interest in women’s health grew out of that experience.  My current work is the Best Babies Zone Initiative which is a place-based multi-sector, community driven approach to addressing the social determinants of health that are related to poor birth outcomes.  I’m interested in health equity, structural and institutional racism, and the ways in which we can work with communities to change practice, policy, and conditions in their communities.  I got involved in this work through one of my colleagues and through my interest in the Life Course Perspective/Theory.  I wanted to find ways to put the Life Course Perspective into practice.  The BBZ Initiative was a great step in that direction — identifying the ways in with the developmental origins of health and disease influence health outcomes later in life.

  1. What did you study (e.g. BSc, MSc, Ph.D. etc) to get to such a position?

My undergraduate degree was in Psychology and Anthropology.  I earned a Master’s in Social Work from Boston University, an MPH from U.C. Berkeley and my doctorate in PH from U.C. Berkeley.

  1. How does your work address some of the public health issues today?

My work directly addresses key public health issues — we focus on health equity, we utilize epidemiology, we are concerned about racial equity and structural racism and the work I am doing is designed to improve the social determinants of health that contribute to poor health outcomes with the direction and engagement of the community.  Engaging community is the central aspect of the work that I am doing — because without knowing what the community needs, we cannot begin to be doing work that will benefit them in the ways they would like.

  1. What advice do you have for MPH students interested in working on a similar project or in a similar field?

My advice is to take your time to figure out what you want to do.  Once you are in the field, remember you are still a student and you are still learning.  Listen to what the people you are working with in the communities you are working in are saying to you.  Ask them questions, learn from them so that you can become fully informed about what they want and need.  Maintain a sense of professionalism and ethics in your work.  Always be your best and always show the community your respect for them and who they are — in the field of public health, the communities we serve are really our “bosses” — so be sure you listen to them.

Remember that anything that is going to be done well requires hard work, great passion, and perseverance.  These are the things you need to be successful for yourself and for your work.

  1. Tell us one thing about you that many people don’t know.

I love being a student, or better yet, I love learning.  I have just started to learn how to draw and use watercolors.  I find it to be so difficult (because I am not artistic at all) but it is also so much fun.  I love art and art museums and I can spend hours just walking around and looking at beautiful art.  I also love to garden and I have a lovely garden of succulents in my home in Berkeley.  One other thing you wouldn’t know about me is that I had the chance to meet Michael Jackson once and I have a photo of myself with him!

  1. Finally, if you could choose a different career path other than the one you are on, what would it be?

If I could have chosen a different career path, I would have become a pediatric dentist.  I have learned so much about oral health and the oral health needs of children through my work over the past 20 years that I now wish I had been able to become a dentist too!  If I had another 25 years of working life left in me, I would go back to school to become a pediatric dentist.


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