- Class of: 2011
- Current city: Columbia, SC
- Current job: Director of Research at the Children’s Trust of South Carolina
- Bodo’s Order OR Favorite Charlottesville Spot: I must get the mac and cheese from The Virginian when I’m back in town!
Tell us your UVA story. What did you do during your time on Grounds? What were your favorite memories?
I think of Charlottesville quite often. Whether it’s a song that reminds me of a moment on the Lawn with my fellow Jefferson Society probies, or a smell that takes me back to walking on the Corner from Madison with other Alpha Chis, it really doesn’t feel like it has been so long. Some of my favorite memories from UVA revolve around the vibrant student life we were so fortunate to have. In addition to Jefferson Society and being an Alpha Chi, I was involved with a lot of different activities, including SAPA, Transfer Student Peer Network and class council. These organizations afforded me the opportunity to develop strong friendships that have continued to be a part of my life, but most importantly, helped shape who I am and what I believe in today.
One of my favorite memories at UVA was going to my first Lighting of the Lawn. The Rotunda transformed and I could feel the love and pride for UVA in the air.
Tell us what you’re up to today!
I am the Director of Research at Children’s Trust of South Carolina. We are the only statewide agency focused on promoting child and family health and resilience through the prevention of abuse and neglect. Being in a non-academic setting, my job is definitely very different than, say, a tenure track professor. I still conduct research using mixed methods approaches on a wide range of topics related to child health, health disparities and health communications, but I think the most rewarding part of my job is working on translating all that public health jargon and research into action. It’s being seen as a credible, informed expert that can help mobilize community action around equity and well-being.
Over the last two years, I’ve been dedicating my time to help make public health research and data more easily understandable and actionable. What does this look like? It’s spending a lot of time with community coalitions, community initiatives and grassroots activists who want to take a population health/data-driven approach to their work. Being a person of color, I’ve also found that using the frame of public health, early childhood, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can people understand and commit to addressing racial justice. As a researcher I’m able to lead uncomfortable but important discussions that lead with data to help people understand how/why we have to focus on addressing systemic racism. During the pandemic, I’ve been doing this through op-eds to local and national media.
After getting my degree in American Government from UVA, I worked in DC in health policy. I moved to South Carolina almost over 5 years ago. And so much as happened. I got married to my husband Louis Bussells (Nurs ’15), became a dog mom, bought my first home, and completed my PhD. If you would have asked me whether I’d be staying beyond graduate school, I would have looked at you skeptically. But I’ve developed some amazing relationships and the work is incredibly rewarding. In my free time, I have been working to get the word out about the Census through our city’s complete count committee. I am also involved in several local committees and boards.
When I try to describe the allegiance that alumni feel to UVA, I describe it as that “UVA magic.” That unspoken but deeply felt connection to the school, its students and its legacy. I’ve been known to stop random people walking down the street in Columbia, that wear anything remotely Virginia related, and I may also be known as the (only) person willing to proudly sport the color orange in Columbia, because it’s a Virginia orange, not Clemson orange. Very different things.
What makes you say Wahoowa?
Well, first I would have to say winning the national championship in sports…or winning against Tech or Clemson in general. Next, I’d say seeing how UVA students, faculty, staff, and alumni are leading the way on social change. Anytime I see or hear about an innovation that someone associated with UVA has led, my heart fills with joy, because these efforts speak to the value UVA places on doing good while being great academically.
What’s the biggest way in which you hope alumni can impact UVA?
This day and age, networks are so important. In addition to becoming a lifetime member, I think alumni can really leverage their relationships with organizations and people to help one another continue to do good. I hope that our alumna will consider donating their expertise, time, and resources to helping current students connect to future opportunities and to strengthen existing relationships with the University.
Pick a pillar that best captures your life today:
Why does that pillar speak to you?
I believe it is our duty to leave the world a better place than when we came in. As a researcher, I believe that when communities thrive, we all thrive. This is consistent with what we value as UVA alumni.