Why MPH: Coming to the USA as a recipient of the USAID scholarship (1990-1994), I earned a BS in Computer Engineering at Penn State University. Being awarded the Brush Fellowship (1994-1995) enabled me to earn the MS at the same institution. I did my Ph.D. in Computer Science in 2002 at the University of Maryland, College Park, and then accepted a position as a senior research scientist in Jersey City, New Jersey. I enjoyed cutting-edge research on facial recognition, mainly working at a leading biometrics company. Riding high on the perks of New York City, I spent hours gazing at my postcard-like view of the Manhattan skyline.
Since that time, my concern for social issues and especially public health has grown. I now want to put my solid foundation in Big Data to work on behalf of the needs of global health campaigns oriented toward helping people and systems in the Developing World.
During my graduate study, I served as a teaching assistant for four semesters, discovering that I had a knack for explaining complex concepts in layman’s terms and receiving positive feedback from students. Thus, I decided to become a teacher and a researcher. My first academic position was at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, not long after finishing my Ph.D. Over the next 17 years, I would teach in 5 additional countries, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the primary motor of my adoption of the cause of global health as my own, making it the center of my professional identity. During the first few weeks of the first lockdown, I recall being still under the naïve impression that this was all temporary and that we would all go back to our everyday lives soon; after all, we thought, science had progressed so much, and we surely must be able to contain this ‘flu-like’ disease quickly. The next few months would build up into a gradual ‘aha’ realization of how vulnerable we really are. I feel that I have an excellent foundation for my efforts on a global scale. Perhaps the single scariest aspect of this is the way that the emergence of viruses is exacerbated by climate change. I pay special attention to the worst-case scenarios generated by statistical models.
Why Global Health Concentration: While I have always felt very strongly about issues of social justice and equality, as I enter middle age, I find myself increasingly motivated by moral concerns, contemplating fundamental questions as to why there is so much poverty and suffering in the world, with an ever-widening gap between the haves and have nots. I am particularly concerned with how this gap is being exacerbated further by the pandemic. After nearly two decades of working to advance communication technology, generally speaking, I now seek to focus my abilities on global health, where I am convinced that I will be able to do the greatest good for the balance of my professional life. I now want to focus on the skills I have developed that are most relevant for international healthcare development and awareness. With more than 20 years of experience in applying machine learning (or what is now more generally called data science) methods to various problems, I feel that I have an excellent foundation for my efforts in Global Public Health.
The lives of many, if not most of us, will never be quite the same again after Covid-19. I now realize the complex ways it will take us years to recover from this pandemic's economic, social, and mental health fallout. Just as data has been front and center in many innovative solutions for combatting Covid-19, I believe there is great potential for solving many global health problems using data science and AI. I want to be at the forefront of these efforts. I am particularly interested in using data science to study the role of human factors in global health systems – how cultural norms, human behavior, and human action/intervention (or lack thereof) impact the overall quality of community health. A career in international development has been my life-long dream for as long as I can remember. My interest in global health has now come to the forefront of my intellectual world.
Racism: I believe no one is born racist and that racism is a learned behavior with racist attitudes generally creeping into our subconscious from a very young age. In Tunisia, where I grew up, although the population is largely ethnically homogeneous, systematic racism exists against the less than 1% black African minority. This is reflected by the fact that the word for a black or dark-skin person in the Tunisian dialect means “slave.” Preference for light-skinned people is ingrained in white culture. As a child, I never really questioned these social norms. However, being brought up as a Muslim also meant that I was exposed to one of the fundamental premises of Islam which is that all human beings are equal. This helped to serve as a counterbalance to racism, for which I am thankful.
As a high school student, I was already quite conscious and curious about equity, social justice, and human rights. Having lived in the US for many years, I have come to embrace the causes of the least fortunate among us, especially the civil rights movement and the black-lives-matter movement. I have read countless books, attended lectures, went to demonstrations to make sense of it all. Some of my favorite books are “Makes me Wanna Holler” and “Man Child in the Promised Land,” which provided many answers about the black experience in the US. Indeed, racism can be seen as a public health crisis simply because there can be no health equity as long as people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds do not have equal access to (opportunities for) quality education, housing, employment, and health care. I am excited that my MPH training at UXX will arm me with the skills and tools to design and implement programs that promote equitable quality health.
Why UXX: My first choice among MPH programs is the University of XXXX for various reasons, the humanitarian mission, the emphasis on global perspectives, the diversity, and so many highly talented students from all over the world. I see UNC as the perfect launching pad for my most outstanding, significant professional effort to date, helping to bring the power of big data analytics and AI tools to bear on today’s urgent health crises. A well-published professor of Computer Science originally from Tunisia, I have taught in several countries, increasingly focusing on data and its applications. I have also collaborated extensively with the private as well as public sectors. While I have enjoyed my work very much, especially in the area o communication, the COVID-19 pandemic has provoked a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of my professional direction. As a result, I have now decided that I wish to devote my energy to causes related to the advancement of global public health. I want to earn the MPH at UXX so that I can contribute to the prevention of death, working night and day to help my species and our planetary home survive despite enormous challenges.
I believe I have the willpower, vision, maturity, and skillset to become a highly successful global health practitioner, making essential and sustainable contributions to advancing and protecting international human health. I seek to harness the power of my background in data science to the development of a better understanding of the social/behavioral/cultural determinants of health in underserved communities around the world, as I believe this is a key to improving healthcare and health equity and helping policymakers and healthcare providers to make more fully-informed decisions. I hope to serve as an international development specialist/consultant working with global organizations and non-profits, such as the UN, World Bank, and Gates Foundation, on global health, food security, and conflict resolution problems. Having grown up in a developing country (Tunisia) and lived in several other developing countries, I have experienced healthcare issues first-hand in the Developing World.
I have authored more than 20 research articles published in peer-reviewed publications. I am adept at explaining/presenting complex concepts/information. In addition to lecturing, I have served as a mentor to countless student projects (capstone projects, Master’s thesis projects) related to data science. In addition to my first (Arabic) and second (English) languages, I am also fluent in French and nearing an intermediate level in Spanish.
A long-distance runner, when I am not working, I am running. I thank you for considering my application to Global Public Health at UX.