Employee spotlight interview: Sharon Touw, MPH

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How would you describe your role at ICH?

I am a research and evaluation project manager and an epidemiologist. I spend half my time managing different research and evaluation project and the other half of my time is spent doing data analysis.  

What is your educational background?

I have a BA from UMass Boston. I have a MPH from BU focusing on epidemiology and biostatistics.

What was your career path before coming to ICH?

Prior to public health, I did more direct service work. – I was one of the Main Streets coordinators for Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston. I would organize events and activities to help promote local businesses.

A friend told me about a need for some interview transcriptions at Boston Medical Center with an initiative called the Boston Healing Landscape Project. Their focus was on trying to promote better understanding of cultural backgrounds in the clinical workforce. It was my first exposure to public health, and I ended up enjoying the work. My background was already in foreign languages, which was a focus for some of their work. I ended up getting hired part-time at BMC for a formal position and worked there for five years until I decided that I needed more education, and then took a job at Boston University in order to get my Masters in Public Health.

What made you decide to come to ICH?

I was looking for a position where I could use my skills with data and research within a community setting. I had been involved in research at a university setting and wanted to be exposed to a different setting for research and evaluation. I was looking for a more practical application of work. At the time, Shape Up Somerville was a project that drew me here. It was this idea that there are initiatives focused on transforming communities.

What are some projects that you are working on right now?

They fall into a couple of different buckets. I have research projects. One that I am working on is sponsored by the California Health Care Foundation, and it’s measuring  the contribution that immigrants make in the private health insurance market. I also have a number of healthcare related projects that evaluate programs within Cambridge Health Alliance and the transformation of the health care delivery system. The biggest bucket of projects that I have is community-based projects. A lot of my projects fall into the area of education, especially early childhood education. I have at least three projects that focus on different aspects of early childhood education.

What are your favorite projects and why?

I really like work around early childhood education projects. I didn’t know I had an interest in this work until I came to ICH. I have come to understand the importance of early childhood education for the whole trajectory for individuals. I really like the idea of working on these projects because I see the problems that many patients at CHA face and wonder if they had support at earlier stages, would there even be as much need for these programs now? Could we invest enough in effective early childhood programs so that everyone has a leg up in terms of having access to education, employment  and opportunities later in life?

What are you most excited about for the future of ICH?

I am doing a lot of work with a project called the Birth to 3rd Grade Partnership. Their goal is to increase quality and access to early childhood education by providing training and support for early childhood teachers and administrators, as well as scholarships for low-income families.  I also work on an initiative that works with students who are matriculating into or are already in college. So it’s this whole idea that I am involved with different groups of people across the city of Cambridge who are trying to build a pipeline that starts at birth and carries children through to college graduation is really exciting.  I am looking forward to ICH’s future work with these programs and am privileged be part of the process that helps to align thinking about goals and outcomes, and learn how different programs along the pipeline intersect and work together to achieve shared goals for the city.

What are hobbies or things you like to do for fun?

I like to travel. I am trying to be a hiker. I run, although that is not always fun. I also do a lot of reading. I just finished Exit West. Highly recommend!

Do you have any plans for the summer? Anything that you are looking forward to?

I plan to climb Mount Washington in a few weeks. I am going to Minnesota to visit some friends and am planning a fall trip to Europe.