This fall, SPP welcomed Katrina Walsemann, associate professor and Roger Lipitz Chair in Health Policy. Walsemann comes to the School from the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior at the University of South Carolina, bringing her expertise on how social inequities influence health and health disparities across the life course.
We connected with Walsemann to learn more about why she came to SPP, her current projects and her approach in the classroom.
SPP: What is most exciting about starting your role at the School?
KW: I have spent all of my career, except for my post doc, in a school of public health. [Schools of public health] often focus on individual behavior change as their main strategy for reducing health disparities. What drew me to UMD’s school of public policy, and what makes me most excited about joining SPP, was the opportunity to address the structures that actually create population health inequities.
SPP: How is transitioning to a school of public policy going to affect your work?
KW: I see policy, especially social policy and health policy, as central to alleviating population health disparities. Being in a school of public policy where people are already thinking about these issues and approaching them from different disciplinary perspectives is very intriguing and I look forward to establishing new collaborations with SPP faculty and students who have similar interests.
SPP: Could you tell us more about your research?
KW: My research focuses on how social inequities, especially in the education system, influence life course health independent from and in relation to other structural factors such as race/ethnicity, gender, and social class. Currently, I have two projects that examine how state- and local-level variation in educational contexts, including factors such as per-pupil funding, pupil-teacher ratio, and timing of school desegregation, are associated with dementia risk among older adults. I am using historical records on state and local-level educational contexts from 1918-1974 to create a database that I will link to the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative sample of older adults who are followed prospectively. This will allow me to examine how individuals’ early educational experiences translate into dementia risk later in life.
SPP: What is your approach to teaching in the classroom?
To me, it is important to get students engaged on day 1. To do this, I spend considerable time planning the course and always ask myself questions such as: how will the course unfold, what topics will I cover, and what activities and assignments will help students connect the course material to their day-to-day lives? I am deliberate in the readings I assign and make sure that every module includes the work of scholars who have been historically marginalized. My attention to these details allows me to create a classroom environment where people can disagree respectfully and learn from one another. Ultimately, I want students to understand that I do not have all of the answers and that they are active agents in their learning.
SPP: You were recently named to the inaugural cohort of the Research Leaders Fellows Program at the University of Maryland. How does it feel to be recognized with this honor?
KW: It indicates that Maryland is invested in me as a leader and sees my potential, and that’s exciting. Through the program, I have been able to meet other people who are similarly situated across various schools at UMD, which has been very beneficial, especially when we are all working at home. It’s a great way to connect with others, establish new collaborations, and learn about the University.
Stay up-to-date with Walsemann’s work via her website profile. If you are a student interested in working with her, keep an eye out for future opportunities to get involved!