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Bridging the health disparities gap

Maryann Harris is familiar with the challenge New Americans face. Her family emigrated to the U.S. from Liberia when she was 16. A recent graduate of the Master of Public Health program, Harris leads efforts to help New Americans in Moorhead, Minnesota and the surrounding area.

She serves as multicultural health equity coordinator for a three-year grant that establishes the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative.

The initiative is a partnership with the New American Consortium for Wellness and Empowerment. It is a targeted effort to start narrowing the health disparities gap by funding culturally appropriate programs to communities most impacted by them.

Harris, BS ’14, health education, MPH ’16, public health, applies what she learned at NDSU in her role to help members of the community.

The priority populations for the grant are Africans and African Americans in Moorhead and Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, with a primary focus on reducing the risk factors that lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Harris previously worked in an intensive care unit. She began to realize her efforts were best spent on disease prevention rather than management.

“I noticed it was taking a lot for many of the patients to become that sick, and I wanted to find ways to prevent it from happening,” Harris said.

She specialized in health promotion in the Master of Public Health program at NDSU.

“I was told ‘My passion for prevention is infectious,’” she said.

Using the grant, Harris delivers culturally responsive health promotion and prevention programs that contribute to eliminating health disparities.

She is working to build and strengthen cross-sector partnerships and community collaborations to improve health outcomes. She also works to strengthen leadership and community capacity to impact social and economic factors that contribute to health disparities.

“I’m using my education every day,” Harris said. “My approach is focused due to my formal training. It’s working.”

Harris credits the Master of Public Health program with helping her be open-minded and to search for the underlying systemic sources of health disparities.

“What motivates me every day to do this is the fact that I have a place at the table,” Harris said. “People lifted me up to be at the table, and it’s a responsibility of mine to make sure that a difference is being made. People need to be able to look into the community and see that change is happening.”

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North Dakota State University
Phone: +1 (701) 231-6269 / Fax: (701) 231-5586
Campus address: Research 2
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