Youngblood aims to address systemic issues in health-related fields.
Headshot of Brianna Youngblood
Brianna Youngblood

A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Brianna Youngblood is looking to apply her STEM background to public health issues. “I’m driven by a desire to generate social impact and do so innovatively,” Youngblood said, “and evidence is key for making informed policy decisions. Harris’s curriculum will allow me to build on my current skills to create the greatest impact possible at the broadest level.”

Youngblood, who received her BS in biological sciences from Clemson University in 2017, said she initially pursued social and behavioral sciences in hopes of improving health, education, and economic outcomes for marginalized communities.

"After completing my degree, I worked as a Behavioral Health Assistant for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, assisting in the day-to-day care of patients at a mental health facility. That was my first introduction to the different social factors that can affect patient outcomes. I realized that there are limitations to treatment once patients leave these types of facilities, as some patients would begin to relapse after they were discharged.”

Youngblood subsequently pursued her master’s in public health at the University of Florida while working as a Research Specialist for the Medical University of South Carolina in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “I was responsible for data collection and survey administration for research on stress among African American cancer survivors, and that experience opened my eyes to disparities research.”

Since earning her master's in 2021, Youngblood has worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator for the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. “I work at the Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center. The project I coordinate on is a data-driven approach to identify social factors that determine social health outcomes.” Youngblood and her team utilize natural language processing and other sophisticated machine learning techniques to derive algorithmic models to predict health outcomes for individuals based on particular social factors. “We are looking at the effects of things like homelessness, financial stress, food insecurity, and social isolation,” she said.

Having worked in multiple different health-related fields, Youngblood realized she wanted to address systemic issues at a higher level. “Communities, providers, educators, and various local organizations are often limited in their efforts due to barriers in policy making.”

Youngblood began researching programs that would best fit her needs and goals. "I was looking for an environment that aligned with my personal values, and Harris’ focus on social impact and evidence-based policy does just that. It’s an innovative approach to the work, and that excites me.” Youngblood says she is most excited about building a foundational economics base and deepening her understanding of machine learning techniques during the one-year program.

Harris' MA program, she said, also offered her the opportunity to continue her journey of exploring the most effective way to deploy her skills to create lasting change. “Limitations in public health are largely due to policy, so gaining an understanding of the policy elements will afford me the opportunity to steer change in the direction I think will benefit people.”

It was during her Diversity Day visit in 2022, Youngblood said, that she really had a chance to envision herself within the Harris community—and Chicago in general. “I got to learn a lot about the Harris community and the alumni network. I'm most excited to join the Black Action in Public Policy Studies student organization and learn from faculty members like Professor Jens Ludwig and Assistant Professor Anjali Adukia."