Research Assistant, Endowed Fellowship for Global Health Excellence, Equity and Impact

Tell us a little bit about yourself   

My name is Ayan Ali. I am a first-generation college graduate and graduate student. I am also the child of Somali refugees and a first-generation immigrant to the US. As a young girl growing up in one of the most disenfranchised neighborhoods in Nairobi, Kenya I learned about the detrimental effects of diseases of poverty. I watched my best friend’s mother with and eventually pass away from TB. I on multiple occasions was hospitalized because of Malaria and learned about the effects of HIV/AIDs from friends, neighbors and larger community members who were directly affected. It was with these experiences in mind that I pursued my education and a career in public health with hopes of one day being part of the solution and addressing the multiple health disparities and inequities that led to the experiences I mentioned above. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Medical Anthropology and Global Health from the University of Washington in Spring 2020 at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The courses and research experiences I had during my time as a first-generation undergraduate student pushed me to continue with my educational journey. Throughout my undergraduate journey and beyond I have done work within higher education access and community centered public health. I worked with UW Dream Project to facilitate courses for undergraduate students who would then support middle and high school students in the greater Puget Sound area with college access and post-secondary planning. I also worked as a research assistant on a UW funded community based participatory research program named Mama Amaan to implement “an innovative perinatal education and doula care model in the Somali community.” 

Why did you decide to attend the UW for graduate school?  

I chose to continue my graduate education at the UW because of the holistic, personable support and encouragement that I received from my professors. I took an undergraduate international health course with a DGH professor, James Pfeiffer, which greatly influenced my interest in Global health specifically and informed me of all the GH organizations housed here at the UW like the IHME. The focus on an interdisciplinary and social justice centered approach to learning within the Global Health department was another key factor in my decision to continue my education here at the UW. 

What are your research interests? 

My research interests are in Social determinants of health particularly among East African refugee and immigrant communities living King County specifically within HPV vaccination uptake and cervical cancer screening. 

What are you enjoying most about your graduate program? 

I am really enjoying getting back to in-person learning and making connections with my cohort members, faculty and staff. The diversity in our cohort’s backgrounds, experiences and research interests is a great learning opportunity in and of itself and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from and with each and everyone of them. 

Did your award influence your decision to attend UW? 

This award greatly influenced my decision to attend UW, as it alleviated the financial stressors of paying for graduate school. It has also afforded me the opportunity to work as a research assistant for the Center For AIDS Research at Harborview Medical Center alongside brilliant researchers and providers who continue to support my learning outside of the classroom.