Happy Friday, Reigners! Meet Brenna Rabel. She is a smart, focused, independent Jersey Girl. She has seized opportunities to learn more about our global community as well how her unique skills can make our world a better place. Brenna has had the confidence and courage to explore interests outside of her college major and career path. When I think of Brenna, I think of a quote by one of my favorite poets, e. e. cummings: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Brenna has courage, passion, and an inspirational story.
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m a northern New Jersey native, but I’ve bounced around a bit over the past 5 years. I earned a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) from Emory University in Atlanta. That program provided opportunities to intern at a community health research organization in India and to complete a work study gig at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After I graduated, I worked for a year and a half as an Injury Epidemiologist for the Arizona Health Department of Health Services. I’m currently a Health Policy Research Analyst and a Policy Research firm in Princeton. Fun fact: I was a fencer for 8 years throughout high school and college!
Who is someone who inspires you? What knowledge have they imparted?
My grandmother is a huge inspiration to me. She’s an incredible badass who worked her way through college as a single mom with three kids during the 60s, which is something I can barely fathom. She worked her way up through the Paterson, NJ school system and eventually retired as a Principal of an elementary school there. She grew up in a time when it wasn’t a given that girls could go to college or have their own careers, so she has always tried to emphasize the importance of knowing your worth and realizing your potential, even when you’re met with resistance.
Describe a challenge you faced or a crossroads in your life that defined your path.
When I was in undergrad at Drew University, I studied French and Anthropology (specifically medical anthropology). I loved the big “social sciencey” questions in anthro, but I knew I wanted to work in a field where my skills could be applied to solving real world problems. For a while, I wondered if I had made a mistake by focusing on social science and liberal arts because I couldn’t articulate a clear career path in those fields. With the help of a professor, I figured out that the MPH might be a great bridge between my interest in medical anthropology and my desire to solve real world problems.
Until I got to Emory, I had never considered myself to be a particularly math-oriented person. I was surprised to find that classes like biostatistics and epidemiology came really naturally to me, and I even learned to code in SAS (which is a type of statistical analysis software). The decision to pursue the MPH completely shifted the course of my path, and I’m so glad that I took the time to walk through my options with that professor as an undergrad. Who knows where I’d be now if I hadn’t!
What are your favorite websites, apps, or other tech tools?
Skype has been enormously helpful when traveling for school or work. Being able to video conference with friends, family, and professors back home while working internationally was hugely important, both for my work and my sanity. I’ve heard great things about Whatsapp too!
What hashtag describes you/defines your life goals?
#sorrynotsorry I think women are conditioned to apologize a lot, even when it isn’t justified. While of course I don’t condone bad behavior, I definitely think we as women need to own the traits that give us the potential to be great! Think I’m too bossy? #sorrynotsorry
What song makes you want to dance, gives you courage to face the day, or makes you feel strong?
“You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates. I am a sucker for cheesy pop-rock hits from the 70s and 80s.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Find what you are good at and find ways to maximize your skills in those areas. Play to your strengths, and don’t beat yourself up over your weaknesses.
Describe your ideal job.
I’m not sure there is any ONE job that would be ideal, but I would love to be in a position where I can communicate complex health messages to non-technical stakeholders. Despite all the technical work I’ve done (and enjoyed!), I still think my strengths align more closely with the “soft” skills of leadership, team-building, public speaking, and writing. So as I mature in my field, I hope to translate the great research and evaluation skills I’ve developed into opportunities for leadership roles.