Career speaker series: Paly wellness outreach worker talks public health, making an impact

Kira Sterling and

International wellness outreach worker Angelina Michael speaks to students in the Performing Arts Center during lunch on Monday about her work in the field of public health. Michael said making ripples in her community was something important to her, which led her to pursue a career in public health.“Figure out what you love, what you find interesting, and then think about how I can help my community, how I can help my neighborhood, my city, the country or the world,” Michael said. “I think that that’s powerful.” Photo: Kira Sterling

Ghana, Nigeria, Romania and Peru are all places where Palo Alto High School alumnus Angelina Michael has worked to improve the health of local communities. Back in Palo Alto, Michael presented Monday during lunch as part of Paly’s Career Speaker Series, detailing her experiences overseas and encouraging students to make ripples in their own communities.

According to Michael, the goal of public health involves changing health behaviors for large populations of people. At the forefront of this discipline are doctors and nurses, but researchers, epidemiologists and many more people work behind the scenes to achieve the same end.

While living in Ghana, Michael worked with a mobile provider to send out nutritional messages via text to a diverse target audience of 22 to 24 million people.

The initial drafts of the messages, Michael said, were a complete disaster. The original messages told expecting mothers how keep up their folic acid levels and how they could prevent hemorrhaging, which, while important, did not resonate with the audience.

“When we were in our focus groups and were doing our interviews, we learned that these people in Nigeria and Ghana, they didn’t care about neural tube defects,” Michael said. “What they cared about is that their kids got a good education, because that meant more financial stability and increase in quality of life for their future family members.”

Michael and her team had to completely recraft the messages, she said, this time with a focus on human-centered design — asking the people on the other end of the messages what they wanted to hear.

“Instead of just thinking about what the research said, or what was most important to us, we went to the audience,” Michael said. “We let them dictate what was important. And because we did that, we were significantly more impactful, and it was far more successful.”

Another of Michael’s goals is to make a lasting impact on her community, whether it be in Nigeria, Ghana or here in California.

After returning from two and a half years in Ghana, Michael implemented a program in the California school where she worked to provide opportunities for elementary and middle schoolers to sample fruits and vegetables they might not ordinarily experience. In hopes of expanding their knowledge of healthy foods, Michael introduced students to persimmons, blood oranges and watermelon radishes, among other healthy foods.

When Michael recently encountered students from that same school, she said she was surprised to learn that the program she implemented three years ago was still going strong.

“There was a really great reminder for me that when you really think about what we’re doing,” Michael said. “And just take that little effort to make things a little bit better, we can have lasting impact.”

Paly’s career speaker series will continue tomorrow at lunch with Brian Talbott, Stanford’s Assistant Athletic Director, in the Media Arts Center, and Marco Scola, director of investments for Anton DevCo, in the Performing Arts Center.