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SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

School of Public Health

Alumni Spotlight

Tenya BlackwellTenya Blackwell

Hometown:  Brooklyn, New York          

Degree(s), Concentration, and Class Year at SUNY Downstate: DrPH, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Class of 2018

Undergraduate Major: Chemistry 

Current Profession: Director of Community Engagement and Research at Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health

Community involvement: Have been highly involved in all manner of community engagement, community education and research. Involved in a number of community coalitions working to improve the health and wellbeing of residents of NYC particularly in Central Brooklyn. My current position as Director of Community Engagement and Research with the Arthur Ashe Institute affords me the opportunity for sustained community outreach, education, and engagement with local community boards, other CBOs and other decision-making stakeholders.

Award(s) Received: SUNY Downstate Rao Scholarship for Asthma Education and Research (2014) ● Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health Rachel Frutcher Award (2014) ● SUNY Old Westbury 50th Anniversary Alumni Award (2016) ● Delta Omega Public Health Honors Society (2018)

Click here for Tenya Blackwell's Linkedin profile


1. Why did you choose to study at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health (SPH)? Did SPH meet your expectations?

Being from Central Brooklyn I was familiar with Downstate as an institution and had previously heard positive reviews of Downstate. There was no doctor of Public Health program at Downstate when I initially set out to pursue my PhD but when I learned there was a program here, I gladly transferred.


2. What was the most memorable experience or advice you received during your time at SPH that struck you as particularly meaningful?

What's most memorable for me is how I was able to lean on so many of the faculty for advice and how each and every one of them so genuinely offered their time, their input and advice whenever I sought it. From the Deans, faculty outside of my concentration who were not technically my advisor, on down to other staff, I leaned-in on everyone and everyone always availed themselves to me in the most helpful ways.


3. Which SPH community member (e.g. faculty, staff, mentor, fellow classmates) influenced you the most and why?

This is hard to answer. So many has influenced me a lot, including Dr. Judith LaRosa and Dr. Karen Benker, but I'd have to say who influenced me the most was my committee chair, Dr. Laura Geer. She ALWAYS pushed and pushed me in the most gentle but persistent ways to step out of my comfort zone, to pursue opportunities to exposure myself in professional settings, and always pushed me to pursue grants, research opportunities and other speaking opportunities to share my research even when I was uncomfortable.


4. Where has life taken you since you graduated from SPH? How has your experience at Downstate SPH prepared you for your career?

Since graduating I have come 'full circle' to work and give back to the Downstate community through work with the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health located at Downstate. Surely my experience at Downstate has further prepared me for work around health disparities, and health equity, community-based participatory research and education. 


5. Could you describe your current profession? What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your profession?

In my current role, I am the Director of Community Engagement and Research at the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health right here at Downstate. The most rewarding thing is I get to have my hands in many aspects of public health; from research, education/training and public health advocacy. What I love most is the community outreach and engagement in underserved Brooklyn communities including where I was born and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I love that I get to “pay it backwards” and serve and educate and advocate for the community that my family originates from.  The most challenging is typical in the nonprofit world which is doing lots of great work with limited resources, funding and support.                


6. What advice do you have for prospective students?

To be prepared and take ownership of your education. The faculty and staff are here and will genuinely assist you and help develop and push you into opportunities that will really enhance your public health career if you put in the persistent effort.  


7. Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I see myself furthering my extramural research and academic teaching.



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