For the past 23 years, Alana Knudson has had a front-row seat in the public health arena.
The Oregon State alum earned her master’s degree (’91) in education and Ph.D. (’97) in public health. Since then, she’s experienced an exciting and rewarding journey, and she travels it with the guidance of an exceptional mentor and mentees of her own.
The NORC at University of Chicago’s program area director and co-director of the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis found her passion for public health in 1991. She was completing a dual Ed.M. in Adult Education (Training and Development and College Student Services Administration), and a friend encouraged her to enroll in Emeritus Professor Anne Rossignol’s epidemiology course.
“It was the most transformative class I have ever taken,” she says. “Epidemiology was the convergence of my passion to improve health using qualitative and quantitative analysis to inform health policy.”
Alana knew she wanted to make a difference in the world of public health after the first class. And from that moment forward, that’s exactly what she did.
But not before a special mentoring relationship began with CPHHS Professor Chunhuei Chi. Alana was Chunhuei’s first doctoral mentee, and the two have remained in close communication. “Alana has always been a compassionate person who cares about people who are less fortunate, both here and around the world,” he says. “She has an unrelenting appetite for knowledge that strengthens her ability to improve other people’s health and well-being.”
Alana is grateful for Chunhuei’s guidance and willingness to understand her career goals. They share common views about the importance of economic policy in shaping public health, and Chunhuei has introduced her to influential health economists across the globe for more than 20 years.
Alana says that Chunhuei shares his international health publications and presentations with her, challenging her concepts of health and economics. As Chunhuei continues his commitment to “growing” leaders in public health, he uses social media to link his mentees and public health colleagues. Through Facebook, he’s created an international public health learning collaborative for OSU.
“Dr. Chi has always led by example – excellence and integrity are paramount,” she says. “He is one of the brightest, most generous and compassionate person I have ever known. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the role he has played in my life.”
Alana began to make her mark in public health in 1993, when she accepted a position in her home state with the North Dakota Health Task Force. The work of the task force led to the passage of meaningful health insurance reforms. When funding and work concluded in 1995, Alana went to work for the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDOH), serving in different roles including director of the data center.
While she was at NDDOH, she also served on the Association of State and Territorial Health Officals’ (ASHTO) committee for informatics and infrastructure. When the committee’s lead staff member resigned in 2000, the organization recruited her and she moved to Washington, D.C.
She then moved to Grand Forks, N.D., in 2012 to be closer to her family and worked remotely for the National Organization of Health Data Organizations and later joined the University of North Dakota’s Center of Rural Health as the Associate Director of Research. She landed at her current post at the NORC’s Bethesda, MD, office in 2009 when a colleague from ASTHO days invited her to co-direct the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis.
Alana’s personal career highlights involve working on and witnessing landmark legislation. These include health insurance reform in N.D. and the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 while she was living in D.C. She also attended a quintessential moment in modern public health history – the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement announcement at the National Press Club in 1998.
The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) recently honored Alana with its President Award. NRHA president Lisa Kilawee selected her to receive the accolade during the 39th Annual Rural Health Conference in Minneapolis. She received the honor because of her vast research and project findings, which have influenced public health policy on state, federal and tribal levels.
Alana’s work reflects her ideology of the role public health plays in society. “I believe public health experts need to convene stakeholders, present credible data and identify priorities that span political divides, such as recognizing the important relationship between health and economic viability,” Alana says. “We need to find common goals and strategies to achieve cultures of health at community, state, national and international levels to address emerging and evolving public health issues.”
Alana has two pearls of wisdom for today’s public health students. “First, find a mentor who can help guide you, give you genuine feedback and who is supportive of your success,” she says. “Second, build and nurture your networks because public health is about partnerships. Every one of the successes I have been fortunate to be a part of has been grounded in working with partners in public and private sectors.”
As she continues her own professional journey, Alana takes what she learned at OSU and throughout the years of working with a mentor and is doing the same for junior public health colleagues.
“I use Dr. Chi’s mentoring example as a way to pay it forward,” she says. “I am now ‘growing’ new public health professionals through mentorship, who will in turn mentor the next generation of public health professionals. Mentoring is the most effective way to extend our sphere of influence to create a healthier world.