Alumnae, former classmates, reunite in D.C.


Rachel Smidt, MPH ’14, and Krista Woodward, MSW/MPH ’15, met as first-year students at the Brown School. Now active public health professionals, they meet often in their new hometown of Washington, D.C. Both moved to the nation’s capital over the past year, seeing it as an ideal place to put their degrees into practice.

“I always knew I wanted to end up in D.C.,” said Smidt, who now works within the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “After getting my MPH with an emphasis in global health, I knew that D.C. would have the biggest variety of positions that would give me the chance to put my MPH training into practice.”

Smidt’s role as Public Affairs Advisor in the Office of HIV/AIDS in the Global Health Bureau allows her to translate the technical details of AIDS research and policy into compelling narratives that convey the value of USAID’s work. She says her practicum experience in Haiti brings a critical field perspective that shapes her work every day.

“I think my path to positive impact is to continue to creatively and effectively tell the story of why people, who may not have any experience with social work or public health, should care about the impact diseases like HIV and AIDS have on communities half a world away,” Smidt said. “It’s really important for people to realize that in our globalized world, we’re all connected, and the prosperity and well-being of people in other countries directly impacts our well-being as well.”

Woodward, too, admired the variety of impactful governmental and non-profit organizations in D.C. “I have always been fascinated with the nation’s capital,” she said, “since it is the home of policy conceptualization, debate, and development.”

As a student, Woodward pursued a practicum at the National Center for Healthy Housing in D.C., serving as their Policy Fellow. She now works as a Program Associate at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

PCORI funds research to compare the clinical effectiveness of different healthcare options, involving patients as stakeholders throughout the research process. Woodward serves in the Evaluation and Analysis Department, where she supports and analyzes the range of clinical effectiveness research that PCORI pursues.

“In order to enhance holistic care interventions, we need to account for patient realities and needs,” Woodward said. “We must strive for innovation within research if we want to achieve more inclusive and equitable health care and social justice policies.”

A proud policy wonk, Woodward aims to formulate and champion evidence-based programs and policies that can lead to a more inclusive and just society. She believes her systems-level understanding of public health issues will be key in effecting macro-level change.

Smidt, too, ultimately sees herself moving into the policy realm, forging global health policy that will prevent and address diseases like HIV/AIDS.

The Brown School has a strong tradition of alumni in D.C. who make change on a systemic and policy level, including one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, Andrea J. Palm, who serves in the leadership team of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It is really comforting to know that a sizable group of friends and colleagues is out here and that I can get together with them to exchange ideas on social work and public health or even get together just to reminisce about our time in St. Louis,” Smidt said. “It made the move out here much less daunting.”