Member Spotlight


The Membership Committee will be highlighting different members of MPHA starting in 2016! Check back for new featured members each month.


1.     Member name

Rev. Nancy Nord Bence

https://www.facebook.com/nancy.bence


2.     Position, Employer

Executive Director, Protect Minnesota.

Protect Minnesota is the only independent gun violence prevention organization in Minnesota. Our mission is to promote a culture of health and safety for all Minnesotans by preventing gun violence through effective legislation, policy, and community education programs.


3.     How long have you been a member of MPHA? How have you been involved in MPHA?

Since March 2016


4.     How has MPHA helped you?

MPHA has been incredibly supportive as I’ve made the switch from parish ministry to public advocacy. I have been welcomed to MPHA events, asked to speak at an MPHA policy forum, and invited to participate in MPHA lobby day. MPHA is also partnering with Protect Minnesota and the U of M School of Public Health in sponsoring a public service announcement contest this coming spring that will help publicize the need to protect Minnesotans from gun violence.


5.    What areas of public health are you most interested in?

All aspects of gun violence prevention. 82% of gun deaths in Minnesota are suicides, so educating people about the importance of secure storage and removing guns from those suffering from depression is paramount. We also need to raise awareness about the impact of racial and economic disparities as social determinants of gun violence: black men are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun homicide than white men. More generally, we strive to help Minnesotans understand that a gun in the home is 22% more likely to injure or kill a family member than an outside intruder of some sort. And studies have repeatedly shown that stronger gun laws equal less gun violence, so we must continue to push for comprehensive background checks, gun violence prevention orders, and other common sense gun legislation.


6.    Describe your favorite public health project or experience with public health.

Being quoted alongside such prominent public health leaders as Dean John Finnegan, Dr. David Hemenway, and Dr. Jon Roesler in the cover story of the U of M School of Public Health’s fall issue of Advances was a highpoint. Another was presenting “The Epidemiology of Gun Violence” with my husband, past MPHA president Ken Bence, at the St. Louis County HHS Conference. After 31 years of marriage we still have so much fun together.


7.    Why are you passionate about public health?

In my two decades’ experience as a parish pastor I often saw and tried to reverse the negative effects of unhealthy behaviors and systems in communities and families. Unfortunately, in that role I was usually consulted after the damage had already been done. I left the parish to commit myself to gun violence prevention after officiating at six firearms-related funerals. I wanted to be able to address gun violence as a public health crisis from an “upstream” perspective, instead of trying to put families and victims back together after the devastation of a shooting.


8.    How do you see public health evolving or changing in the future?

Having come from outside this profession, I think we need to engage the “public” in “public health.” I hope to see the development of new and creative multi-disciplinary approaches to addressing complex public health problems within the communities they impact. In my former congregation we instituted a health and wellness ministry team that provided blood pressure checks, sponsored flu vaccinations and blood drives, made emergency preparedness plans, and hosted a health and wellness fair every year. I envision the public health community initiating partnerships with diverse professional disciplines, so that “public health” activities become integrated into the missions of faith groups, schools, businesses and other organizations.


9.    What advice would you give to others who either want to begin working in public health, or advance their public health career?

Don’t be afraid to show what you don’t know and ask for help. Introduce yourself and volunteer. The public health community is incredibly hospitable and helpful to new-comers, even those of us who come from other professions.


10.  What are the most important skills or qualities of someone in public health?

Curiosity, passion, and a sincere desire to improve the health of our communities.




1.     Member name

Asli Ashkir

https://www.facebook.com/asli.ashkir


2.     Position, Employer

Senior RN Consultant, Children and Youth with Special Health Needs, Minnesota Department of Health & the Co-Founder and President of Briva Health.


3.     How long have you been a member of MPHA? How have you been involved in MPHA?

I have been a member of MPHA since 2014


4.     How has MPHA helped you?

I initially joined MPHA to connect with other public health professionals in Minnesota and to learn about ongoing public health programs in the state. Since then, MPHA has become one of my primary sources of public health information and contributed greatly to my public health knowledge.


5.    What areas of public health are you most interested in?

I use my public health expertise to empower families, particularly immigrant families by helping them learn how to prevent illness and maintain health. I enjoy discussing with them the importance of identifying health problems promptly through regular and recommended screenings/checkups and the benefits of early intervention.


6.    Describe your favorite public health project or experience with public health.

As a young nurse with public health interest but not yet qualified as Public Health Nurse (PHN,) I had the opportunity to be a member of the team that introduced Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) in Somalia. I participated in the implementation of the Community Awareness Project in which we educated the community about the importance of vaccines in preventing childhood diseases. At the time, measles was an endemic disease causing high mortality rates among children under five years old. I have learned recently that despite of the vast challenges, Somalia has successfully reduced measles incidence rate by >80% (2005-2007 report). I am honored to have played a role in this success.


7.    Why are you passionate about public health?

I am passionate about public health because it strives to attain health for all. When the drinking water is safe, our communities are healthier. When the environment is clean, our communities are healthier. When people have access to healthy food, our communities are healthier. Public health protects and promotes the health of all people.


8.    How do you see public health evolving or changing in the future?

Although we have overcome significant public health challenges in our lifetime, there are new array of challenges including mental health, chronic diseases, bioterrorism, and environmental health. I hope to see technological innovations play a role in solving some of these future challenges. Climate change may trigger huge weather related disasters & Zika virus diseases may spread and become a global problem. Funding for public health programs may be reduced due to budget cuts which may trigger a comeback of public health problems that have been eradicated. With the health equity momentum, many public health disparities may be eliminated and the public may be healthier and live longer.


9.    What advice would you give to others who either want to begin working in public health, or advance their public health career?

Welcome and join a team committed to advancing the health of all people. Public health is a branch of medicine that is highly respected; and your efforts will impact the overall health of your community, a great reason to choose public health.


10.  What are the most important skills or qualities of someone in public health?

Data driven, respectful, culturally competent, visionary, able to negotiate, has excellent communication skills, a good listener, is patient & results oriented.




1.     Member name

Zelphia Peterson


2.     Position, Employer

Administrative Assistant, MPHA; MPH student, St. Catherine University


3.     How long have you been a member of MPHA? How have you been involved in MPHA?

I have been a student member of MPHA since 2013. I attended some programming as a student, and I am now the Administrative Assistant for the organization.


4.     How has MPHA helped you?

MPHA has really jumpstarted my career. From the opportunities it gave me as a student to my current employment, it has been central to my growth and development in public health.


5.    What areas of public health are you most interested in?

I am most interested in the global aspect of public health, specifically in LMIC countries and developing nations. Topic of interest to me are maternal/child health, refugee health, and disaster relief/humanitarian aid.


6.    Describe your favorite public health project or experience with public health.

My favorite public health experience was partnering with a nutrition clinic in rural El Salvador. I was part of a team with Kids Against Hunger (an organization similar to Feed My Starving Children) that was able to be on the distributing end of their food program. It was incredible to see the tangible difference that good nutrition was making in entire communities.


7.    Why are you passionate about public health?

First, because it is so broad and it influences so many different areas. There is always something new to learn. Also, it gives me the opportunity to make a difference and be involved in the global community.


8.    How do you see public health evolving or changing in the future?

I am really excited by the trend of globalization in public health. I think more and more people are realizing that public health problems don’t just affect one population; they really impact all of us on some level. I see public health evolving into a broader discipline than it already is to encompass more and more facets of what it really means to be healthy.


9.    What advice would you give to others who either want to begin working in public health, or advance their public health career?

Try new things. As a recently graduated student, this is an essential attitude. There are so many ways to get into public health that sometimes you really have to be willing to try something new. Almost everything relates to public health in some way, so it’s just a matter of finding that niche.


10.  What are the most important skills or qualities of someone in public health?

An open mind, a compassionate heart, and a desire to make a difference in the world. Also, a lot of patience.




1.     Member name

Lindsey Fabian

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindsey-fabian-2249737


2.     Position, Employer

Project Manager, UMN School of Public Health, Epidemiology and Community Health. My work life entails implementing and evaluating community interventions. 


3.     How long have you been a member of MPHA? How have you been involved in MPHA?

I joined MPHA as a student member in 1999. I have had various roles within MPHA since then---including co-chairing the Policy and Advocacy Committee for six years, and being the MPHA Representative to the APHA Governing Council for six years. After that I was the Chair of the Great Lakes Public Health Coalition, and just completed a year as President elect. Now, I’ve just started my year as President. I have also been a long term member of the Policy Forum Committee, which plans the annual series of public policy forums.


4.    How has MPHA helped you?

I really enjoy my volunteer work with MPHA because it allows me to stay active and knowledgeable in important public health issues that I don’t necessarily encounter at work, and the network of colleagues is incredible. I’ve also gained numerous leadership skills.


5.    What areas of public health are you most interested in?

I’m most interested in implementing community-level research projects pertaining to institutional and local level alcohol and tobacco policies, and coordinating training programs for junior scientists doing cancer and health disparities research. 


6.    Describe your favorite public health project or experience with public health.

I enjoy it when community members and policymakers begin to “get” what public health is - so many people are working in public health and do not even realize it. We still have a lot of work to do but we’ve come a long way!


7.    Why are you passionate about public health?

My primary public health interests, and my passion lies in policy work and changing our environment so making the healthy choice is an easy choice, AND available and accessible to all people. 


8.    How do you see public health evolving or changing in the future?

These issues continue to be critical to our work: defining social determinants of health, creating policies with a health and equity lens, and convincing our policymakers why public health funding is an investment in our future. Most importantly…. Having the right people at the table – giving all people the power to make a difference in their community.


9.     What advice would you give to others who either want to begin working in public health, or advance their public health career?

Come join us! It’s meaningful work. It’s challenging, but fun. And very rewarding. 


10.  What are the most important skills or qualities of someone in public health?

Besides gaining the skills and education needed, public health needs thoughtful and considerate people who can examine problems from all angles and are able to find common ground with all types of people.




1.     Member name

Donna Anderson


2.     Position, Employer

        Retired Dakota County Public Health Director, having earlier positions in Hennepin County and City of St. Paul.


3.     How long have you been a member of MPHA? How have you been involved in MPHA?

I joined MPHA in 1967 after graduate studies at the University of Minnesota School Public Health (SPH) and in my first public health job at the City of St. Paul Bureau of Health. My supervisor and colleagues, who were actively engaged in MPHA, invited me to participate in an annual meeting as well as the revitalization efforts occurring at that time. Shortly thereafter, I was engaged in the MPHA Revitalization Study Committee, the Public Affairs Committee, and ad hoc groups charged to shape MPHA directions. With continuous membership and involvement in MPHA, I’ve served as President in the 1970s, MPHA representative to the APHA Governing Council in the 1980s, co-chair of the Policy and Advocacy Committee with Lindsey Fabian in the early 2000s as a “retirement” activity, and co-chair of the MPHA 100th Anniversary Celebration Steering Committee in 2007. A current project is the organization of the MPHA archives (print and electronic records). The entire record collection will be transferred to the University of Minnesota Social Welfare History Archives Library in fall 2016. The MPHA History Committee will also be re-activated this fall.


4.    How has MPHA helped you?

MPHA has been, and still is an important professional and social network in which to learn, grow and contribute. It was especially helpful in my early career years when experienced public health leaders “took me under their wing” to guide, encourage and support me. They opened doors of opportunity for staying on top of challenges and changes in the national, state and local public health environment. These mentoring relationships have had a huge, long-lasting impact.


5.    What areas of public health are you most interested in?

I’m generally drawn to involvement in public health issues that require short or long term attention and action (timely, relevant, or cutting-edge). I’m most interested in the aspects of community engagement/problem solving, strategic visioning/planning, or policy development/advocacy as these are places where data, teamwork and recommendations come together. Current interest areas are: gun violence prevention, mental health awareness, and health and well-being of children and families.


6.    Describe your favorite public health project or experience with public health.

Within MPHA, my favorite experiences are when the association played instrumental roles in keeping intact or bringing about two pieces of significant public health policy legislation. In the early 1970s, MPHA organized a coalition of professional associations and community agencies to advocate successfully for maintaining the integrity of the Minor’s Consent to Health Services Act (1971), the first of several challenges to repeal or amend (most recent in 2004). In the mid to late 1970s, MPHA was actively involved in planning and promoting the passage of the Community Health Services Act (1976, known today as Local Public Health Act). MPHA also helped facilitate its statewide implementation of shared state-local governmental responsibilities.


7.    Why are you passionate about public health?

Core principles undergird my public health and public service experiences. Public health is all about creating conditions that allow every person the right to health and well-being. Public health works to improve the health of large numbers of people in families, communities and systems. Public health relies on an ever-expanding evidence base. Public health strives for social change and social justice.


8.    How do you see public health evolving or changing in the future?

Fabian is right-on about the three critical issues in public health work! These key issues---focus on social determinants of health, establish policies with a health and equity lens, advocate for adequate public health funding as an investment in our future---are integral to fulfill our MPHA mission and to accomplish collective goals, strategies, and outcomes.


9.     What advice would you give to others who either want to begin working in public health, or advance their public health career?

Joining and becoming active in MPHA is one of the best things you can do! You will be informed, educated and inspired! It’s hard, gratifying work together!


10.  What are the most important skills or qualities of someone in public health?

Public health work cannot be done in isolation. Keep listening, learning, growing and contributing. Sharpen your leadership and cultural competence. Think and act within a big picture, long-term view. Engage diverse voices and perspectives. Examine issues from all sides. Seek mutually beneficial common ground, solutions and actions. Stay connected in relationships through networks.




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