Disa Cornish

Describe your career path since graduating from the UI College of Public Health.
I moved to Birmingham, Ala., to pursue a doctoral degree from the School of Public Health at UAB (in Health Promotion and Health Education through the Department of Health Behavior). I completed my PhD in 2009. I worked as the Program Evaluation Manager at the Center for Social and Behavioral Research at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) until 2013, when I took a position as Assistant Professor in the Division of Health Promotion and Education in the School of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Services at UNI.

How did working with the PRC as a student help prepare or inform you for your current job?
Working at the PRC gave me experience with data collection in the field and taught me a lot about working with people. It was pretty unique to have an opportunity to actually get involved with community-based participatory research. I use that experience in my teaching and advising of students now.

What’s the most important thing you took away from your time working with the PRC?
That it’s important to focus on the needs and priorities of the people we work with rather than just our own research agenda.

What are one or two of the most satisfying aspects of your work in public health?
Seeing my students be successful and contributing members of the public health workforce is very satisfying. I also really enjoy working with community stakeholders to find ways that research can benefit specific groups of people.

What do you think current students should know about the value of working with faculty and research projects like those affiliated with the PRC?
Working with faculty on research projects is invaluable. People often dichotomize “research” and “practice,” but they are very much linked. Having research experience is incredibly important in the public health workforce — research skills will not be wasted.

What would you tell students about the value of working on community-based research or rural health?
Public health is fundamentally about making our communities better. As public health professionals, we have an obligation to work within our communities — rural and urban. Students need to think about how they want to impact their communities. I’m willing to bet that community-based research and skills in that area will be really important.