While completing her undergrad in Health Services Administration at Auburn, LaNita Harris ’09 realized that her passion wasn’t in hospital or clinic administration, but rather working with adolescents and young adults in the community.
“I found that both in my home-state of Alabama and my new home of Oklahoma, there were incredibly high teen birth rates” among African Americans and Hispanics. With this information, she pursued her Masters in Public Health at the University of Oklahoma and landed a position as a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Specialist at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
There she taught “evidence-based, age-appropriate sexuality education curricula in local schools.” This enabled her to pinpoint contributing factors to many teen pregnancies, like misguidance and naivety. “It amazed me that so many teenagers were misinformed and confused about their bodies,” she said. “I knew that I had found an area of public health where I could truly make a difference.”
Not only was she able to contribute to research for pregnancy prevention, but those she helped gave back in return. “The students inspired me to be the best version of myself so that I could serve the community in an effective and loving manner.”
Harris would go on to become a PhD student and full-time, tenure-track Instructor at the University of Central Oklahoma. Now she has “shifted from working directly in the community to working with and training students that will be working in the community to advance public health.”
Harris aspires to continue teaching and would like to lead a faith-based institute driven to make advancements in adolescent health and sexual education. “Because of my experience at Auburn University, I am now driven to be a meaningful influence in the lives of undergraduate students each and every day,” she said. “I know how important my role is as a college professor and I do not take it for granted.”
She also attributes her success and personal growth to her mother, who she learned leadership, kindness and humility from. “She constantly inspires me to be optimistic and keep pushing towards my goals with perseverance and determination,” Harris said.
“As you move forward in life, know that you are not ‘moving on’ from Auburn; you are simply continuing to grow and develop and you are further extending the tiger paw prints across the globe.”