Kisa Harris, a third-year student in the John D. Bower School of Population Health, aims to use research to improve children's health.
Kisa Harris, a third-year student in the John D. Bower School of Population Health, aims to use research to improve children's health.
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Front and Center: Kisa Harris

Published on Saturday, February 26, 2022

By: Patrice Guilfoyle, pguilfoyle@umc.edu

Editor's Note: In honor of Black History Month’s 2022 theme, Black Health and Wellness, we want to celebrate the contributions, breakthroughs and cultural richness of Black professionals and students at UMMC. See more Front and Center features.

Kisa Harris, a third-year student in the John D. Bower School of Population Health, didn’t follow in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps by becoming a teacher, but instead charted her own path that still put learning as a career focus.

The Clinton native is studying pediatric obesity and identifying critical periods for interventions. Her interest in addressing obesity developed from her full-time work with the Jackson Heart Study at Tougaloo College, where she earned her bachelor of science in chemistry.

“During the summer, there’s a high school STEM program. I met students who were exhibiting risk factors for heart disease and obesity,” she said. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Harris at one time was among those high school students who participated in the summer STEM program at Tougaloo. That’s where she said she learned about the expanse of public health, and it sparked a thought: She could become a doctor.

Then, she recalled being immersed in research as an undergraduate student. Maybe there was another way, and all signs pointed her to research.

“I even saw clinicians doing research. You can treat a patient, but to really understand the root cause of the conditions that affect them, you have to do your research,” she said.

So she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and returned to Mississippi. “That was always my goal - to return to Mississippi,” she said.

The importance of her research became even more relevant as obesity among children nationally increased during the pandemic over the last two years. Mississippi’s childhood obesity rates are among those experiencing a jump.

Dr. Michael Welsch, program director in Population Health Science, said Harris is “a highly motivated individual who is committed toward building a strong foundation, in theory and practice, in population health science.

“Kisa has realistic aspirations that will lead to improved access to, and the delivery of, innovative programs to improve health outcomes in all individuals, and particularly vulnerable populations or those suffering from significant health disparities,” he said. “I have no doubt that Kisa will continue to develop into a dynamic academician/researcher capable of providing numerous contributions to the scientific community and society as a whole.”

Harris juggles a full-time job and full-time school work. “It definitely takes a delicate balance, but my employer and school have been very supportive of me,” she said before adding with a giggle, “I’m looking forward to ending this.”

Her goal now is to join the faculty of an institution where she can continue to work with students and to pursue her interest in implementing and evaluating interventions to prevent obesity. She said she is proud to represent her fellow students at SOPH, especially during Black History Month.

“It is certainly an honor I do not take lightly. The school is relatively new, and it’s just great to be able to represent such an energetic and passionate group of faculty as well students,” Harris said.

In her precious free time between work and school, she enjoys visiting with her grandparents and together attending Jackson State University football games.