Ithar Hassaballa: Boston Congress of Public Health in 40 under 40 Winner

Ithar Hassaballa: Boston Congress of Public Health in 40 under 40 Winner

The inaugural 40 Under 40 Public Health Catalyst Awards aim to highlight the rising leaders and innovators of the public health field. The Boston Congress of Public Health (BCPH) and the HPHR Journal selected a group of “leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, activists”, and doctors that will inspire the next generations of public health workers to change the world. The individuals featured for this award have not only shown excellent work performance and an extensive academic history but have also brought innovative solutions to public health issues around the world.

The NYC Daily Post interviewed 40 under 40 award winners to learn about their career journeys leading up to their nominations.

Q1. What’s a piece of advice you’ve received that has impacted your career journey? 

Say yes to opportunities so you can better understand your strengths. 

Q2. Do you have a mentor you’d like to recognize? If so, what would you like to say to them? 

I have seven mentors in various fields of study that advise me as an early career professional. There are three mentors that shaped me throughout graduate school and continue to support me. I would like to thank them for opening doors for me, trusting me to represent them/the organization, and believing in me. 

•        Dr. Vincent Francisco, Director, Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas [Doctoral Dissertation Chair]

•        Dr. Stephen Fawcett, Senior Advisor, Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas [Masters Thesis Chair]

•        Dr. Davison Munodawafa, Former Director World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa, currently Midlands State University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Zimbabwe [Global Health Mentor] 

Q3. What advice would you give a young professional beginning their career in your field? 

I am a researcher. As researchers we study outside phenomena and gather data, analyze it, evaluate it, and come up with conclusions. It’s important to study yourself. In every role, understand your strength, your worth, your negotiables vs your non-negotiables, and how many negative thoughts about yourself you should lose, not how many pounds. Self-study at the same time as you self-nurture and you will achieve what you never that possible.

Q4. If you could do one thing, leave one mark, on your profession, what would it be? 

If I could leave one mark on the profession, it would be to give people the tools needed to create conditions for building healthy communities using behavioral methods and public health. Everything around us are data waiting to be analyzed and evaluated if we pay attention. I want to help companies and organizations create healthy, happy work environments that center on collaboration, health, and equity. I want to use multi-level behavioral science and public health methods to transform workplace environments because only about 50% of Americans are happy with their jobs.

Instead of feeling stuck with these data, we can instead ask ourselves what can we change about this specific environment so that people are happy and healthy in this workplace environment.  A second example is if someone isn’t reaching their full potential professionally, instead of blaming them, we can study their environment so we can understand the reasons they are not thriving (e.g., no one taught them how to write an outstanding resume) and then change the conditions so they can thrive (e.g., teach them how to write a resume that reflects their knowledge, experiences, and expertise). And then let’s replicate the same outcomes through the introduction of policies, practices, and programs to help people thrive.

Q5. Name a challenge you’ve faced and how it turned out. 

When I was 10 years old, my family moved to the United States for better educational opportunities. Although learning the English language was difficult, the most difficult part was missing the family members that were back in Sudan. It took seven years for us to visit family for the first time. Now we have video chats, calls, and when we can, we visit. We’ve also had family visit us in the U.S. on several occasions. More than 23 years later, I still miss my family members. I channel some of that energy to do good in society that will benefit those in the US, Sudan, and the broader globe.

Q6. What is your ultimate career goal as you see it today? 

My ultimate career goal is to lead global health projects that center local communities in the design, planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs. Community members are experts of their local context. When local communities get to solve local problems, using local solutions, it gives people the power to believe in their brilliance and also want to sustain the efforts after the project date ends.

Q7. What alternate role(s) would you be interested in pursuing?

I would love to be a professional speaker. I am a great storyteller, I have a lot of stories to share, and I connect with the audience. As a Black, Muslim, Immigrant, and Sudanese-American woman, I am ready to speak for myself and share my ideas and perspectives.

Q8. What core values are important to succeeding in your professional field? 

The core values to succeeding in my profession is 1) have empathy, 2) be a good listener, 3) help others win, and 4) take feedback and do better when it comes to creating a diverse and equitable environment for all.

Q9. Ten years ago, I thought I would be … 

A full-time professor. 

Q10. Ten years from now, I want to be …

A New York Times Best Selling Author 

Entrepreneur, Consultant, Speaker, and Global Health Researcher and Advocate.

Cultural Ambassador for Sudan: I would like most people in the U.S. to identify a Sudanese dress named a “tobe” when they see one.

Q11. Would you want to acknowledge any family/friends/partners (beyond mentors)? If so, who?

I would like to thank those who have stood by my side, encouraged me, and supported me. There are so many people I would like to thank and the top of the list includes:

•        Parents Dr. Hassaballa O. Hassaballa and Mrs. Kawather Haroun who have have supported me and still continue to support me so I can live my dreams 

•        Daughter Jood (my beautiful, energetic, 3 year old) 

•        Brother Mujahid Hassaballa and sister-in-law Diane Hassaballa and my three beautiful nieces

•        My sister, best friend, and colleague Ruaa Hassaballa-Muhammad and my brother-in-law Dr. Farris Muhammad

•        Maternal Aunts (Zikra, Jawahir) and uncles (Alzain, Haroun, Hammad) in Sudan, an uncle (Nasreldin) in Chad, and all of my fabulous family members.

Q12. Please indicate your hometown, place of study, degree field(s), and an interesting fact about yourself.

•        Place of Birth: White Nile Province, Sudan 

•        Hometown: Kansas City Metro Area (Olathe, Kansas)

•        Place of Study: University of Kansas (Masters of Applied Behavioral Science, 2015 & Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology [Community Health & Development], 2017)

•        University of Kansas Medical Center (Masters of Public Health, 2017)

Interesting fact: My name Ithar [Eethaar] goes beyond altruism and selflessness in that it means altruistic and selfless, even when I myself am in need of what I am giving. It is to prefer others over yourself for the sake of God. When I give advice, I like to give it to myself first because I am usually also in need of that advice, so I practice Ithar. Jood in Arabic means generosity, so we were absolutely going for a theme here. Jood is inspiring a children’s book that I am currently writing.

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