9 Questions with Shoshanna Levine, Harvard DrPH '18

What is your DELTA project?

My work is supporting the scale-up of the City Health Dashboard, an innovative web resource that enables city leaders and policymakers to easily see where they stand on 26 measures of health and social determinants analyzed to city and sub-city boundaries. Most readily available data in the U.S. is available as county or state averages. By analyzing publically available national datasets to a more relevant unit, we are making data more actionable and accessible to cities and communities. Originally launched in January 2017 with four cities, the Dashboard is currently being expanded for a summer 2018 launch with data for 500 cities in the U.S. with populations over 70,000.

For my DELTA project, I am researching the early experiences with the tool in the pilot cities – Kansas City, KS, Flint, MI, Providence, RI, and Waco, TX – in order to gain insight into how data on health and social determinants can drive health improvement in cities and to apply lessons learned to the expansion effort.

Who is your host organization?

I am working at the NYU School of Medicine in the Department of Population Health. We are collaborating with the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service to build a practical tool to meet the needs of city leaders.

Why did you choose to work on this project?

Health is more than what happens within a doctor’s office. The conditions in which we live, work, and age can be as or more important. I am interested in looking at these issues at the city level, examining how policies and programs from local actors can affect the health of urban residents. Especially in the current national policy environment, cities have a unique ability to impact their residents.

I also surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the quantitative coursework of the DrPH Program, not just because of our incredible teaching staff, and I wanted to include some data analytic component in my work. This project combines all these aspects.

What are you most excited about for your project?

This work has the opportunity to have such broad impact. When the new version of the site is launched, it will include data on about one-third of the U.S. population. Putting this information into the hands of city leaders can be an extremely powerful public health tool.

What has been the best part about working on your project?

I have a really fantastic team of smart, curious, and generally kind individuals. Everyone is dedicated to the work and just pleasant to work with. Having not always had this experience with my co-workers, I can’t stress enough what a difference a good team makes.

What has been the greatest challenge working on your project?

The biggest challenge has been straddling the line between student and employee. I’ve had to watch for scope-creep as I’ve been tempted to insert interesting but not entirely relevant parts of my job into my thesis paper. I’ve also interviewed a number of people as a student through contacts gained through my job. While I’ve always made my role clear, having that dual role might be confusing. Finally, finding the time to get everything done in these complementary but not identical roles is hard.

Would you want to take your project or issue further after you graduate?

Yes! I will continue in my position post-graduation. I’m excited to be able to keep working on expanding and improving this resource as long as they will have me.

If someone wants to work on something similar or related to your project, what advice would you give them?

Working in interdisciplinary teams can be difficult but rewarding. I’ve had to learn to speak the languages of other disciplines and how to make my work accessible to people with different training and worldviews. This has not only made the project stronger but has improved my work and what I am able to accomplish.

What most surprised you about your project?

In a fiercely divided political moment in time, it’s been surprising to see how people from across the political spectrum can come together around helping their communities. Regardless of ideological bent, the cities we are working with see the effects of education, unemployment, urban planning, and a host of other issues and want to make a positive impact on the health of their neighborhoods, not just score political points. It has been refreshing to witness this, and I hope to be able to contribute to it.