IU alumna and public health professional Sonia Angell spoke Monday at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, as part of the NextGen Leadership Program.
Brian Seavey, the director of undergraduate admissions and engagement at O'Neill, discussed Angell’s journey from an IU student to a noted professional in her field.
“Her connection to IU will serve as an opportunity for students to relate to her journey into the medical field,” Seavey said in an email. “The students will benefit from hearing her reflect on how her pathway to leadership may have been different from her peers.”
During this “fireside chat” style discussion and Q&A, Angell discussed her career as a public health official, including her time strategizing amidst the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing dietary habits in New York and other contemporary health issues.
She also talked about the globalization aspect between climate issues, attempted national health improvements and the status of abortion after the Roe v. Wade overturns.
Angell said she graduated from IU with degrees in journalism and political science before joining the Peace Corps, where she served in Nepal. After working in public health and service in the Peace Corps, she received her medical degree from The University of California, – San Fransisco and her master's in public health from the University of Michigan.
Towards the end of the seminar, Angell responded to questions from the crowd of IU students and O'Neill professors.
“The Peace Corps helped me understand writing and talking about issues that were important., But for me, the way I wanted to work in that space was by rolling up my sleeves and working in the community,” Angell said.
Angell said she went on to work as a primary care physician in New York City and later became the founding director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Control program of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. There, she combatted poor eating habits and rising heart disease rates. Angell continued her work on diet and heart health with the World Health Organization. In September 2019, Angell became the first Latina to serve as the Director of California’s Department of Public Health. She currently teaches at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While having developed her creativity and critical problem-solving skills at IU, Angell said she also credits the diverse makeup of the university for her success.
“People didn't always share my political views, they didn't necessarily share my background all the time or my perspective, but this was a safe space for me to have tough conversations and listen,” she said.
Students involved with the Civic Leaders Center were required to attend Angell’s seminar as part of their course in the center, and many said they left with new, appreciated knowledge.
“I really appreciated how she spoke a lot about chronic illness,” Alyssa Toscani, a freshman studying marketing and supply chain, said. “I’ve dealt with chronic illness most of my life so hearing what they’re doing about it, I found that very hopeful.”
Jagjit Athwal, another freshman and CLC student, said the conversation resonated with him. The CLC hosts numerous speakers with varied topics, ranging from economics to civics. Since Angell is a medical professional, Athwal wanted to attend her seminar.
“I’m a bio major, and I want to become a doctor one day, so I felt like I could relate to this speaker more,” Athwal said.
To see the next few events in the NextGen Leadership program, click here. The NextGen Leadership program hosts speakers, workshops and the class V203 – The Call of Public Service. The school’s next workshop, led by Professor Karen Gahl-Mills, is Sept. 29.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs hosted the NextGen Leadership program.