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Dean’s Medalist and global health graduate has a passion for health equity

Ellianna Lederman

Photo courtesy: Ellianna Lederman

April 20, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Ellianna Lederman, a Colorado native, thrived at Arizona State University by becoming involved and staying focused on her goals. 

Lederman was selected as this semester’s Dean’s Medalist by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding academic achievement, and is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. 

“I couldn’t believe it when I first heard, it’s been something I’ve wanted for a very long time,” Lederman said about being selected for the award. 

She came to ASU because she was impressed with what Barrett, The Honors College offered. Lederman spent her second year online, instead of in-person, due to COVID-19, but became involved in several campus organizations and is graduating with her undergraduate degree in three years. 

An internship with the non-profit organization Esperanca also helped Lederman with her Barrett honors thesis. Esperanca is focused on providing health equity to individuals across the world. 

“My thesis project worked with Esperanca's Diabetes Empowerment Education Program to explore patient's experiences within the program,” Lederman said. “I created pre and post surveys and conducted interviews with class participants to learn about how the class influenced participant's diabetes knowledge and management. 

Along with her focus on global health, Lederman is involved in the Hillel and Chabad clubs on campus and she helps lead the Global Health Student Association. She was also a case investigator for the ASU COVID-19 student-outbreak response team. Her passion for health started in high school and grew during college. 

“I’ve always been interested in infectious diseases, but I didn’t know I could make a career out of it,” Lederman said. 

Lederman received numerous awards during her time at ASU, including: the Presidential Volunteer Service Award in 2020 for volunteering with Tri County Health Department (in Colorado); the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (for case investigation); and Energize Colorado (a pandemic startup).

Lederman will attend the Colorado School of Public Health to pursue her master’s degree in public health policy. Leading up to commencement, we asked Lederman a few questions about her time at ASU. 

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I think that’s when I was a freshman and the very first classes I took were global health. I knew I wanted to study global health, but what really confirmed it was looking at the syllabus and seeing all the materials and topics we were going to cover.   

Q: Were you involved in any labs during your time at ASU? 

A: I was a Barrett College Fellow, where I participated in the Children in the Law Lab at the ASU Downtown (Phoenix) campus. But I did this remotely because of COVID-19. Research is very important, and it was one of the draws when I came to ASU. I knew that getting research experience in college was important for graduate school and professional work, and I knew that ASU offered a lot of those opportunities to students. I’m very glad I was able to get involved in those opportunities. I think it’s different from classroom work, I like practice work the best. There is a whole side of research that is very complicated. I have a lot of respect for people who do research as a full-time job.

I was also in another research position on campus helping map COVID-19 testing sites across Arizona and tracking vaccine data by ethnicity to better understand racial health disparities in Arizona. The professor overseeing that project, Dr. Hyunsung Oh, ended up directing my honors thesis. 

Q: Were you involved in internships during your time at ASU?  

A: The first was through Esperanca, a nonprofit in Phoenix, where I was a global health intern. I was also an operations intern at Project CURE in Centennial, Colorado, last summer. I worked in the warehouse where they store, process and ship donated medical supplies to countries overseas, helping lead volunteer groups through the warehouse and helping pack for shipments. They are the largest supplier of donated medical supplies to countries internationally — the perfect definition of global health.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Say "yes" to every opportunity and experience you get. You only have a limited time in college and you really have to make the most of it. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I really like Noble Library. I had a math class there freshman year and I had a global health group that first semester and we were in a cohort because we all had the same classes. So we spent a lot of time together, some days starting in the morning and working together until 6 p.m. Noble was the place we would go between classes for our breaks. After that, I always liked going back because it always reminded me of my friends.    

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I know $40 million would not solve the problem, however the problem that I want to solve and what I want to focus my career on is health equity. I want to make sure that everybody has equal opportunities to health care. There is this scientific concept called the “social determinants of health,” that explains your health is not just related to what you’re doing, everything is based on the environment around you and influences your health. This includes housing, having clean water and even your education. Although $40 million wouldn’t be enough, that is the big problem I would like to solve and focus my attention on.  

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