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Leiema Hunt - Class of 2020


  • I've had great mentors to help guide me along my path, beginning with the Lord, my parents, mentors, and friends. I had no idea what I wanted to be growing up, even while I was furthering my education in college. The Lord opened doors that allowed me to meet people who have guided me to where I am today. Looking back at my journey, I know that He directed my path. I am Samoan from American Samoa. My Public Health journey began when I was about 13 years old. I shadowed a research group whose aim was to understand American Samoan women and their attitudes toward breast and cervical cancer screening. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Health and Exercise Science at BYU-Hawaii, and there I was accepted to Project IMHOTEP. At Project IMHOTEP, I was connected to mentors from Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, I joined the American Samoa Department of Health and served as the youngest program coordinator at that time. After spending time understanding health in the local context, I went on to pursue my Masters in Public Health at BYU-Provo.

    I graduated in the Winter Semester in 2020. COVID hit and we had a virtual commencement. It was kind of cool, especially because Dr. Crookston pronounced my long Polynesian/Asian/English name PERFECTLY. You can listen to his pronunciation HERE. Even Samoans have trouble pronouncing my name.
  • Life has been a roller coaster. Since I graduated from BYU, I was recruited by the Office of Island Affairs out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (again, that was the Lord). The borders were closed to American Samoa to prevent COVID-19 from entering the island. I had no idea how I was getting home. I was recruited to become the first field staff for CDC's Office of Island Affairs in American Samoa. Because the position was the first of its kind, there was a lot of trial and error. I was able to make it home on a military aircraft, and I am thankful to say that I didn't introduce COVID-19 to my community.

    I've been working in my position as a Public Health Advisor for a little over 3 years now. I was involved in many team projects including preventing and responding to COVID-19. I was also involved in program planning. We were fortunate to have time to vaccinate 80% of the population before it hit our shores. One of my favorite stories of the work that we have done can be found HERE and HERE.

    I was also trained to be a Project Officer. Project Officers are first points of contact for grant recipients in managing federal funding. I was a Project Officer for a short time.

    About a year later, I was recruited by ASCC to become an Adjunct Professor specifically for classes focused on Public Health.
  • Truthfully, again, the Lord gave me the job, a huge tender mercy. I've always wanted to serve the community that raised me. This position allows me to do just that.

    Many times, the needs of island jurisdictions are understandably drowned out by larger agencies like State Health Departments. As a result, federal agencies don't realize that smaller health departments aren't as advanced as State Health Departments are. The Office of Island Affairs (OIA) within CDC OIA works closely with the five territories (American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands) and three freely associated states (Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands), connecting them to CDC programs, funding, and resources to strengthen their public health systems and improve community health.
  • My position is really unique in the sense that it was designed for American Samoa. Working in the Department of Health prior to earning my MPH helped me to prepare for this. I entered the MPH program having an understanding of what some of the problems, gaps, and resources were in the public health field for small health departments. That helped a LOT before furthering my education. Then literally, ALL the skills that are included in the BYU MPH curriculum, most especially the Spiritual experiences. The MPH program really prepared me well for this position.
  • I don't know where to start. The BYU MPH program has greatly blessed my life. I am so grateful for my cohort and for the faculty and staff. They inspire me to work harder and to step outside of my comfort zone. The MPH program was soooo not easy, but the classes and programs have helped me be better at program planning, understanding health theories, and working with people. In the MPH program, we worked on many projects as a team, and that is really practical.