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Alumni Spotlight:

Alison Grady

Alison Grady is a UNC Class of 2012 Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) minor who double majored in Peace, War, and Defense (PWAD) and Women’s and Gender Studies. After graduating from UNC Alison was granted an AmeriCorps fellowship in Fresno, California, working with a youth-serving nonprofit focused on racial and social justice. This experience led Alison to pursue a career in public health as a means of addressing the root causes of health disparities. She moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she received her Master’s in Public Health with a focus on Behavioral Sciences and Health Education as well as a concentration in Socio-Contextual Determinants of Health.

For several years Alison served as a Health Communication Specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, a team that works to prevent infectious diseases from crossing country borders. During her time at the CDC, she worked on both the Zika virus and COVID-19 responses, primarily completing evaluations and conducting behavioral science research to inform communications efforts.

Alison is currently a strategist at Banyan Communications, a public health communications consulting firm. She works with clients to develop a strategic planner for their projects, conducts communications research, and translates research for Banyan’s content development teams.

A Conversation with Alison

(1) What led you to minor in PPE at UNC? 

I was really excited by the interdisciplinary nature of the minor. It was a way to understand the world and why it functions the way it does by looking at issues from all sides. I also liked the idea of studying philosophy by applying its theories to the real world and not simply thinking in the abstract – grounding it in the realities of political structures and economic theories.
(2) How has what you learned from the PPE Program helped you in your career?
The PPE Program made me a much more critical thinker. I don’t take anything at face value but instead am able to critically question and analyze problems that come my way. In my current job as a Health Communications Strategist, I excel at working with stakeholders and subject matter experts to ensure that we collectively have a clear vision for the products we are developing. Basically, there are lots of unsaid assumptions that I am very good at bringing into the light that allow our clients to make much more intentional decisions.


(3) What is your greatest professional accomplishment so far?

At the beginning of the COVID-19 response at the CDC, my team struggled to identify the data we needed to inform our communications efforts. The CDC’s processes move intentionally slow, so I strategized and figured out ways to gather the relevant information with extremely fast turnarounds. We partnered with a firm that conducts rapid behavioral science, and I worked with them to gather weekly data about the ways in which different populations were engaging in COVID protective behaviors. This data informed how we should target our communication efforts to the correct demographics.


(4) What professor or course influenced you the most during your time in the PPE Program?

I believe I took three courses with Dr. Jonathan Anomaly, so I think I’ve got to say him.


(5) What was your favorite PPE extracurricular programming  (e.g., reading groups, weekend seminars, speaker series, etc.)?

I don’t think I have a specific speaker at this point (it’s been 10 years, yikes!), but hearing from brilliant thinkers as part of the speaker series was probably my favorite extracurricular programming.


(6) What advice do you have for prospective PPE students?

I strongly believe that a liberal arts education is one of the best ways to prepare for our modern job market, especially if you’re not sure of a specific career that you want to pursue. The PPE Program really did help me become a critical thinker, meaning that I have noticeably added value for the companies where I’ve worked. Oh, and do the reading!


(7) What advice do you have for recent PPE graduates?

Find interesting and fulfilling things to do outside of work! Your first job likely won’t give you the opportunities to do the kind of intellectualizing that you are likely used to, so make sure you continue to flex those muscles! Some of the most exciting and meaningful “work” that I’ve done over the last few years has been unpaid: I ran a partisan political club where I got to frame political education for hundreds of people, ran the communications campaigns for two City Council races, and am helping to lead up a volunteer housing advocacy group today. So even when work isn’t as thrilling as you might like, you are still doing something that you find exciting, fulfilling, and impactful.


(8) Where do you see yourself in five years?

Mom, Dad, is that you? I would love to work more directly in my Atlanta community helping to plan and advocate for better urbanist policies through the lens of improving Atlantans’ health.

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