Alumni Profile: Kate Levinson '07
Park Scholar Maura Gladys (a class of 2011 journalism major from Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania) checks in with Park Scholar alumna Kate Levinson ’07, a health communications specialist and Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When Kate Levinson entered Ithaca College in the fall of 2003, she had a goal, a plan, and a straight path to a career as the next Katie Couric. But through her experience at Ithaca and in the Park Scholar Program, she learned that sometimes a more winding, unexpected path can lead to even better, more fulfilling things.
“I learned in college – and it’s definitely been echoed since college – that a kind of windy path isn’t just more fun, it’s made me a better thinker, communicator, student, professional and person.”
Levinson, who is currently a health communications specialist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spent much of her freshman year involved with the school’s various media outlets, including ICTV, The Ithacan and WICB, but soon realized that the traditional journalism path was not for her.
Levinson’s major revelation came during her sophomore year after studying abroad in Uganda. “I knew I didn’t want to do the standard London or Spain thing. So I picked the most exciting sounding place I could: Uganda.”
Levinson spent the first half of her semester studying development and Luganda language in the capital, Kampala, then moved to a refugee camp for the second half of the semester where she did research on refugee youth and volunteered with the Red Cross, public schools and Right To Play.
“It was such a huge and powerful experience for me, especially at age 19,” Levinson said. “It totally set me on a different path.”
Upon returning to Ithaca, Levinson dedicated herself to the two main topics that she had been exposed to in Uganda, refugees and health. She did an independent study about refuges and resources in Tompkins County and taught English to refugees and immigrants.
The spring of her junior year, Levinson spent the semester in Ithaca’s Washington D.C. program where she interned in government relations for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
Levinson graduated in 2007 with a degree in journalism and a culture and communications minor and soon began working with the AmeriCorps VISTA program in Minneapolis.
“I worked as the one and only communications person at a nonprofit organization that does community health work with refugees and immigrants in Minnesota, as well as with communities in East Africa” Levinson said. “I did all of their communications planning and implementation and learned a ton about the nonprofit sector, community health and what it really looks like where the rubber meets the road.”
Levinson then enrolled in the University of Minnesota to complete a masters of public health, where she was then recruited for a simultaneous master of arts program in health journalism and communication.
“I didn’t sleep much in my two years of grad school, but I had amazing academic experiences and also worked as a research assistant for a project that reviews the quality of health reporting in major media, a project manager for online education, a health reporter at the Star Tribune and in communications for the state Department of Human Services,” Levinson said.
Levinson’s M.A. capstone project on out-of-hospital births was published in Minnesota Parent magazine and her M.P.H. thesis on pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum family planning in Somali refugee women is currently being turned into a health education movie.
After graduating in June, Levinson moved to Atlanta where she took a job as a health communications specialist in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, where she is also a Presidential Management Fellow.
“I’m so thankful and amazed to have a job that perfectly combines my communication and health backgrounds,” Levinson said.
Although her path has been anything but straight, Levinson sees that as a positive, and credits Ithaca and the Park Scholar Program with giving her the confidence and focus to follow that path.
“During college, the program was my identity. It kept me focused on academics, leadership and service but allowed me to define those for myself and supported me endlessly as I tried things and explored my interests…even if they happened to be in Brazil, Thailand, or Ethiopia,” Levinson said. “The ‘Park Scholar’ line on my resume has continued to motivate me to evaluate my career and life based on the ways and degree to which I’m learning, leading and serving.”