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Public health alum uses UNF degree to better the world

barnes alumni

Amber Barnes was about as far away from the University of North Florida as she could be when she worked in South Africa last summer, but she kept the lessons she learned as an Osprey close to her heart.


Last summer, she was a polio eradication initiative consultant for the World Health Organization in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Besides serving as an in-country consultant for polio eradication, Barnes investigated a pertussis outbreak in a rural village that affected more than 100 people. She didn’t even have a map — she wrote down their locations on the back of an envelope. When she wrote back to the team at Brooks College of Health, she said, “Loving my public health adventure here in Sierra Leone!”


While there, she also assisted in the development of the country’s new multi-year policy for the Expanded Program on Immunization, the creation of a new national influenza sentinel surveillance initiative, a plan for the country to ensure the integrity of vaccine distribution and performance, and the revision of priority disease reporting and investigation. And she learned it all at UNF.


Barnes graduated from UNF in 2008 with a master’s degree in public health. She did her undergraduate work at Western Illinois University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a double minor in television broadcasting and law enforcement justice administration.


And while Barnes said she learned a great deal in the classroom and gained more practical knowledge than she thought possible, the one lesson she carried away from UNF was an intangible that remains immensely important in her day-to-day life.


“As public health professionals, we are important and earn the right to be proud of our work,” Barnes said. “The help we provide may not be easily measured, but we are creating a better, healthier world every day.”


She is currently pursuing a doctorate in public health with a concentration in environmental and global health from the University of Florida.


She said her professors at UNF heavily influenced both her studies and the professional she has become.


“Dr. Kerry Clark has been my biggest mentor and supporter,” Barnes said. “But I have also been so grateful to work with Drs. Elissa Barr, Michele Moore, Sharon Wilburn and Judy Perkin. They have all been extremely influential in my public health career and I am forever indebted to them for their guidance. I don't believe that I would be anywhere near where I am in my public health career had it not been for my professors at UNF. Each assisted me in every endeavor I have taken on since graduation and many times were the ones to introduce me to the new opportunity. The network of support the faculty and advisers have provided has been so important to me both as a student and an alumni.”


“Amber was such a dynamic student,” said Barr. “She is truly passionate about public health and really making a difference.  As an exceptional professional in the field, Amber continues to make us very proud.”  


Barnes said she remains in close contact with the faculty at UNF and comes back to campus as often as she can to work in the classroom with them and the current students.


“The knowledge and connections that I gained from UNF cannot be measured,” she said. “I am in regular contact with my professors and hope to work with them in the future as a colleague. They have been incredible resources and have never hesitated to show me new opportunities in the field. I think UNF’s college of public health is a great academic program to be a part of, and I cannot wait to see it grow.”


Barnes said she really hopes that current students take as much away from UNF as she did.


“The saying ‘you'll get as much out of it as you put in’ is absolutely true,” Barnes said. “Make an effort. Sign up for things. Go to events. You won’t regret it and the connections that you create will follow you throughout your career. UNF provides an excellent education while allowing you a close-knit community. Become a part of it!”