Jada Sherrod on Health Equity and Building Community with Students of Color

Jada Sherrod is a student at the Mailman School of Public Health and a Graduate Assistant at University Life. She will soon graduate with a Master of Health Administration in Health Policy and Management. At Columbia, she has served in various student leadership roles, including with the Black and Latinx Student Caucus at Mailman.

May 14, 2024

"Being in graduate school, networking is just as important – if not more important – than your grades and your classwork. Make sure you're reaching out to people and making connections." 

Jada Sherrod, MSPH'24

This interview was edited for length, clarity, and style.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your background, and what made you want to come to Columbia? 

I'm from Chicago, originally. Born and raised. Then, I went to Vanderbilt University, which is in Nashville, Tennessee. I majored in chemistry and French – a weird combo, I know.

After I graduated, I took a gap year to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn't want to be a chemist, so I was trying to figure out my career. Being from Chicago, I know there's a pretty big life expectancy gap between predominantly Black communities and predominately white ones.

In Chicago, if you live downtown, the life expectancy is 85. But if you're on the West Side, it's 69. We call that a death gap. There's a 16-year death gap in Chicago, one of the biggest in the country. My passion is reducing those health disparities, especially where I grew up.

There's also an unequal burden of disease. Black people get cancer at twice the rate of every other racial/ethnic group, and Black women will die at 3 to 4 times the rate as white women during childbirth. These disparities are pretty bad across all fronts. 

I went back to get my Masters in Health Administration to have a career addressing those disparities in the larger system. If you're a provider, you can help one patient at a time. From the administrative level, you can help hundreds or thousands of people and make systemic change. 

That's why I decided to come to Columbia to pursue this degree. Columbia has one of the first and one of the best public health schools in the country.

Jada lifts her grad cap in celebration

What have been some of your favorite classes?

I love Healthcare Finance. I love, love that class. 

You don't hear that a lot. 

I know. It's weird. I'm a Healthcare Finance T.A. right now, and I love it. This is my third time going through the class. My professor, Dr. Julius Chen, he's so kind. I love working with him, and I also really enjoy my office hours. It's rewarding when someone's confused, and it finally clicks for them. 

Healthcare Finance is by far my favorite course. I'm in a business healthcare class, which is fun. It’s almost like a summary of my degree. Last week, we had to do a mock CBS interview, where we were acting like healthcare executives and companies and being interviewed and asked tough questions. That was a lot of fun. 

What have you been involved in outside the classroom?

I was on the executive board of the Black and Latinx Student Caucus at Mailman. We would arrange a lot of different events – social, academic, and professional. 

One event I was the lead organizer for was about Black maternal health. I organized a panel discussion between some Social Justice Mini-Grant recipients. I also helped organize everything from booking the room and ordering food to prepping questions for the panel. 

I also was a part of organizing the Multicultural Graduation at Mailman last year. We planned the food and decorations, found the speakers, and organized student performances. We planned the whole run of the show and designed the stoles too. Being able to do that for students of color and to have a space where they felt particularly celebrated was really nice. 

I also connected with the Mailman Career Center to organize a talk on networking and resumé building. We got a student photographer to do headshots for everyone who came to the event. 

What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a student here at Columbia? 

Those events I mentioned and one I planned for Women's History Month and Black History Month.

We got 50 tulips and wrote notes of affirmation to go with them. I went around campus with the rest of the Black and Latinx Student Caucus board finding people who identified as either women or people of color and just handed them flowers and the affirmation notes.

It was just the best way to brighten peoples’ day. They weren't expecting it. We’d just walk up when someone was studying and hand them the flower and note. I’ve also really enjoyed meeting the people in my program and getting to experience New York with them and trying different restaurants.

What are your favorite restaurants?

I really like this place called Persepolis. It’s on the Upper East Side. It's Persian food – so good. I always get the lemon chicken. Also, El Coco. It's a Mexican restaurant. They have the best tacos I have ever had.


What are you looking forward to about graduating?

I am looking forward to never having homework again! I don't think I can write one more discussion post. If I write another, I'm going to lose it. 

I'm also excited that my family is coming for graduation. My dad has never seen New York City. My mom, sister, dad, and a friend are all flying in. Having family and friends here, I'm really excited about that and taking them around the city.

I'm excited for the multicultural graduation. Last year I planned it, and now I get to be a part of the ceremony itself. I'm really excited to get a stole from that event. We didn’t have that at Vanderbilt.

Next year, I am doing an Administrative Fellowship at Rush University Medical Center in Downtown Chicago. I have the opportunity to rotate through different departments throughout the hospital, and I'm working really closely with the C-suite. It’s a great opportunity. Most people my age don't get to work with the CEO and CFO of a major medical center. I'm really excited about that and having the rotation to understand what I'm interested in.

Rush is really heavy on health equity and is one of the first hospital systems in the country to make health equity a part of its central strategy. Dr. David A. Ansell, MD, MPH works there and is a leader in the health equity field. He wrote a book about the death gap. I'm so excited to work with him. He's the person to work with, if you're interested in health equity, especially in Chicago.

I'm really looking forward to the opportunity because I'm interested in community health initiatives. A lot of the time there's a disconnect between administrators and the people who are being served. Giving back to Chicago is what I wanted to do in the first place.

I can’t wait to be near my family again because they're all in Chicago and to explore the city because I've never lived there as an adult. 

I’m also looking forward to being able to put M.H.A. after my name. 

That's the immediate future. I don't have much beyond that. I think my ideas will change after the fellowship, but I could see myself in a career in healthcare finance or in directing community health initiatives.

"When you look back on it, you see the path. But when you're on it, you don’t."

Jada Sherrod, MSPH'24

It sounds like you came to Columbia with a goal and you didn't waver. You’re doing what you set out to do. 

It seems like a direct path, but it doesn’t feel like that. In undergrad, I started off majoring in French and chemistry, which is nothing related to this. I've always been changing my life.

I wasn't even sure I was going to go to Chicago after graduation. I had a similar job opportunity in Houston. 

When you look back on it, you see the path. But when you're on it, you don’t.


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