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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wilma Tilson Robinson 96C fights for healthy living; urges setting early career goals

As a high school grad from Queens, New York, Wilma (Tilson) Robinson 96C wanted to become a doctor and run a community wellness center. But life has a way of changing childhood goals. Today she is a senior health policy analyst in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. “I did not become a pediatrician and develop the wellness center, but I did receive my doctorate in organizational leadership several years ago, and I have been instrumental in developing national programs and policies around health promotion and wellness over the last 11 years,” she says. Day to day, Robinson conducts policy research, evaluates national programs and initiatives, and assists in program planning and development around women’s health, health disparities, health promotion, and disease prevention.

So how did her career evolve? It all started with a trip to Emory’s campus. “Coming from inner city New York, it was a refreshing change,” she admits, adding that she was impressed by the University’s academics, the push for civic duty and volunteerism, and athletics. In hindsight, she reflects on her college experience, “I really value the education I received at Emory. The curriculum challenged me to become a better student and helped me to gain a breadth of knowledge across a myriad of topics.”

But Robinson sidelined her goal to become a doctor after an earned visit to view a cadaver in her junior year at Emory made her realize “I really did not like blood. I wanted to help people but without the graphic visual often displayed on the television shows like ER,” she recalls. A career fair visit introduced her to the School of Public Health and her professional future crystallized.

Three major moments stand out as she looks back on her career path. She cites these as developing the Physical Activity is Fundamental to Disease report for the Secretary and attending the 2002 White House launch of the President’s Healthier US initiative, traveling the country in 2004 with the HHS Secretary to develop the National Diabetes Action Plan, and most recently “joining Secretary Sebelius in her keynote address at the annual meeting for the Society for Public Health Educators in October to present the Healthy Living Innovations Awards.”

Since leaving Emory in 1996, Robinson has accepted many personal challenges as well. Athletic since childhood, Robinson was honored to carry the Olympic torch for the 2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay. Four years ago, she founded a community-based physical activity program through non-profit The Garment’s Hem in honor of her dear friend and Emory graduate Karen Tanner who died at age 35 of a massive heart attack.

Robinson’s commitment to good health and public education is clear. She was awarded the HHS Office of the Secretary Employee of the Quarter in 2003 and has been selected as the HHS Challenge Ambassador “for my work on the Healthy Living Innovation Awards earlier this year,” she says.

Though Robinson wishes she has done a semester abroad while at Emory, she urges students to proactively plan. “If you have not already begun, start career planning now! Many students wait until their junior or senior year to start career planning, but this process should begin in high school, continue through college and throughout life,” she suggests.

She recommends taking on focused work study jobs that support career goals, structured internships, and experience abroad. “Enjoy your time at Emory. It will be one of the most memorable times of your life.”

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