Gina Green-Harris, Director, Center for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships

Gina Green-Harris, MPH, is the Director of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Center for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships (CCEAHP) in Milwaukee.

Interview condensed and edited by Laurie Silverberg, PhD

Tell me about your current position.

As Director of CCEAHP in Milwaukee, I have a great opportunity to bring SMPH investigators and research programs from campus into the community. CCHEAP connects underrepresented communities and investigators with an interest in working with underserved populations together in innovative ways. I help investigators build reciprocal relationships with the community that lead to culturally appropriate research and community engagement projects. I also serve as a convener and connector of community stakeholders to help build the capacity of community-based agencies and organizations committed to improving health outcomes in our disadvantaged communities so they can be sustained and have longevity.

How long have you been doing this work?

My career has been dedicated to working with underrepresented communities. I was personally touched by the premature death of my grandmother when I was sixteen. I have been working in the area of health equity and diversity and inclusion since graduating from college. I started my career in health disparities in the area of HIV/AIDS. As I continued to expand my knowledge through ongoing education and my professional pathway, I became more immersed in the work. I eventually became a trainer in cultural diversity and leadership development, training leaders to effectively lead diverse teams in diverse communities. When I joined the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute in 2008, I was able to use my work and educational experience to create an effective asset-based community engagement model to help African Americans start to acknowledge and recognize Alzheimer’s disease as a serious matter in our community and families in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin. That work led to families learning more about Alzheimer’s disease and more than doubling the enrollment of African Americans in the WRAP research study. In December 2016, I was also appointed Director for the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) Program Office, also in Milwaukee.

Can you describe your main duties?

As director, I set the vision for CCHEAP. I am a servant leader for the community, who bridges the gap between community and our institution. I am responsible for ensuring that CCHEAP has a clear mission and vision to improve the health of our most venerable communities. And to bring a prominent presence of SMPH into Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin that demonstrates that UW is committed reaching all of Wisconsin. I do this by developing and nurturing relationships with gatekeepers, stakeholders and community members who have an interest in health equity research and/or programming. On campus it is essential that I build strong relationships with faculty and staff across disciplines to help facilitate community connections and to collaborate on grants to bring sustainable research opportunities and community programs to the community.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is the people I work with and serve. I have great teams and wonderful colleagues.  I love serving my community, and I know that I am able to be the difference I want to see in others.  When I see a family that has been able to keep their loved one home longer because of our program, I am moved. When I see a mother talking about how breastfeeding helped her bond with her baby, and families sitting together learning, I am moved. When I see people feeling empowered to make better life choices and access resources, I become more excited to continue the work.  I come to work daily committed to building healthier communities through culturally appropriate outreach, education and research programs. I get the most joy by helping rebuild the confidence of communities of color in the UW, reinforcing our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea that is inclusive of all communities. Our scope of work reaches some of the most venerable communities in southeast Wisconsin, and we are a beacon of hope. We are essential to our UW staff because we provide guidance on how to connect with families from all walks of life, using important cultural competencies that help improve our relationships. This is awesome because it results in reciprocity: The community can demonstrate its strengths and become involved in the development and participate in important research studies, while researchers are afforded the opportunity to collect important data to answer questions relevant to their work, and which will inform how we can best develop models to improve health outcomes. This combination will lead to a longstanding, healthy relationship between the community and the entire UW.

I really love my job! I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to serve our community.

Can you give us an example of your typical workday?

Like most people today, my typical workday is filled with planned meetings, follow-up phone calls and impromptu meetings. I have several commitments on campus and at my home base in Milwaukee, which requires me to be in multiple places each day. I usually start my day very early, by reviewing my calendar and establishing my priorities for the day
(Which can often be changed). Before my meetings start for the day, I send out correspondence with colleagues via email or phone calls. Aside from meetings, a typical day may include facilitating a leadership workshop, leading a training at a conference, or giving a speech at a luncheon/conference. On any given day of the week, I am at a Board of Directors or committee meeting in either Madison or Milwaukee. When I am in my Milwaukee office, my priority is checking in with the teams to make sure they have the skills and resources to accomplish their work goals. I have weekly staff meetings, where I spend time getting updates on our program and helping troubleshoot any challenges. At any given point during the day, you can find me talking on the phone with colleagues across the state or country, providing support, advising how our program works, and discussing new innovative programs we might want to introduce to our community. I also spend a lot of time seeking opportunities to expand our work locally and nationally.

Where are you from?

I was born in Los Angeles. I was raised in Milwaukee.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?

In my free time, I enjoy relaxing at the lake (in the summer), spending time with my family and friends and learning new things. I am an amateur comedian and love making people laugh. My favorite hobbies are going to the theater, shopping for unusual things, cooking, reading, and watching National Geographic and whale watching.