Anna Jo Bodurtha Smith enjoys running, country music, sorority life, and dreaming up ways to improve national pediatric health through social policy. She is anything but your average sociology major.
Teachers learned early on that Smith was a gifted child. By high school, the math department was devoting special resources to privately tutor Smith in courses far beyond the standard curriculum. Though she was extremely appreciative of these efforts, she was troubled by the fact that her classmates were not given the same opportunities. True to her proactive nature, Smith spent her senior year brainstorming and implementing a policy intervention that would improve math education for the entire school. This was her first venture into the field of sociology. Smith recalls, “I found that I liked social problem solving more than the pure math.” This turn from an interest in math to a passion for educational reform is reflected in Smith’s studies at Yale. Deviating from a conventional path of math and science, Smith decided to major in sociology with a focus in children’s health.
Taking advantage of the sociology major’s flexibility, Smith has interpreted her study of children’s health to be “absolutely anything that could affect a child.” This perception has allowed her to take a range of courses, from geology to public health classes, all under the banner of her sociology major. Though a “non-science” major, Smith was able to save her “fun electives” for the biology classes that piqued her interests, as well as for other pre-medical requirements.
Although Smith has never done traditional bench work, her research experience spans the spectrum between working with geometric principles and Igon values to contributing to think tanks on child development policy for a program called School of the 21st Century. During her career at Yale, Smith has worked on three nationally distributed papers in the social health department. She has covered topics such as dental health, connecting schools and family childcare, and unifying head start programs.
Her senior project aims to take advantage of many of these experiences as she tackles the issue of public preschool. Smith describes, “I’m writing my paper based on core social theory and core social problem solving.” Smith adds that the surplus of statistical analysis involved is “getting me back to the math I used to love!” Smith is at an analytical stage, reviewing nationwide data from over forty years. The preliminary results hold promising potential. Smith believes that although many believe that “the rise in public preschool is because of more mothers in the workforce, I’ve found in my research is that there is a huge divergence.” Smith believes that the real explanation for the growth of these programs lies with a concept known as “Mother Blaming”, where the state intervenes to compensate for suspected bad parenting.
Smith was recently recognized for her hard work as one of only two Yale seniors awarded the Marshall Scholarship for 2010. This fall she will be pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Smith is most excited about studying under Dr. Ricardo Uuay and Dr. Isolde Birdthistle, both of whom conduct research related to the sociology of children’s health.
As for her long-term aspirations, Smith plans on eventually attending medical school. “I love school!” she exclaims with a laugh. “What I eventually want to do is social behavioral pediatrics, which is sort of what everything is leading me to.” Social behavioral pediatrics is a field that allows someone with a medical background to work both with individual children and social policy to improve institutions involving minors. When asked, Smith said that her ultimate goal is “to use schools as sites to change people’s lives for the better.” She appears to be well on her way towards accomplishing this goal.