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Alumna works to improve community health

10/09/2013

As we celebrate the opening of the new Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation, it was only fitting that the convocation speaker this fall be one of our successful science graduates.

An expert on childhood obesity and the factors that influence obesity-related health behaviors, Dr. Stephanie Frost '00 - who majored in biology at MCLA - works for ICF International, a contractor for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of the Community Transformation Grant Program, she's leading an evaluation of the health of various communities to discover how they've changed over the past 50 years with regard to access to healthy food and environments that promote a healthy weight.

Part of the Affordable Care Act, the program is known as the Prevention Fund. 

"Obesity is really high in some inner-city populations and among minorities, but at the same time it's also in some rural areas," Frost explained. "What are some contexts in those settings that are the major drivers to obesity on a community level? Obesity isn't just an individual-level problem. There are so many levels acting on an individual and their health behavior all at one time."

Frost did not begin her college career at MCLA; she transferred to the College from a private institution after a family situation required her to return to the Berkshires.

"I found MCLA was a place where I was thriving - getting a lot more mentorship and attention than I was paying $35,000 a year," she said.

At MCLA, Frost followed in her parents' footsteps - Richard and Susan Frost both graduated from the College in 1968.

"The engineering school my father went to wasn't a great fit, so he transferred to the College. My mother had been told as a high school student that she wasn't 'college material,' and she really wanted to be a teacher. My parents - both educators - got a wonderful start at the College, and touched many lives."

Susan Frost went on to become an elementary school teacher, and also taught Title I. Richard Frost became a professor of mathematics and education. Throughout the course of his career, he taught at colleges and universities in Vermont and New York.

After she graduated from MCLA with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, Frost went on to earn her master's degree in acupuncture and Asian medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture. She then earned her Ph.D. in public health at West Virginia University. There, she worked directly with the community as she looked at major issues of health disparities and poverty.

Back at MCLA this fall to deliver the convocation address, Frost, who now lives in Atlanta, Ga., spoke on the theme of "community," telling students how, from her time at MCLA and throughout the course of her career, "community" has been a major component of her personal and professional growth.

"Community has been such an important driver all along for me. Being a member of a community is now the focus of the work I do - how the community, place, or the community of interest really shapes your health or health behaviors."

According to Frost, MCLA provided her with an important foundation.

"I came in wanting to do either pre-med, or at least have that background, as I was contemplating medical school, and I wanted to be able to get all the requirements I needed for biology. At the school I attended previously, everyone was kind of scoffing at me, but at MCLA, they figured out how to make it happen. Everyone was very supportive."