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May 11, 2017

PHII welcomes new CHAMPS Data Manager

CHAMPS, the Gates Foundation-funded project with a core mission of reducing childhood mortality globally, welcomes Data Manager Joanna Boyles, MPH, to the PHII/CHAMPS office on the Emory University campus. Joanna will be responsible for analyzing and coding data sent from CHAMPS sites.

Driven, bold and raised in a family of engineers, Joanna likes a good challenge. She began college at Emory University with a strong background in biomedical engineering and intentions to pursue medical school. Instead, she decided to major in sociology and global health—right after she failed her first ever sociology exam.

This setback motivated Joanna to dive into the sociology program. As she took more classes, Joanna realized she loved studying people, societies and cultures with a scientific lens. The courses challenged her to explore new ways of thinking and problem-solving. It was a new world for her, a world she had not encountered in the engineering, technology and math courses at her high school. 

Sociology showed her troubling realities, too. Joanna encountered the sobering fact that children in many parts of the world do not live to see their fifth birthdays because of preventable illnesses like malaria and dehydration. Joanna contracted malaria herself as a nurse-midwife intern in Nigeria. Her undergraduate travel experiences solidified her interest in sociology and helped her realize that a career path in public health would best equip her to make a difference. “I started out pre-med, but med school was about treating the individual patient’s disease after they were sick. I wanted to help prevent people’s illnesses and promote systemic change to make the world better,” she says.

“I wanted to help prevent people’s illnesses and promote systemic change to make the world better.”

- Joanna Boyles

Joanna completed college a semester early and worked with autistic children as a Floortime therapist while she applied to graduate public health programs. She ended up at Boston University for a master’s in public health with focus areas in biostatistics and maternal and child health. The double concentration allowed her to explore her first love for the hard sciences and her new love for public health simultaneously, all while helping mothers and young children access basic necessities.

After graduate school, Joanna accepted a research analyst position in population health with Evolent Health. Then she heard about a new opportunity from Piper Hale, her former roommate and classmate at Emory, and Dave Ross, ScD, who was then the director of PHII. Dave gave Joanna an overview of the then-nascent CHAMPS project. The objective of understanding causes of child mortality to save lives deeply appealed to Joanna, and she kept the CHAMPS initiative in the back of her mind as a good fit for her. In the meantime, she took a biostatistics consulting position at PATH working on malarial projects in Mozambique and nutrition work in India and Ghana.

Joanna is excited to be working with PHII on a project that perfectly aligns with her interests. “Since college I have been fascinated with all the ‘not sexy’ parts of public health, if you will—foodborne illnesses, waterborne illnesses, diarrhea. Everybody needs to eat and drink and get proper nutrition and access to clean water.” Joanna was looking for a team of creative thinkers implementing systems change, and she has found that team with PHII and CHAMPS. She is happy her work can help families live and live well.

“Everybody needs to eat and drink and get proper nutrition and access to clean water.”

- Joanna Boyles

Outside of work, Joanna’s next adventure will be buying a house in Decatur and settling in with her two pitbulls, Mocha and Moxie. Mocha became part of her family over three years ago after Joanna and her husband Tony had spent a long day together at the DMV. “My husband and I both looked at each other and said, ‘We need a dog,’” laughs Joanna. Moxie joined the family later as a friend for Mocha. The two dogs love to romp around and play together while Joanna and Tony are at work.

Joanna is thrilled to be back in Decatur. “Atlanta and Emory are my roots, and it feels like I’ve come back to my roots.”


Ginia Taylor, MA

Former Communications Coordinator