Yuuko Mabrey Johnson is a Class of 2015 alumna of the master’s-degree leadership program.
Yuuko Mabrey Johnson is a Class of 2015 alumna of the master’s-degree leadership program.

Alumni leverage classroom connections to lead in community organizations

African American babies die at twice the rate of those of other races in the United States. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy- related causes as their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The New York Times reports, “For black women in America, … inescapable … racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress … that lead[s] directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.”

But an alumna from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis works to change this reality. During the first quarter of her master’s-degree leadership program, Yuuko Mabrey Johnson learned of a Sacramento community organization that provides education, resources and support to African American women to ensure safe and healthy pregnancies that benefit both mother and baby.

“During Community Connections, I was assigned to work with the Center for Community Health and Well-Being on their Black Mothers United program,” recalls Johnson, a Class of 2015 alumna. “After graduation, I stayed connected to the program, now called Her Health First. It epitomizes that aspect of health that’s happening every day around us.”

The year-long Community Connections course partners students with a community mentor in regional organizations to research and implement a system-wide solution to an issue the organization currently faces.

“Students are embedded within an agency and they get their hands messy — so to speak — to create a pathway to change,” explains Debbie Ward, the retired clinical professor and former interim dean who co-created the course as the first faculty member in 2009. “For some students, the topic is not within their expertise, and that’s OK. We want them to forge partnerships with those who are the experts and learn how to facilitate change.”

Her Health First offers support programs for African American women during adolescence, pregnancy and motherhood in Sacramento County. Johnson serves as a board member and contributes to the group’s mission by leveraging her School of Nursing knowledge. Together, they share a vision in which all women have full and equal access to opportunities leading to the highest level of heal possible.

Johnson is among more than half of School of Nursing master’s- degree leadership and doctoral alumni who leverage their graduate- education experience to benefit community boards and organizations. A 2018 alumni survey concluded that 46% of doctoral alumni and 58% of master’s-degree leadership alumni report serving in leadership roles.