The Health Policy Fellows Program is a prestigious doctoral fellowship program for students with educational and research interests that include health and health policy analysis and research. The RWJF Health Policy Fellows Program seeks to increase the participation of underrepresented groups throughout the nation in the development, implementation, and analysis of health policy.

Through a partnership with Vanderbilt University's College of Arts and Science, health policy fellows are enrolled in one of their doctoral programs in economics, political science, or sociology. Health policy fellows are fully supported and earn a doctorate degree from Vanderbilt University while participating in additional coursework, seminars and research activities at Meharry Medical College leading to the completion of a Certificate in Health Policy.

Health policy fellows receive a generous five-year funding package which includes:

  • paid tuition
  • annual stipend of $32,000
  • health insurance

NOTE: The RWJF Center for Health Policy is no longer accepting applications for the Health Policy Fellows Program.

Please visit the Meharry home page and to learn more about these institutions.

meet the fellows


Mia KeeysMia R. Keeys


Mia Keeys is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Keeys graduated with honors from Cheyney University, where she studied English and psychology and studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa. Prior to pursuing graduate work, Keeys worked as a Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholar in the Office of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It was here that she became greatly influenced in studying health policy. Afterward, Keeys served in the Deputy Mayor's Office for Health and Opportunity in her hometown of Philadelphia before relocating to South Africa to work with loveLife, the nation's premier HIV/AIDS youth prevention campaign. At loveLife, Keeys conducted multi-provincial research on communicative barriers between youth and caregivers concerning sexual health. Her time in South Africa encouraged her to explore areas where health policies are burgeoning, thus, she was awarded a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship in West Timor, Indonesia. Keeys spent three years in Indonesia, achieving fluidity of the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, and observing how Indonesian youth are motivated toward positive health behavior change. Since entering the Fellows program, Keeys has published an article on the RWJF Human Capital Blog and has attended various conferences. Keeys aims to extend these interests to the study of racial health disparities, health messaging, health policy, and the health of Global Southern youth.



Salama Freed is a doctoral student in the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University. Her primary research interest is in the management of the health care sector. She focuses on the relationship between health care costs, patients’ health outcomes, and the development and implementation of new medical technology, such as new pharmaceuticals or medical procedures. Prior to her matriculation at Vanderbilt, Salama earned master's degrees from North Carolina State University and Duke University as well as an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University.

GABRIELA LEONGabriela León-Perez

Gabriela León-Perez is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. A native of Mexico, León graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in international studies from the Universidad de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. During her undergraduate coursework, she studied a semester abroad in Austria where she attended IMC Fachhoschule Krems. She later obtained a master's degree in sociology from Texas A&M International University. Her research interests include Hispanic health, health disparities, immigration, and immigrant identity.


taylor_hargroveTaylor Hargrove

Taylor Hargrove is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2011, and a master’s degree in sociology from Vanderbilt University in December 2013. Her research interests include race and racism, social stratification, health and health disparities, and stress. She has co-authored an article with her advisor, Dr. Tyson Brown, entitled Multidimensional Approaches to Examining Gender and Racial/Ethnic Stratification in Health.  In this piece, the authors examine the differential ways in which race/ethnicity and gender combine to shape health.  Additionally, Taylor has presented her work at the American Sociology Association and published articles related to health disparities on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. She continues to work independently and collaboratively with her advisors and other scholars on projects regarding racial/ethnic, gender, and age disparities in health and health trajectories.

erica_leslieErika Leslie

Erika Leslie was born in Jamaica, and migrated to the United States to attend Fisk University. At Fisk, she earned a Bachelor of Science in biology. She then matriculated to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she received a master of science in public health in reproductive and cancer biology with a certification in health disparities. She is a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University and resides in Nashville with her husband and dog. In July 2012, Leslie was featured on the RWJF Human Capital Blog, in which she shared her experience attending the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora (ICHAD)August 2013, she presented her scholarly work titled, "Discrimination, Racial Group Identity, and Depressive Symptoms: Consequences of Within Group Variation among Black Americans" at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. Her research interests include access to care, social determinants of health, Afro-Caribbean immigrants, and health policy.

whitney_lopezWhitney López-Hardin

Whitney Lopez-Hardin is a Ph.D. student in political science at Vanderbilt University. Her primary field of study is comparative politics with a secondary focus in American politics. Her research interests include migration, race and identity politics, and gender with regard to health care access. She obtained a B.A. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in international studies and Spanish in 2008. She earned an M.A. from the University of Florida in Latin American studies in 2011. 

daniel_telloDaniel Sebastian Tello

D. Sebastian Tello is a Ph.D. student in economics at Vanderbilt University. Tello was born and raised in Lima, Peru. After coming to the U.S., he received a B.S. degree in pure mathematics and economics from Florida State University where he wrote an honors thesis on parents’ decisions in signing up their children for SCHIP. He is currently working on non linear effects of obesity on wages and labor force participation, an impact evaluation of returns to quality of health center with NICUs in Peru and studying how loss in health insurance affects health behaviors. Prior to his studies at Vanderbilt he was a project associate for Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) based in New Haven, Connecticut.  Before joining IPA he worked as research assistant for a development economist at the Catholic University of Lima (PUCP).  His research interest are focused on health behaviors, and relationship between price and health quality, as well as measurement of quality in health economics. 

kanetha_wilsonKanetha Wilson

Kanetha Wilson is a doctoral student in the sociology department at Vanderbilt University. Prior to Vanderbilt, Kanetha worked primarily in managerial and teaching positions within the education sector. In 2014, she was one of three student researchers awarded a Pilot Project Mini-Grant, in which she collaborated with senior faculty at Vanderbilt to research survivorship in women of color. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tennessee, where she was nominated and inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Society. Her research interests include health disparities, physical and mental health of minority children, and the impact of health interventions on the labor market. 


helena_dagaduHelena Dagadu, MA, MPH

Helena Dagadu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University and a Fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College. Her research interests include health disparities and inequities, race and ethnicity, medical sociology, population health, and health policy. Her current research questions how social and demographic changes, particularly those due to immigration, challenge traditional understandings and conceptualizations of race and ethnicity, racial and ethnic identity, and health inequities in the United States. Her master’s thesis examined heterogeneity in the U.S. black population and its impact on racial group identity and risk for heart disease. She is currently working on her dissertation research, which compares the non-communicable disease experiences of native-born blacks with African (Ghanaian) immigrants. As a Health Policy Fellow, Dagadu has presented at several conferences, including the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America, and has served as an IMAGINE Tomorrow ambassador for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in which she promoted the need for diversity and inclusion in the health care workforce through a series of web videos.

Prior to Vanderbilt, Dagadu worked for the American Psychological Association’s Office on Socioeconomic Status as program manager of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded program addressing cancer health disparities in underserved populations. She graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University Maryland in psychology and classical civilization. She also holds an MPH in global health policy from the George Washington University.

courtney_thomasCourtney Thomas, MA

Courtney Thomas is in her final year of the sociology doctoral program at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include the Black Middle Class, racial & SES heath disparities, social psychology, and methods and statistics. She is currently working on her dissertation project titled, "More than Discrimination: The Significance of Race-Based Stress for the Mental Health and Well-Being of Black Americans." Her research examines the effects of more nuanced and ambiguous forms of discrimination on the health of black Americans. She also has ongoing projects that focus on the influence of early life trauma of adult health and social relationships, the effects of stress on pregnancy, and the significance of social support for women's exposure to chronic stress and its mental health consequences. During the 2014-2015 academic year, Thomas will be presenting her research at several conferences including the International Conference for Social Stress Research, the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, the Society for the Study of Social Problems Annual Meeting, and the Association of Black Sociologists Annual Meeting.