Graduate studies awaken passion for public policy in non-profit sector
by Mary Denny
Here's a question: How does scuba diving contribute to the success of the U.S. space program? At least one Trinity alumna can tell you.
That's because Susan Todd's first job out of college was at NASA's Neutral Buoyance Lab, the largest indoor pool in the world. Located at the Johnson Space Center, the pool is where astronauts conduct their spacewalk training and exercises in order to practice as close to zero gravity as possible. The job entailed scuba diving from two and half to five hours a day to provide support for the training runs that would occur later in space. "It was an incredible experience," recalls the Baton Rouge native, "and I am proud to have worked with such talented individuals."
When she was ready to dry off, the international studies major looked abroad. That led to a job teaching English in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the opportunity to indulge her love of "learning new things, and engaging with various cultures."
Upon returning to the U.S., Susan completed a Master in Public Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Focusing on program evaluation, she recognized the important role it plays in designing and developing successful public programs. "I realized I wanted to focus on health care while researching how mobile technologies impact the delivery of health care services in developing countries," she says. "Health care touches everyone, and I enjoy the various aspects from public policy to administration and scientific research."
No better place to engage in public policy than Washington, D.C., and Susan delved in, taking jobs in the Department of Transportation, the Office of Inspector General, and in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evolution. "I love working on advocacy and public policy issues," she says. Today, she is doing just that.
In 2013, Susan returned to her home state of Louisiana to be closer to family and became executive director of New Orleans-based 504HealthNet. Created in 2008, 504Healthnet is a small nonprofit agency that represents more than 20 primary care and behavioral health community clinics in the greater New Orleans area that serve patients regardless of patients' ability to pay. In addition to serving as a guide to health care options, the agency also works on issues related to advocacy, outreach, and leveraging resources. As head of that coalition, Susan says, "I enjoy bringing groups together around key issues critical to our community."
She is proud of the fact that in the past two years they have successfully advocated for $20 million annually in state and federal funding to continue a program that provides primary care and behavioral health care services for uninsured patients living at or below the poverty level. As a result, some 60,000 enrollees are now able to receive care in a neighborhood setting. Recognizing that accomplishment, Gambit, a New Orleans-based weekly newspaper, named Susan among its Top 40 under 40 in 2014.
Susan, who chose Trinity because of its "academic excellence and small classes not too far from home," remembers economics professor Richard Butler and the late political science professor Mary Ann Tétreault as her most inspiring professors. "They helped me with my choice of major, aided me in securing internships, and advised me regarding graduate schools. They have also been lifelong advisors and friends."
A woman on the move, it's no surprise that in addition to cooking and reading, Susan enjoys running, cycling, sprint triathlons, snow skiing, scuba diving, and traveling. "Each year I try to travel outside the U.S. and hopefully will make it to Machu Picchu this year." Past explorations have included Cambodia and Vietnam. As to her plans for the future, Susan says, "I would like to continue to meaningfully contribute to increasing access to health care and improving the health of my community so that everyone is empowered to live a healthy life."
Susan can be reached at STodd9 [at] gmail.com.