Impact Stories:Joan VanWassenhove

Dear Friedman School Donors,

JoanVW1Before entering the Tufts community, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa. After an amazing experience working on community health issues, I knew that I wanted to continue to fight poverty and social inequality. I completed a Masters in Public Health and a Masters in International Affairs, both at Columbia University, so that I could have a broader set of skills with which to engage this work.
Luckily, during my time at Columbia, I had the opportunity to intern for Partners In Health (PIH), a non-profit health organization based in Boston that is dedicated to improving the health of the poor and most vulnerable.  Upon completion of my studies, I joined the team to work on policy and advocacy efforts around nutrition and food security.  I moved to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, to coordinate PIH’s nutrition program while it grew to meet increased needs. It was a life changing experience, and it not only called upon all of my skills and learning, but it also made me aware of how much more needs to be done to combat malnutrition and food insecurity.

I have known for years the Friedman School was the place for me. It is unparalleled in terms of academic rigor, depth of instructor experience, and involvement in the most current and exciting research in international food security.  It has been incredible to have such access to faculty here- everyone is very excited about working with students, talking to students, and making sure that you are succeeding on both academic and professional levels. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in any program of graduate study, but I have not felt lost here, in large part thanks to a having a wonderful advisor and knowing that professors are always generous with their time and are incredibly responsive to students’ questions and concerns.

Though I’ve just begun my life at Friedman, I am incredibly excited to be part of this community of kind and accomplished practitioners.   

The years of watching malnourished children die from treatable diarrheal diseases in Mali, seeing entire towns- already barely scraping out a living on the edge of the Sahara desert- decimated by locust invasions, watching Haitian farmers eke out survival on miniscule plots of land have all made me committed to fighting food insecurity and malnutrition.  I know that the best help I can give is to gain the skills to be able to demonstrate what effective interventions are, and connect those to policies and aid practices.

I would like to once again express my gratitude to the Freidman School donors who have made this opportunity possible for me. Returning for a terminal degree after two previous graduate degrees would not have been possible without the support of the Friedman community.  Your generosity will enable me, and many others, to become a greater force for positive change in the world of nutrition and health.  


Joan VanWassenhove, MIA/MPH
Doctoral Student, Food Policy and Applied Nutrition
Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy