Kean MPA Alumna is First to Present Research at a National Conference

Lovely Randle ’16 reflects on her young 27 years of life with gratitude, humility and an unlimited sense of hope and enthusiasm. “Instead of thinking of it as an impediment, I saw it as a challenge and kept moving forward,” said Randle whose road to attaining her Master’s in Public Administration, Health Services Administration from Kean in May 2016 was marked with many twists and turns along the way.

While working toward her graduate degree, Randle focused her thesis on the correlations between childhood obesity prevalence, quantity and proximity of fast food establishments around the city’s schools, the median household income and the poverty rates in Elizabeth, NJ, a town with which Randle has been very familiar since moving there from Newark with her mother and older sister, Ketia, when she was 11 following the separation of her parents.

Her research clearly got the attention of faculty and other academic professionals who reviewed it—so much so that it landed her a spot at the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) 68th annual conference, Scaling to New Heights: Health for All, in Denver, CO, this past spring.

A feat in itself, but what makes this even more special is that Randle became the first MPA student at Kean to present a thesis at a national conference.
“It blows my mind that I am now not only the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, the first to earn a master's degree and now to learn that I am the first Kean MPA student to present a national thesis is crazy,” Randle said.

SOPHE is a professional association that represents a diverse membership of nearly 4,000 health education professionals and students in the United States and 25 other countries.

Leading up to her national presentation, Randle was one of three MPA students, and one of 17 oral presenters to present at Kean Research Day, an annual occasion that celebrates research and creative endeavors with a series of events.

Armine Lulejian, Ed.D., coordinator of Kean’s MPA Healthcare Administration program and co-author of the study, fondly remembered her student. “Lovely was an absolute pleasure to work with. She had that passion for research and the drive to carry it to completion.”

The research, Too Close? Are Childhood Obesity Rates in Elizabeth, NJ Correlated with the Close Proximity of Fast Food Retail Establishments to Schools in Areas of Low Socioeconomic Status, looked at the proximity and quantity of fast food retail establishments within a half-mile radius of every public middle school and high school in Elizabeth using GIS mapping.

To complete the analysis, Randle included retail food establishment data from 2013 through 2015. The implications of this study were important to the health and vitality of residents in Elizabeth. One of the reasons her findings are so significant is that they have the potential to influence local lawmakers about existing issues related to unhealthy food choices, fast food establishments and childhood obesity.

Randle’s study also reflects the strong connection that Kean faculty have with their students and their research.

Dr. Lulejian added that Randle has a great aptitude for scholarship. “I can’t wait to write a letter of recommendation for when she applies to doctoral programs in public health or public policy,” she said.

But rewind two decades, and Randle’s life was very different.

Randle and her family were granted asylum from Haiti in 1993, so at the age of three, she and her family made the arduous journey to the United States in search of a better life.

“We had nothing but the clothes on our backs,” Randle said as she recalled growing up very poor and living in shelters like the WCYA, a center for domestic violence victims for about six months with her mom and siblings. But along the way, Randle took advantage of any opportunity that came even close to her path.

During her sophomore year of high school, she joined a youth program at the Elizabeth Presbyterian Center where during one of their forums she met Neptune Ambrose who inspired her to strive for more as he recognized her talents.

“I saw this is one of the turning points of my life,” said Randle who said Ambrose encouraged her the following year to join the Building Future Leaders program, an effort led by the City of Elizabeth's Office of Youth Services. Randle remained in this program for the remainder of high school.

After connecting with people while mentoring for the Building Future Leaders program, like Stanley Neron who supervised the Office of Youth at the time and Patricia Perkins-Auguste, who is the councilwoman-at-large for the City of Elizabeth, Randle worked summers during college as a counselor for the City of Elizabeth’s SOAR program.

“I always held onto the fact that the adversity wouldn’t last forever. It made me more resilient.”

Randle and her boyfriend, Timothy, who would later become her husband, had their daughter, Anayah when she was only 18. Their son, Timothy Jr. was born three years later.

When asked what drives her to succeed, Randle answered without hesitation, saying, “My children.” She added, “I didn’t have a blueprint. My parents were just trying to make life better for us. I need to be rooted in that their sacrifice was worth it. In exchange, we learned how to be grateful.”

While raising her two young children and working full time for the City of Elizabeth, Randle worked arduously for six years to earn her degree from New Jersey City University.

“I refused to be a statistic,” she said. “It was so worth it. You don’t have to let your circumstances rule you.”

Along the way while working toward her master’s at Kean, Randle became a registered environmental health specialist and has earned her lead inspector risk assessor license. This has enabled her to attain a position at the Union County Health Department this past May.

She stressed the importance of starting at the local level by changing ordinances so that the number of fast food establishments is limited or developing a healthy eating initiative whereby a discount for licensing fees is offered to those businesses who offer healthier choices. Randle said she also hoped to work with school nurses to facilitate healthier eating among their students.

Looking ahead to her future and the future of her children, Randle expresses unwavering hope and her need to help others who may be facing similar obstacles. “I need to serve as a blueprint for others, particularly young women, especially women of color.”

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