Home to a RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar

Baton Rouge, LA - Second year social work doctoral student Natasha M. Lee-Johnson has been selected for a competitive fellowship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as a Health Policy Research Scholar. She is the first person in Louisiana to receive this reputable fellowship. headshot of Natasha Lee

The Health Policy Research Scholars Program supports students from all fields in applying their work to policies that advance equity and health  while building a diverse network of leaders who reflect our changing national demographics. Lee-Johnson will be part of a community of changemakers across the country—from diverse professions and fields—who will learn from and work with one another in creating more just and thriving communities.

“The LSU School of Social Work and its PhD Program could not be more proud of Natasha! She recognizes and welcomes the responsibility that comes with being the first person in our state as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar. Resting on Natasha’s capable shoulders is the responsibility of producing meaningful change to our healthcare system – necessary policy change to eliminate unjust health inequities among Louisianans whose voices have been minimized or ignored," said Pam Monroe, PhD, Director of the LSU School of Social Work. 

Her research interests focus on reproductive healthcare access for Black women and people with intellectual disabilities. Lee-Johnson aims to translate health equity research into actionable strategies and policy recommendations to improve health service systems and promote self-advocacy among Black women with disabilities. She will be working with Dr. Jennifer Scott in the School of Social Work who will serve as her chair and institutional mentor for the program.

"Natasha is a dedicated student with a deep commitment to equity and very deserving of this fellowship. She has been in several of my classes since her first semester in our program and is currently collaborating with me on a paper. Her interest in reproductive health for Black women with disabilities is critical to developing policy to advance health equity. I am honored and excited to serve as her chair and home institution mentor for the RWJF HPRS program for the next 3-4 years. I look forward to working with her on her journey to become a scholar," said Jennifer Scott, PhD

"Natasha’s commitment to promote health equity among Black women with disabilities is a stellar example of social work scholars as advocates and change agents. She, along with her School of Social Work faculty mentor Dr. Jen Scott, have our gratitude and fullest support as Natasha blazes this much needed trail,” said Scott Wilks, PhD.   

Lee-Johnson is from New Orleans and is expecting to graduate with her doctorate degree in social work in May 2024. She took some time to share a little bit about her career, education, goals and advice to fellow students. 

Involvement and Achievements

Lee-Johnson is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and she engages in a graduate assistantship in the LSU Social Research and Evaluation Center. She also participated in the 2020-2021 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Fellowship (LEND) at Louisiana State University Health Science Campus. Currently, she is participating in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Health Policy Research Scholars Program) Fellowship. 

Beyond those activities and awards, Lee-Johnson served as an Assistant Director of the Women's Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin. She says that she engaged in work regarding gender equality, racial justice, sex trafficking and reproductive health equity. Lee-Johnson was also named a 2016-17 AUCD (UCEDD) Diversity Fellow at the University of Georgia Institute on Human Development and Disability. She notes that her doctoral journey and health equity training are shaped by the incredible mentorship offered through UCEDD & LEND. 

Why Social Work?

Lee-Johnson chose social work because she feels it is the perfect bridge between her bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in education policy. She says it enables her to study health policy with direct implications for practice, positively impacting Black communities. 

She also completed her MSW in May 2021 while working on her PhD to set a good foundation for doctoral level social work studies. 

Goals After Graduation

After graduation, Lee-Johnson aims to obtain a faculty position at a research one university. As a faculty member, she hopes to conduct research that positively impacts Black women with disabilities and their sexual and reproductive health outcomes in Louisiana. In addition, she wants to collaborate with research centers and community agencies to disseminate research to policymakers and stakeholders, especially community members. Lee-Johnson says the RWJF Health Policy Research Scholars program will help her achieve these goals by connecting her with a diverse network of health equity experts, providing health equity training, and identifying ways to translate her research into advocacy efforts and policy solutions. 

Advice for Fellow Students

Lee-Johnson encourages fellow tigers to commit to unlearning harmful ideology and relearning transformative approaches to impact change for the most marginalized community members.

She also encourages students to join the LSU Ronald E. McNair program. Lee-Johnson was a part of the McNair Program in undergrad, and she says it was instrumental in helping her navigate the PhD application process and graduate school more broadly. It provided opportunities for her to engage in undergraduate research experiences and attend research conferences, while connecting her with faculty members who could help cultivate research competencies. Further, Lee-Johnson says LSU McNair Director Joseph Givens has been and continues to be a mentor and friend.  

Finally, she would encourage students to contact faculty at LSU and beyond (regionally and nationally) to identify potential mentors and opportunities for collaboration.

Closing Thoughts

"I am incredibly proud to be the first RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar in the state of Louisiana, and I’m excited to represent the state on a national level. I hope to encourage and support other tigers in their efforts to join the RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar program, so that I won’t be the last."