Student Spotlight

Ayanna Besson

Ayanna Besson

Hometown: Rockville Centre, New York

Degree Program: DrPH

Class Year: 2023

Undergraduate Major: Biology

School & Year of MPH: University of New England, Class of 2018

Professional Interests: Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group (LMIG), Plant-Powered Metro New York (PPMNY)

Extracurricular Activities/Involvement: Public Health Geriatrics Teaching Fellow with the BRIDGE-GWEP Program, Member of the SPH Outcomes Committee, Teaching Assistant, Member of the SPH Student Council

Click here for Ayanna Besson’s LinkedIn profile


1. What drew you to the DrPH program at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University?  

From a young age, I knew that I wanted to be an epidemiologist. In college, I did an internship at the Weis Center for Research, Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA and received training in Ghana, West Africa on the comprehensive care of HIV/AIDS, both of which only solidified my desire to continue to pursue a career in epidemiology. When I came back to New York, I was doing my research on programs and based on the curriculum, location, diversity, and affordability, I knew that Downstate was where I not only wanted but needed to be. A good friend of mine was in the MPH program and he told me that I would love it here, he was not wrong, and I am forever grateful that he encouraged me to apply to the DrPH program.


2. What is your favorite aspect of the program?  

The feeling of community and the abundance of opportunities. I have had some wonderful professors and advisor(s) that have been instrumental in my growth as a public health professional. I have only been at Downstate for about a year and half and several opportunities have opened for me, from the public health geriatrics teaching fellowship to getting connected with Plant-Powered Metro New York (PPMNY). When I have ideas, my professors and peers offer suggestions and guidance. I have gardened relationships with my classmates and have made network connections that will last me a lifetime.


3. Can you recall a memorable in-class or general SUNY Downstate experience that struck you as particularly meaningful? 

Yes, it actually happened recently. I was a teaching assistant for a course, and I have been working with students on an op-ed assignment over the course of the semester. All the students were required to submit their piece to a media outlet of their choice, and a few were selected for publishing. I was just so proud of all the students for the time and effort they put into producing the best op-ed that they could. It was one of my semester highlights.


4. Could you describe SUNY Downstate’s Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group (LMIG)? What is your role in the group and your aspiration?  

The LMIG group focuses on bringing awareness to the community about some of the leading causes of death from noncommunicable diseases and how whole food plant-based nutrition and lifestyle (exercise, sleep, stress management, building health relationships and eliminating tobacco and alcohol use) can produce positive health outcomes in the prevention, reversal and treatment of some of these chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease and more. I am the Community Outreach Co-chair in the group, and we are currently putting together a proposal to launch a virtual program focused on proper nutrition and lifestyle change, led by Downstate students. We are excited about that. We also have a thriving lecture series with an eclectic line up of speakers. My hope is that we can continue to spread the word about lifestyle medicine, recruit individuals across all the Downstate colleges and schools and foster relationships within the community that align with the mission of this group.

For the members, I hope that we all go on to get certified in lifestyle medicine and be vessels for this movement and to our patients and community. Please follow us at, Instagram: @downstate_lmig and if you are interested in joining us, please email You can also email me as well at and I will get you connected. We welcome all of you.


5. What are your goals? Do you have plans to further your education or do you have a career in mind upon graduation?  

The more courses I take and exposure I get in this field, the more my mind changes and far as life after my DrPH. I have interests in infectious disease epidemiology and pharmaceutical epidemiology.

My short-term goal is to work towards finishing my degree while engaging in as many extracurricular activities that I can. Upon completion, I would like to do a post-doctoral fellowship and work on my certification in lifestyle medicine, while continuing to work.

My long-term goal is to build a secondary school in the US and an adjacent school in Africa that focuses on cultivating the next generation of public health professionals. I believe public health courses should be introduced in high school.


6. Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in Downstate's DrPH program?  

I encourage you to apply. The opportunities are endless. There is room for growth and development and what you put into your time here at Downstate, is what you will get out of it. Attend an open house, reach out to students, and ask about their experiences and see for yourself.