Leah Hoffman, MPH '10

After outreach in Southeast Asia, gaining research expertise at Yale

For Leah Hoffman, M.P.H. ’10, the journey to Yale—by way of Central Asia—began with a book she read at 13.

Entitled May You Be the Mother of 100 Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India, it kindled her resolve to serve in–need populations abroad.

Raised in the suburbs of New Haven, Hoffman graduated Syracuse University in 2002 with degrees in political science and international relations, then served as an intern for U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton and Christopher Dodd—only to realize she sought more experience on the front lines than Capitol Hill could provide. Joining the Center for International Policy, a venture noted for its demilitarization and advocacy of human rights, she worked with Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program. Under Harrison, she sharpened her understanding on issues including U.S. foreign policy with Pakistan, India and North Korea.

Compelled to “try something good for the soul,” she won a spot in a competitive fellowship program organized by Population Services International (PSI), a non–profit that addresses the health issues of low–income and vulnerable populations in over 60 developing countries. Based in Almaty, Kazakhstan, she worked directly with groups at high risk for HIV infection, including sex workers and drug users, promoting behavioral interventions such as increased condom use and decreased sharing of syringes and needles. In 2006, PSI promoted Hoffman to regional program manager to lead projects in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Last year Hoffman launched an intervention in Hanoi, Vietnam, targeting sex workers who inject drugs.

Her four years in Asia heightened her awareness of the need for rigorous academic training in research methodology—the “nitty–gritty” of measurement, data collection and management, she says. She selected YSPH, and its Social and Behavioral Sciences concentration, for a thorough grounding in these research skills.

A recipient of an endowed summer internship fund, Hoffman will return to Vietnam this summer to study risk behavior among sex workers in ‘love relationships’ who inject drugs—most of whom report using condoms consistently with clients but less reliably with non–commercial, regular partners, raising questions of trust and fidelity in the context of high–risk behavior. “It’s messy, complicated, fascinating—and what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “Doing my own research takes me completely outside my comfort zone, and a year ago I never would have had the confidence to do it myself. YSPH is exactly what I needed.”