Helping Hand

2015 Brittain Award-winner Amanda Garcia-Williams

Amanda Garcia-Williams

As an Emory student, Amanda Garcia-Williams 15C devoted her academic research and community service to reaching others—from encouraging handwashing to prevent the spread of disease to extending a hand to support those experiencing extreme emotional duress.

A doctoral candidate in Laney Graduate School’s program in behavioral sciences and health education, Garcia-Williams is the 2015 recipient of the university’s highest student honor, the Marion Luther Brittain Award, which is presented each year to a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary service to both the university and the greater community. 

Garcia-Williams grew up on a walnut farm in Winters, California, supported and inspired by parents who “are always trying to help people in some way,” she says.

While an MPH student at Rollins School of Public Health, Garcia-Williams worked at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, and her master’s thesis examined the perceptions of those asking and being asked to perform hand hygiene among health care workers and the general public.

A member of her extended family died by suicide before Garcia-Williams entered her PhD program, spurring her interest in the problem. 

Working with her PhD adviser, Nadine Kaslow, professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, on a campuswide suicide prevention program called Emory Cares 4 U, Garcia-Williams helped develop a comprehensive suicide prevention website and remained involved when Emory’s counseling center took over the program. 

“If your gut’s telling you something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to ask someone if they need help,” she says. “You may be able to help them access the resources they need to get out of a dark place.”

For her dissertation, Garcia-Williams researched how college students experience and respond to suicidal peers.

Garcia-Williams has been accepted into the 2015 class of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) at the CDC, an elite corps of “disease detectives” who investigate outbreaks and other public health crises.

Garcia-Williams says her greatest lesson remains the generosity of spirit she learned from her parents. “Everyone can be engaged in helping people,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. You just have to try to do something.” —Kimber Williams

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