Trainee Profile: PhD Student Leah Foltman

Leah Foltman

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Educational background
BA, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, sociology

Can you describe your research interests? Current research projects?
My current research interests revolve around racial disparities in physical and mental health outcomes, as realized through place. My current project uses the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW) to look at how the Black population in Wisconsin fares in comparison to overarching health outcomes by race. If there are differences, I want to know what about Wisconsin’s racial composition and historical policies have influenced these outcomes.

How did you get into your field of research? What sparked your research interest in health and aging issues?
I have always been interested in race and health. Being a woman of color immersed in the field of sociology elicited an innate desire in me to question why populations, specifically minority populations, face vastly different health outcomes. I want to use my identity to take a different angle to demographic research.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?
At the bare minimum, being a Wisconsin native has primed me to love all things Bucky from a very young age. In addition, being that my undergraduate institution was so close, I had access to faculty, staff, and peers, who had first-hand experiences with the university and the individuals within the department. I valued the ever-evolving research agendas of the faculty within the centers and in sociology. It was important to me that I have access to people who also found value in looking at phenomena through different lenses and Wisconsin has those people.

What’s one thing you hope people who are exposed to your research will come away with?
I hope that people exposed to my research will be able to think twice about preconceived notions of racial inequities being an individual problem. I want people to look at the health outcomes, whether they be deemed positive or negative, and realize the role structures play in creating and maintaining such realities.

What’s new and exciting about your research?
The SHOW project is relatively new and it’s specific to Wisconsin so studying this population in the way I am is relatively novel. I am excited to be able to describe what the state-specific experience has been for the Black population here. If health outcomes are better, why and are we able to mimic these processes elsewhere to improve outcomes? If they are worse, in what ways and what mechanisms are at play in those outcomes?

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
I believe that my work relates to the Wisconsin Idea in that I am not only studying Wisconsinites, but my hope is to use what does and doesn’t work to open up the conversation as to why these outcomes differ. As a nation, we want not only a quantity life, but also a quality life. Health involves everyone and that in itself allows for a wide range of application opportunities. Our racial composition is also changing. If I am able to use the state-level study of Black folks to bring even broad attention to racial disparities in health elsewhere, I believe that would be reflective of the Wisconsin Idea.

Hobbies/other interests:
Outside of my demographic and sociological endeavors, I enjoy working out, being with friends and family, and traveling. I work as a fitness instructor at a gym in Madison and was recently in Ghana teaching first and second grades.