MY VISTA: The researcher

USC public health advocate touts virtues of the Vista

dhinshaw@thestate.comApril 25, 2013 

Deborah Billings rides her bike to work and will be working in the new Discovery building at the corner of Greene and Lincoln streets later this year. She is a professor at the USC school of public health.


Before the year ends, Deborah Billings will pack up her office near the Horseshoe and move to the Innovista.

Though it’s just four blocks away, relocating from the historic University of South Carolina campus to the new and evolving research campus in the Vista, at Lincoln and Greene streets, will make it easier to bicycle to work and meet colleagues for lunch meetings. She will work in the Discovery building.

“I like Gervais Street,” she said. “There’s always something going on.”

Billings, 47, is an assistant professor in USC’s school of public health. As much as possible, she and her family get around town by walking and cycling.

In the four years she has lived here, Billings said, Columbia has offered more in the way of live music, theater and locally grown food.

“We had a candidate for a job here, and I talked that part of it up,” she said.

“I think you can be really healthy here. There’s a lot to do.”

Billings lives in Shandon with her husband, Jim Thrasher, and their son, Diego. Thrasher works in public health, too, and does research in global tobacco-control policies.

The family moved to Columbia from Mexico City, where Billings worked with a global organization promoting women’s reproductive rights and health.

It was her interest in seeing the world that led her from sociology to public health research and academia. She has lived in Latin America several times over the years, traveling to Africa and Asia.

“I’m able to share with the students the real-life experience of doing public health research, with its real challenges,” like gaining access to hospitals, she said.

Here in South Carolina, Billings is involved in research on women’s reproductive health needs and barriers to prenatal care. She holds a teaching post in women’s and gender studies as well.

Each month, she meets with other maternal and child-health professionals and advocates as the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services works to improve birth outcomes.

“I am very fortunate to be part of teams that are really committed to making a difference,” she said. “Are we changing the world? Maybe little by little.”

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