For this week’s segment of Woman Wednesday, AY About You sits down with Ayoola Carleton, the Associate Director of Research in the Office of Community Health and Research at UAMS Northwest.
Carleton grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, a small island nation with great food, great music, and an epic annual Carnival celebration. She lived there until she left to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies in New York City. Carleton worked at the Ford Foundation after Graduate school, then in 2014, she moved to Bentonville, Arkansas when her husband accepted a job with Walmart.
“I’m currently an Associate Director of Research in the Office of Community Health and Research at UAMS Northwest. I also serve as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors at Canopy NWA. I am passionate about serving historically underserved communities, improving health and education outcomes, and using research and data to drive policy change,” Carleton shares.
She enjoys traveling and learning about different cultures, particularly with her family: her husband Nathan, and their two children – Tai (9) and Priya (4). The family enjoys hiking and spending time in nature.
“I love curating memories from my travels and the beauty of the outdoors and turning them into photographic wall art, or cards for others to enjoy,” Carleton says. “It’s almost as satisfying as getting lost in the characters of a book. I am particularly drawn to magical realism works by Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates.”
We asked Carleton what it means to her to be a woman.
Carleton: It means being many things all at once – wife, mother, daughter, sister. My mother and grandmother provided me with great examples of what it means to be a woman, in true Caribbean fashion: resilient, disciplined, resourceful, and able to persevere through challenging circumstances to achieve your goals. They also taught me to enjoy simple pleasures with loved ones, and to smile and laugh through it all. These qualities serve me well both personally and professionally, and I try to remember those who taught them to me and pass them on to the next generation.
We asked Carleton what challenges she has faced in her field as a woman.
Carleton: My experiences as a working mother in New York and in Arkansas were very different, which I think speaks to the values and people here. In my current environment, I have found it to be less of a challenge, because my colleagues and peers are supportive of my need to juggle so many different demands. Leading during the pandemic, with offices and schools closed, presented a new level of challenges: long days, short nights, and the need to accelerate work streams and build systems and infrastructure that would have normally taken years to develop. Having a supportive spouse, team, and work environment allowed me to be focused and lead during such an unprecedented time.
Carleton offers a word of advice to the young women and girls who read this article.
Carleton: Persist! Be diligent in the pursuit of your goals and dreams, and surround yourself with people who will support you and keep you focused and inspired to accomplish them. Don’t be discouraged if you are not yet where you think you should be, or if you took a different path – it is never too late if you believe in yourself.
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