Campus News

Faculty member Laura Ferguson, PhD, receives 2024 Mentor Award from USC

Bokie Muigai June 19, 2024
Laura Ferguson, PhD


Laura Ferguson, PhD, associate professor of population and public health sciences is the recipient of the USC Mentoring Award for Faculty Mentoring Graduate Students from the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching. The award honors faculty members who contribute to an engaging, supportive, and inclusive academic environment through their mentorship of students.

“We have such bright students here at USC and it’s been a privilege to be a part of their journey,” shares Ferguson. “I have learned so much from my undergraduate and graduate students who bring a fresh perspective to global health. I love their openness and willingness to learn.”

For the last 20 years Ferguson’s work has focused on understanding factors in society that lead to health disparities. “The inequalities that exist in today’s world are so unjust and unjustifiable and it feels really important to try and address them,” she says. “My focus is particularly on health and I mostly use a health and human rights framework which speaks to my sense of how the world should be. I deeply care about why—from a sort of non-biomedical perspective— some people are more affected by ill health than others.”

Today, Ferguson is the Director of Research at the USC Institute on Inequalities and Global Health (IIGH). She came to USC in 2012 after completing her PhD at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. At IIGH, she examines and documents what is happening across systems, laws, and policies to determine how to reduce existing inequalities giving everybody a fair chance. “What is tough about this work is that so many students are bright eyed and idealistic about the world—and you do not want to crush those dreams, but at the same time the world is a messy place and it’s important to help them understand and navigate that. It is important to uplift students and give them opportunities that focus on building their skills and critical analysis,” she affirms.

Regarding her own mentors, Ferguson says, “I have had wonderful mentors and been so lucky. Different people really took a chance on me, even when I wasn’t necessarily an obvious candidate, they believed in me. They gave me free reign to figure myself out and grow —and I really appreciate that! It’s so important to allow that space for discovery and growth.” One of those mentors is USC Distinguished Professor Sofia Gruskin, JD, MIA, who has mentored Ferguson for over 20 years. “She has believed in me throughout and has really opened up all sorts of opportunities for me, including professional networks,” she reveals.

In turn, Ferguson advises predoctoral students to choose their PhD programs on more than just the institution, but also on the individuals they would like to work with. “I think that relationship matters so much! You want somebody who is in your corner and who will help you navigate the sometimes opaque processes of academia and life. Someone who knows how to help you figure out how to get the most out of being in such an incredible space.” She emphasizes that a good mentor will help you build your network and support your journey as you narrow down the path on the direction you want to pursue.