Marni Sommer, DrPH

Qualitative Researcher


Dr. Sommer is an Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.  She has a DrPH from Columbia University, and an MSN/MPH from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.  Dr. Sommer's area of expertise includes the conduct of qualitative and participatory methodologies with adolescents, and exploring transitions into puberty and young adulthood among young people.  Dr. Sommer focuses on adolescent health, gender, sexuality, and the intersections of public health and education for young people in low- and middle-income countries in particular. 

Her research has included an in-depth comparative case study exploring girls’ experiences of menstruation, puberty and education in Tanzania; followed by an NIH funded project in Tanzania that explored adolescent boys’ gendered socialization during the pubertal transition and its implications for subsequent vulnerability to HIV and other STIs, and engagement in other risky behaviors (such as substance abuse and violence). The prior research with girls and current research with boys highlighted the potential role of alcohol use by boys (and possibly girls) in increasing their engagement in risky sexual behavior, and risk of infection with HIV, which will be the focus of Dr. Sommer's next research project in Tanzania.  The findings from the girls’ research have been channeled into the development of a successful puberty book for girls in Tanzania, one that has been adapted by the Ministry of Education in Tanzania, with other findings incorporated into the government's new water and sanitation strategy for schools (addressing adolescent girls’ menstrual hygiene management needs).  The findings from the boys' research have also been incorporated into a boys' puberty book for Tanzania that is currently awaiting approval from the Ministry of Education.  

Dr. Sommer has also led research in three countries (Ghana, Cambodia, Ethiopia) on girls' experiences of menstruation and schooling, which have resulted in the development of girl's puberty books in each new country with the approval of each country's respective Ministry of Education for the books.  Dr. Sommer is also the Global Health Certificate lead for the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, and is the Executive Editor of the journal Global Public Health.