Passion spears research

Hauff '03 hopes to better lives of women, babies

September 4, 2013

By Jillian Birkholz ’15

Laura Hauff '03 (left) was the Decade Award recipient at the CSB All School Reunion in June.  CSB President MaryAnn Baenninger is pictured with Hauff at the award banquet.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Although Laura Hauff is modest about how her research is changing the world, her breastfeeding research has no doubt made a difference on the lives of mothers in the 10 short years since her graduation from the College of Saint Benedict in 2003.

"If it helps even one woman have a more positive breastfeeding experience, that changes her world," Hauff said. "And that's what it's all about - bettering the life of one person at a time."

She is now an assistant professor of anthropology and public health science at Santa Clara University in California. In addition to teaching, Hauff continues her research which centers on issues of maternal health and public health in the United States.

"My research explores how maternal characteristics affect breastfeeding outcomes," Hauff said. "The benefits of breastfeeding are well known and today most women want to breastfeed, yet they face a variety of obstacles. I conduct research to assist in identifying and alleviating those challenges."

These obstacles include things such as a negative labor and delivery experience, lack of support for breastfeeding mothers in the workforce, and Hauff's particular focus, challenges faced by women who are overweight or obese.

Hauff graduated from CSB with a degree in sociology. After graduation, she went on to study anthropology and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2011. She received a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Health to research maternal and child nutrition at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

 "I was inspired by many faculty members at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University and I truly enjoy learning, so the role of a professor seemed a natural fit," Hauff said. "One part of my job that I really enjoy is the interactions I have with students, especially in small groups or one-on-one. It's here that I can most easily see that I'm making a positive impact in someone's life."

Hauff stays connected to the CSB community through volunteering as an alumna speaker at admission events as well as serving as a resource for current students with an interest in anthropology.

"CSB/SJU is a place made special by all the people who have walked its grounds," Hauff said. "It is a group that I am honored to be a part of and a place that I will enjoy belonging to forever."

Hauff credits much of her professional success to the life skills that she gained from her liberal arts education at CSB/SJU.

"I reflect often on how well Saint Ben's and Saint John's prepared me to read and write well, think critically, present my ideas, entertain diverse perspectives, and most importantly, how to learn," Hauff said. "In addition, while at Saint Ben's, I came to understand the importance of thinking of others, especially those who may be different from me, and the value of building community wherever I find myself."