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Spirit of Rowan: Alyssa Harris finds her dream job at Rowan Health Department

If Nina Oliver could have cloned Alyssa Harris before moving on from the Rowan County Health Department, she would have. Maybe a few times.

“She’s certainly an excellent public health advocate,” said Oliver, the county’s former health director. “She understands the needs of today but also focuses on building for the future. And she is very good at what she does. … She’s an excellent addition to the health department.”

Likewise, Krista Woolly, executive director of the Community Care Clinic, says Harris is “professional, pleasant and very knowledgeable about all things public health”

“She loves her community and is proud to be a Rowan County native,” Woolly said. “I am super proud of her and know that she has an exciting future ahead of her.”

So, it made sense when the Rowan County Board of Health elevated Harris to the interim health director position when Oliver moved on to a new job in Carteret County.

Before taking on the interim director job, Harris, 31, worked as community health manager, executive director of Health Rowan and a public health educator for the department. She’s also worked for the Cabarrus Health Alliance. Harris says working in public health is her dream job.

“I am one of those very rare, very blessed people who get to do what I want to do everyday,” she said prior to being named interim director.

She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s in health promotion, education and behavior from the University of South Carolina. She wasn’t born in Rowan County, but she got here as quick as possible. Born on a Navy base in Charleston, South Carolina, she lived in Connecticut before her dad retired from the military and the family moved to Rockwell.

She attended Erwin Middle School and was among the first classes to graduate from Gray Stone Day School.

She went into college with her focus set on becoming a doctor, but she encountered a hurdle in the fact that she wasn’t fond of dealing with blood.

So, she shifted elsewhere in the medical field, graduating with a degree in psychology and scoring a research job in Columbia, South Carolina, where close friend Erin Howard was working on a graduate degree at the University of South Carolina.

Before she also attended the University of South Carolina for a graduate degree, her research job worked on projects that involved connecting diseases to diets. After Harris landed in Cabarrus County and worked on projects that involved the Healthy Cabarrus organization, people in Rowan County started asking about starting a similar program for Rowan. And Harris carved out time in her schedule to lead the project.

Today, dealing with COVID-19 takes up just about all of her time — from logistics of vaccinations to helping communicate information. She still remembers the first few months of the virus vividly, including when she was sitting in a management class and Cabarrus County announced its first case.

“Life as we know it was about to stop,” Harris said.

Looking back, she was surprised that masks became a political battle and wishes that Rowan County commissioners had taken a bigger stand in support of mask-wearing.

Harris and her husband, Phillip, live in the Faith area and attend St. John’s Lutheran Church. COVID-19 has changed so much about activities people enjoy, but Harris said she and her husband enjoy fishing, spending time on the lake with friends and exploring good places to eat. She also likes hiking, yoga, baking and swing dancing. Lately, though, she spends a lot of time decompressing from busy work days and binge-watching TV shows with her husband.

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