Makella Coudray is passionate about advocating for disadvantaged groups.
“I personally like championing causes for those that society may overlook, and I try to do that through my work,” she says. “Hence, my work focuses on marginalized populations such as sexual and gender minorities and racial and ethnic minorities.”
Coudray is originally from Trinidad and Tobago; however, her mother is Guyanese, and she lived in Grenada for four years. She identifies as a true “island gyal” and says her heart lies in the Caribbean. As someone from a multicultural background, she understands the social and systemic inequalities minorities face.
Currently, Coudray is studying the sexual health disparities among marginalized and disadvantaged populations. Specifically, she explores the predictors of sexually transmitted infections, HIV prevention, and sexual and gender minority health by examining the intersection of behavior and biological processes. Some of these predictors include health care access, health literacy, gender identity, race, and social and cultural norms. She emphasizes that sexual health is not merely the absence of disease or dysfunction; rather, it requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.
Coudray is a fellow of both the HIV, Infectious Disease and Global Health Implementation Research Institute and Data Science for All, Empowerment, at Correlation One Training. She aims to utilize her skills and experience to effectively execute her research project, Sexually Transmitted Infections Testing Risk and Prevention among Trans Women (STRiP-T).
Despite its importance in public health and epidemiology, Coudray says sexual health is often taboo, especially concerning minorities. She says this research plays a vital role in combating the stigma and raising awareness to help reduce health disparities in our society.
Coudray earned her Bachelor of Science in biology and Master of Public Health in epidemiology from St. George’s University, Grenada. She then came to the U.S. to complete her Ph.D. in public health, epidemiology at Florida International University and graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic. To build a career for herself in academia and further her research, she decided to pursue a postdoctoral position at UCF.
For Coudray, the most rewarding part of being a postdoctoral scholar is the opportunity to mentor students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“As an international graduate student, I did not have many mentors who truly understood the lived experience of an international student,” she says. “It is very rewarding to advocate for my international mentees and guide them through the additional stress of being international in academia.”
She also says she loves being a role model for other Black women in academia.
Coudray says she appreciates the guidance she has received at UCF, crediting her mentor Eric Schrimshaw being the catalyst for her success as a postdoc.
“Dr. Schrimshaw’s leadership as the chair of my department, compassion as my mentor and knowledge as a researcher have all been freely available to me during my time as a postdoc,” she says. “His accessibility and willingness helped make any challenges feel manageable. His support restored my faith in my capabilities during a time I was struggling to believe that I could be successful in academia.”
While at UCF, Coudray has received various awards, including a K99/R00 grant submission from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the 24th International AIDS Conference Scholarship this year. She is also very involved in the community serving as a volunteer mentor for Cohort Sistas, a nonprofit organization supporting Black women and non-binary people pursuing research doctorates.
Once she completes her postdoctoral appointment, Coudray aims to assume a position as a tenure-track assistant professor, hopefully at UCF. She says her future goal is to continue advocating for underrepresented individuals like herself and make her family proud.