Students Who Rocked Public Health 2022

Curious who’s listed in our round-up of Students Who Rocked Public Health in 2022? Find out here!

Every year the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice recognizes students who are making important contributions to the field of public health by soliciting nominations from members of the public health community. As in previous years, nominees were evaluated on timeliness and urgency of the public health issue addressed, level of success achieved, overall impact of the project, and level of inclusiveness and diversity.

Students who rocked public health in 2022 worked on increasing vaccine uptake in vulnerable communities, updating community health assessments, reducing barriers to wellness, improving public health systems, preventing high blood pressure, creating strategies for HIV prevention, and supporting community engagement among students and practitioners.

Students Who Rocked Public Health 2022

Please help us congratulate the following Students Who Rocked Public Health in 2022 (appearing in no particular order):

1. Increasing COVID-19 Vaccine Access Among East African Immigrants in Minneapolis

Student: Inari Mohammed
School: University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Inari Mohammed

Inari Mohammed is a 4th-year epidemiology PhD student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. She is also an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health. Her research interests include women’s health, infectious disease prevention, and health equity. 

In 2022, Inari carried out innovative and impactful work to increase COVID-19 vaccine access among East African immigrants in Minneapolis — a community that has been directly targeted by anti-vaccine activists, including two visits by Andrew Wakefield (in 2011 and 2017) to hold community events opposing MMR vaccination. Inari’s 2022 work in this arena has two faces: a research project, supervised by Dr. Rachel Widome, and a community vaccination project led by Dr. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field. As part of her research project, Inari sought to deeply explore and document Black women’s perceptions of COVID vaccines and how their beliefs about vaccination motivated their actions. Her big question was, “What factors alternately enable and/or discourage Black women’s COVID vaccination and how might these issues influence how Black women facilitate their family members’ vaccination?” Further she hypothesized that there would be diversity in perspectives between African American, East African immigrant, and first-generation East Africans. Inari strongly believes it is important to understand these groups’ distinct orientation toward COVID vaccination in order to most effectively promote vaccines to these communities. To address these questions, she applied for and was awarded a $7,000 J.B. Hawley Student Research Award to conduct her qualitative study. In early 2022, Inari recruited and interviewed 60 Black (both African American and East African) women from the Twin Cities, metro area. She developed an in-depth interview guide that covered their sources of information on COVID vaccination, factors that led to their decisions on vaccination, myths and misinformation they may have encountered, and how structural racism and historical trauma influenced their attitudes. Inari led the analysis of these interviews and drafted a manuscript, which is currently in final circulation with co-authors; she intends to submit it to a journal.

“This is a tremendous feat for a doctoral student to successfully seek and obtain funding for a primary data collection research project, conduct it on a swift timeline and a shoestring budget, and produce results that have concrete and immediate relevance to public health practice, as Inari’s findings certainly will,” says Dr. Widome. “I have no doubt that her findings will be used to improve vaccine access and uptake for Black families. Additionally, it is incredibly meaningful that Inari, who is Oromo American and immigrated to the US from Ethiopia with her family when she was a child, has been able to do this research that centers her own community.”

Inari’s community vaccination program, the Seward Vaccine Equity Project (SVEP), began in 2021 as a way to increase COVID-19 vaccine access among Somali immigrants in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. Inari joined Dr. Wrigley-Field’s project in January 2022 and extended it to Oromo immigrants, with immediate impact. She organized two mass vaccination events at Seward’s Oromo mosque (one in January 2022 and one in February 2022), which jointly provided more than 100 COVID-19 shots. This includes 20 people getting their very first COVID-19 vaccination — some entire families got their first COVID shots together. At a time when many people assumed that anyone who is open to getting a vaccine must have done so already, Inari proved that this is not the case through her thoughtful outreach. In addition to many conversations with members and leaders of the mosque, Inari’s outreach included meetings with custodians on the University of Minnesota campus (many of them Oromo immigrants), which she conducted alongside their union representative in order to learn their barriers to access and address their concerns about becoming vaccinated. These meetings led to about one dozen custodians signing up for vaccination; some also brought their relatives to the vaccine events. In an article about Inari’s work with SVEP in the Daily Minnesotan newspaper, Tajudin Aliy, a community member who received his first COVID-19 vaccine at the January 2022 event organized by Inari, is quoted as saying, “That decision [to attend the vaccination event] took me a while, but I decided to attend because I felt really comfortable seeing familiar faces that did it. […] It was important for me to see people who looked like me to help me make those decisions and feel like I’m not alone. It’s a warm environment filled with warm-hearted people who love what they do and want the best for you and your family.”  Inari is a rising research leader, committed to building an evidence base that supports advances in public health equity.

2. Updating Community Health Assessments in Georgia

Students: Victoria Roy, Marija Pritchard, Mehar Anand, and Ellisen Herndon
School: Georgia Southern University, Emory Rollins School of Public Health

Four students worked together as a multi-institutional collaborative team from July to December 2022 to help Georgia’s West Central Health District revise and update its community health assessments (CHA). Centered in Columbus, Georgia, the West Central Health District consists of 16 primarily rural counties. Victoria Roy, a DrPH student at Georgia Southern University; Marija Pritchard, a theological studies and public health graduate student at Emory University; Mehar Anand, an MPH student in epidemiology at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and Ellisen Herndon, a second-year MPH student studying epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health worked with West Central Health District staff to create county-specific health profiles for all 16 counties.

“All four students embarked on this project to meet applied practical experience requirements of their respective degree programs, but they went above and beyond,” says Dr. Allison Chamberlain. “As the project progressed and they learned more about the CHA process and what the district ultimately wanted to use the assessments for, the student team created county-specific summary profiles and a ‘how-to’ guide to instruct future personnel interested in replicating their process when updating the CHAs again in the future.”

Victoria Roy, MPH, is an epidemiologist 2 with the North Georgia Health District Department of Public Health after completing the two-year Rollins Epidemiology Fellowship with Emory University. Victoria graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015 and a master’s degree in public health in 2020. She is currently working toward a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree.

“The CHA project allowed students to see the real-world application of otherwise academic training and allowed for connections to be made across districts that may have not otherwise interacted,” says Victoria. “Projects like this can be a valuable tool to bring academics and public health professionals together while benefiting the communities they serve.”

Marija Pritchard, an Iowa native, graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019. She moved to Atlanta to pursue two master’s degrees in Theological Studies and Public Health at Emory University. She is an evaluation research assistant for the COMPASS Initiative at Emory Centers and will be graduating in May 2023.

“The community needs assessment with the West Central Health District gave our team the opportunity to update key mortality and morbidity factors for each county and will hopefully be used to help address these factors and bring better health to each county,” says Marija.

Mehar Anand is an MPH student studying Epidemiology at Emory University. Her mission is to alleviate communication gaps using an interdisciplinary lens: amend psychosocial nuances to improve disease surveillance and community collaboration. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2021 and will continue pursuing data analytics and statistical analyses. 

“Assessing the health needs of our local communities enable us to improve their internal systems and bridge their collaboration with other communities, as we highlighted chronic disparities, prioritized for resources and accessibility, and participated among layered day-to-day operations of building health profiles for 16 rural counties,” says Mehar.

Ellisen Herndon is a second-year MPH student studying epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health. Her studies primarily focus on the intersection of social determinants of health and cardiometabolic diseases. She has previously worked as an Integrated Health Coordinator and holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Emory University.

“This project provided our team the opportunity to acquire skills that we will use throughout our careers as public health professionals,” says Ellisen. “In addition, the updated community health assessments will have the power to affect real change in the communities within the West Central Health District of Georgia.”

This team’s work represents a wonderful example of cross-instructional student collaboration aimed at assisting a primarily rural health district with a fundamental component of local public practice: remaining abreast of local health needs and conditions of residents.

3. Reducing Health Disparities by Serving Communities that Face Barriers to Wellness 

Student: Natalie Frech
School: University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Natalie Frech

Natalie Frech is an MPH student in the department of Health Promotion Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

In addition to her busy schedule at the University of Oklahoma, Natalie is a current member of the Tulsa Albert Schweitzer Fellowship’s Cohort 7, where she conducts a community project helping at-risk families by working to reduce disparities from housing insecurity, stress, and financial strain, and to provide trauma-sensitive support to families in these circumstances so they can be better equipped to reach their highest potential. Natalie’s project takes place at Lindsey House, a transitional housing facility for single mothers in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is using a nutrition-based, client-driven approach to support the development of the food pantry at Lindsey House and to encourage Lindsey House residents to build healthier habits and take steps toward self-care and wellness. Natalie collaborates with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to keep Lindsey House’s on-site food pantry stocked with fresh produce and nutritious shelf-stable foods, and she provides the residents with relevant resources (eg, recipe ideas for the fresh produce). She also has ongoing individual meetings with the residents to help them reach their wellness goals (ie, regularly discussing their successes and strategizing together when barriers arise). Additionally, Natalie is expanding Lindsey House’s current health and wellness curriculum to cover a broader range of health topics and to ensure that the curriculum materials are engaging and trauma sensitive. Once finalized, the modified health and wellness curriculum will be embedded within Lindsey House’s life skills curriculum. Ultimately, the goal of this project is to empower Lindsey House residents to set and achieve their wellness goals by providing them with the necessary support and resources. As residents complete the Lindsey House curricula and move toward independence, they will be better prepared to prioritize their wellness and plan for healthy choices.

“Many individuals who have experienced trauma, adversity, or toxic stress can find it difficult or overwhelming to engage in health-promoting activities (such as planning and cooking nutritious meals or incorporating physical activity into a busy schedule),” says Natalie. “Through my project, I am empowering participants with knowledge, resources, and support to help them feel more prepared to reach their health goals and model healthy behaviors for their children. By improving participants’ health-related self-efficacy, this project can pave the way for long-term maintenance of healthy habits.”

4. Building Foundations to Improve Public Health Systems Across the Nation

Student: Abby Vogel
School: University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Abby Vogel

Abby Vogel is a biostatistics MS student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, having previously obtained a BA in sociology and mathematics and a BS in neuroscience. Her interests lie in using quantitative health/public health research and statistical modeling to improve policy and organizational structures.

In her time with the UMN SPH Center for Public Health Systems (CPHS), Abby has been an integral part of projects that have laid foundations for public health systems and services within both Minnesota and nationally. The Minnesota Cost and Capacity Assessment seeks to evaluate the current state of public health services in Minnesota and define a new, optimized paradigm for improving public health in the 21st century. As part of this project to assess the expertise, capacity, and spending to deliver foundational public health responsibilities within the state of Minnesota, Abby helped in developing detailed operational definitions for services and in designing the comprehensive assessment survey. The assessment was conducted across all state and local governmental public health departments and will provide critical learnings on strengths and weaknesses within the public health system. Abby is involved in data analysis for the project overall but is taking responsibility within a public health system network analysis for the state. She is also a key participant in a project to develop such definitions for the national Foundational Public Health Services framework and a data collection instrument to collect similar capacity, expertise, and spending data from future participants across the nation. This work will be valuable as the national public health system begins introspecting on its infrastructure and workforce in 2023 following availability of new grant funding. The foundations she has laid will enable public health systems across the nation to make solid improvements to the public’s health.

5. Creating a Foundation for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement

Student: MegAnn Smith
School: University of Maryland School of Public Health

MegAnn Smith

MegAnn Smith (she/her) is a PhD student at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the inaugural Graduate Fellow for the Office of Public Health Practice and Community Engagement. She received her BS in Biology and Health Sciences from Guilford College and MPH from Washington University in St. Louis.

As the Robin Mockenhaupt Endowed Distinguished Graduate Fellow of Public Health Practice and Community Engagement, MegAnn has been able to assist in laying an intentional foundation for the future of public health practice and community engagement efforts at the UMD School of Public Health. The office is designed to support bilateral pathways between and among students, staff, faculty, and the community to enable public health practice opportunities that enhance academics, research, practice, and community well-being, promote public health practice transformations, and serve as a resource and innovation hub for the school and community partners domestically and globally. In her role, MegAnn has assisted in managing the office’s interns including developing work plans and continuing education; assisted in developing all office materials including all marketing materials and website, strategic plans, and logic models; and she has provided administrative support for the office’s development including funding searches and key partner liaison and development.

“As a first-year PhD student in Behavioral and Community Health, MegAnn worked alongside the assistant deans of public health practice and community engagement to establish a foundation for the School’s newly established Office of Public Health Practice and Community Engagement,” says Dr. Tracy Zeeger. “Despite being new to the school, MegAnn developed trusting relationships with multiple entities to begin fulfilling the office’s mission and vision. Her community engagement skills have been instrumental for paving the pathway for the office to impact population health across the state of Maryland.”

6. Partnering with Barbershops in Atlanta to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Student: Kristi Sprowl
School: University of Georgia

Kristi Sprowl

Kristi Sprowl, MPH, CHES, is a second year DrPH student in Health Policy and Management at the University of Georgia. Her work includes implementing community public health education programs, community outreach campaigns, and public awareness initiatives with clinics, schools, community centers, and executives. Through rigorous academic and professional training, Kristi has leveraged her enthusiasm for health to become a public health practitioner and an American Heart Association blood pressure champion.

High blood pressure (BP) rates for African Americans in the US are among the highest in the world, with over 40% of those in Atlanta living with hypertension (CDC, 2022). Barbershops play an important role in the lives of African American men, so the American Heart Association recognized the need to work with local barbers to become blood pressure champions.

In her role as Atlanta’s Community Impact Director for the American Heart Association, Kristi partnered with local barbershops and Atlanta-based nursing Greek organization, Chi Eta Phi, to create a sustainable community-based blood pressure screening, education, and referral program. Nursing volunteers in the program formally trained barbers and monitored patrons’ blood pressure readings through a data log.

“The goal is to create a strong bridge between the communities people live in and the medical homes that serve them,” says Kristi.

Her future goals include advancing efforts around health equity and social justice.

7. Developing Improved Strategies for HIV Prevention

Student: Lauren Violette
School: University of Washington

Lauren Violette

Lauren Violette is a PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology and a research consultant with the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington. She earned her MPH in 2015 from The George Washington University.

Lauren’s primary research focuses on choice for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) modalities and delivery models in urban and rural areas of Washington State. The goal of her work is to better target implementation of HIV prevention services, inform population-specific delivery of PrEP, and drive pipeline development of newer PrEP formulations and modalities.

In addition to her dissertation work, Lauren is a member of a research team that evaluates new and existing point-of-care tests for HIV and sexually transmitted infections. She is also involved in a project that assesses the impact of venue-based pop-up primary and preventive care on sustained PrEP use among women who inject drugs in Seattle.

“PrEP isn’t and shouldn’t be considered one-size-fits-all,” says Lauren. “Understanding how and why individuals choose to use certain HIV prevention strategies, especially as new options and delivery models become available, is a crucial step towards making PrEP work for more people.”

8. Providing Community Engagement Beyond the Classroom

Students: Sofie Momin and Maisie Sun
School: Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

CIPHER, also known as Citizens’ Public Health Literacy, is a student-designed-and-run organization at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, established during the COVID-19 pandemic with a mission to uplift NYC communities, empower students, and improve health outcomes through accessible and comprehensive health education. Students strive to fulfill CIPHER’s mission by developing public health curricula grounded in health equity and relevant public health topics such as determinants of health, climate change, and digital health. Through their work, they seek to strengthen relationships between Columbia University MSPH and NYC communities via outreach and long-term partnership with local organizations. CIPHER works with several organizations to provide students with an avenue for community engagement that goes beyond the classroom setting.

In 2022, two MPH students helped CIPHER embark upon a number of new initiatives, including adding a new module on climate change and health, extending opportunities for direct engagement of students in community projects, and working with LearnIT (a local NGO) to stage weekend teach-ins to tutor older citizens in the use of computer technology. Outreach too, has intensified, reaching additional community-based organizations, working with them on short-term projects, and fashioning opportunities for both long-term collaborations and summer internships. Social media and word-of-mouth share the work of spreading awareness of opportunities to participate through both community and school networks.

Sofie Momin

Sofie Momin is an MPH candidate at Mailman concentrating in Sociomedical Sciences with a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual and Reproductive Health. She is a FORWARD Fellow and one of the Organizational Managers for CIPHER, working on connecting Mailman students with community organizations.

“As an organizational manager,” says Sofie, “I ensure all members are in communication with their respective community partners and promote various opportunities to our student body. I also plan and organize monthly events for students to receive updates and get an opportunity to connect with Mailman faculty or community organizers as our guest speakers. This year, we were able to expand our reach and gain more active members than in previous years. We have partnered with several organizations, including but not limited to Project STAY, Health 4 Youths, Bard Prison Initiative, The Climate Club, and LearnIT.”

Maisie Sun

Maisie Sun, a second-year MPH student studying Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Mailman, always had a strong passion for education and knowledge translation. Before attending Columbia, she graduated from Western University, Canada, with an Honors Specialization in Biochemistry and Cell Biology and supported the Canadian Cancer Society in promoting their findings to the public.

“Step by step, CIPHER strives to spread public health literacy to the community and beyond by decoding public health concepts through community-informed curriculum,” says Maisie. “This year, Sofie and I supported multiple CIPHER committees in Education, Outreach, and Community-Based Organization (CBO) Support. We have developed public health literacy curriculum and its implementation into various settings such as schools, BPI, and Climate Club. We assisted Project STAY with program needs such as grant writing, needs assessments, evaluation, social media, and fundraising. And we started a partnership with LearnIT, where members of the organization can volunteer on the weekend to teach the elderly how to use technology. Sofie and I also hosted events to raise awareness among the student population about various opportunities in the community to be involved with. We wish for students to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to the community and experience the influence and importance of public health firsthand through hands-on projects or volunteerism.”

For 2023, CIPHER aims to seek out more community partnerships that could benefit from the service and expertise of Mailman students.

Do You Know a Student Rocking Public Health?

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