With the need for public health professionals more urgent than ever, a program at UB aims to capture the imaginations, early on, of people who may one day join the field – and make it more diverse.
Public Health Pathways Academy is an effort of the School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP), Erie Niagara Region Health Education Center (AHEC), and HOPE Buffalo / CAI. The course is designed to introduce grade 10 and 11 students to the world of public health and their career options in the field. Its most important goal: to improve the diversity of students seeking careers in public health and the health professions through admission to UB.
“Even some of our new freshmen haven’t been exposed to what public health is, so Pathways gives students a place to start – what public health is, what its scope. We also wanted them to establish a connection with UB, ”says Adam Graczyk, Clinical Assistant Professor of Community Health and Health Behavior, who oversees the course.
Students receive academic credit for participating in a program that includes lectures and demonstrations by faculty and public health organizations, group activities, and student-led presentations. This year’s group of 14 future public health professionals came from public high schools in Buffalo, Lackawanna and Niagara Falls. All are members of under-represented minorities, or those who would be the first in their families to attend university.
The genesis of Pathways was a public health summer camp that the SPHHP and AHEC once offered. The SPHHP came up with the idea of making learning more rigorous and offering college credit. AHEC accepted and Pathways was born.
During the seven-week course, students learned about epidemiology, health disparities, disease prevention, exercise science, nutrition, and other disciplines. They also received useful information to prepare for college, such as how to write personal statements and common questions about applying to college.
Leveraging his background in improvisation, Graczyk involved students at each class session in activities to set the tone at the start of the day and boost energy at the end of the day.
The activities “help create a welcoming and open environment,” says Graczyk. “In improvisation, there is no failure, and I try to bring that into the classroom.”
In their responses to the post-course survey, the students said they greatly appreciate the feedback from various guest speakers who have virtually visited Pathways. These included the SPHHP health professions and public health professors; current SPHHP students and alumni; and Erie County Health Department staff on Narcan training, speakers from Hope Buffalo on sex education and UB on how to apply, financial aid and other admission topics.
The last day of the featured course – what else? – final projects. The students took a photo in their community that illustrated a public health issue, then researched and talked about the issues, ultimately offering their ideas for public health interventions that might solve the issue. They also established links with the student ambassadors of the SPHHP, who served as mentors on the projects.
“The final project really gave the students a personal connection to an issue and to their community,” says Graczyk.
Brittany Mitchell, Erie Niagara AHEC Program Manager, agrees. “The Public Health Pathways Academy has been a great opportunity for high school students to learn about the field of public health and its impact on the communities in which they live,” says Mitchell. “Thanks to this program, these students are better equipped to respond to public health issues within their own communities, as well as to use this knowledge and share it with their friends and relatives.
“We look forward to continuing this partnership and creating more public health advocates in the Buffalo community.
Among the expected outcomes for Pathways program participants is their increased knowledge of public health topics and their future acceptance into college and health-related programs. The results of the course investigation have shown that some of these results appear probable.
“I feel like every aspect of the program has helped me… I didn’t know how I would fit into medical and public health,” one student wrote in her assessment of the course. “I came not knowing much… [but] they covered so many different topics that you can choose if you were to be in public health. All of this played an important role in my thinking about the future.
Another participant wrote: “I have learned that public health is about more than what you think … that if you love to make a difference in someone else’s life, you absolutely have to look into it. on public health. “