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Orientation session introduces YSPH students to diverse community public health initiatives

September 07, 2023
by Elizabeth Lin

The Office of Public Health Practice recently held its inaugural New Student Orientation Session, a schoolwide event intended to introduce students to some of the focus areas of the public health sector and provide them with important insights on working with community partners.

Office of Public Health Practice Executive Director Susan Nappi, MPH ’01, welcomed the approximately 130 students who attended the August 25th event. Nappi explained that her office provides students with opportunities to apply their academic training and evidence-based practice to real-world settings. A key part of the office’s mission, she said, is to foster sustainable and equitable collaborations between students, faculty, and community partners.

“We believe in project co-design,” Nappi said. “We like to work with organizations. We prefer not to go to them with our own ideas but to ask them what they need. We want to help fill the gaps in their capacity.”

This commitment to community collaboration led to creation of the Office of Public Health Practice’s new Community Impact Lab.

“With the Community Impact Lab, we seek to nurture our relationships with organizations and strengthen our partnerships,” said Kathleen O’Connor-Duffany, PhD ’15, the lab’s faculty director and director of research and evaluation for the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE). “In knowing our partners’ projects, their goals, as well as their needs, we can work together to identify areas where we can really drive change.”

Addressing the students, Jason Martinez, director of the Community Impact Lab, stressed the importance of establishing community relationships that center on collaboration.

In knowing our partners’ projects, their goals, as well as their needs, we can work together to identify areas where we can really drive change.

Kathleen O'Connor-Duffany, Faculty Director, Community Impact Lab

“I’m not going into an agency saying, ‘This is what you need, and we have students who are going to do this.’ Instead, I’m meeting with agencies and saying, ‘What do you need? We may have students who can help you with that.’”

Following this introduction by OPHP staff, the students heard from several community providers and organizations whose representatives provided valuable insights to inform the students’ public health practice experience. The featured panelists were Blanche Reeves Tucker, executive director of the Beulah Heights Social Integration Program; Marta Kostecki from the Yale New Haven Hospital Regional Lead Treatment Center; Taylor Choi from the New Haven Department of Health; Lisa Trupp from the Naugatuck Valley Health District; Evan Serio from the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen; Hebe Kudisch from Columbus House; and Tomeka Frieson from the New Haven Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding Initiative.

Trupp emphasized the importance of understanding affected communities when entering into collaborations. “I think that collaboration is key,” she said. “A big piece of how to approach your community is understanding who’s in your community and what challenges are being faced by the people in your community.”

Frieson agreed.

“I just want to emphasize the importance of collaboration and also coalition-building,” she said. Students need to understand not only what exists in the community, but also how different communities are perceived. She encouraged students to approach every collaboration with humility and an open mind as they engage in their public health practice community experience.

Following these panelists, Yale School of Public Health Dean Dr. Megan L. Ranney, MD, shared with students her personal journey in becoming a public health practitioner. She too emphasized the importance of understanding and respecting communities affected by a public health issue.

“If you think that you’re going to parachute in from the outside and tell someone this is what you’re going to do, then you are sorely mistaken,” Ranney said. “If you are doing something that is not in total alignment with what your identity and your lived experience is, make sure you are partnering with those who have lived it.”

After the discussion, students attended short learning and training modules focused on different topics and issues in public health.

A module on food security was led by Sofia I. Morales, manager of research and evaluation at CARE, and Blanche Reeves Tucker, executive director of the Beulah Heights Social Integration Program. It focused on the Supporting Wellness at Pantries (SWAP) program, which is an evidence-based initiative seeking to better community access to healthy foods.

A module on environmental health and lead poisoning was led by YSPH Associate Professor Nicole Deziel and staff from the Yale New Haven Hospital Regional Lead Treatment Center. Students in this module learned about the effects of lead poisoning in the New Haven community, and the environmental causes contributing to lead pollution.

New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond led a module on leadership in public health. She spoke about the work that is performed in a large municipal health department.

YSPH Assistant Professor Ashley Hagaman joined Lisa Trupp in leading a module on mental health. The two discussed some of the mental health challenges impacting the New Haven community and how a suicide prevention training called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) can help.

A module on substance use and harm reduction was led by YSPH Professor Robert Heimer, PhD ’88, MSc ’80, and Evan Serio from New Haven’s Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. Students in this module learned about the work Heimer has done related to substance use in Connecticut and they received training on the signs of opioid overdose and how to use the overdose rescue drug Narcan.

YSPH Associate Professor Danye Keene led an off-campus session on housing insecurity at Columbus House, which is one of Connecticut’s largest shelter systems. Students attending the session toured the shelter, heard from Columbus House staff, including a full-time nurse, and interacted with two clients currently housed there.

A module on maternal and child health was led by Chandra Kelsey, associate director of programs and a lecturer in OPHP, and Frieson. The session focused on several topics: maternal and child health opportunities for YSPH students, experiential learning/community-based participatory research (CBPR) mini case study, and local efforts to address disparities experienced by Black mothers, one of which is the New Haven Breast/Chestfeeding Initiative. Frieson led a training on the "Roots of Racial Inequities in Breastfeeding.”

Mary He, a first year YSPH student, left the orientation excited and inspired.

“The willingness to acknowledge that we will often be outsiders in communities we touch with our work, paired with the principles laid out today, expanded my perspective on what practicing public health should look like,” He said. “I’m looking forward to engaging with, understanding, and learning from communities and community partners on a personal basis.”

Submitted by Colin Poitras on September 06, 2023