COVID-19 Pandemic Brings New Experiences for CPHSJ Undergraduate Students
During the course of their time as undergraduates in the College for Public Health and Social Justice, public health students engage in field exposure as part of their curriculum. Traditionally, this experience came through service learning, an approach that joins concepts taught in the classroom with community experience.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, service learning was suspended beginning in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester, when the University moved classes online.
To ensure that a field exposure component remained in the curriculum during the 2020-21 academic year, Dr. Lauren Arnold, Director of Undergraduate Public Health Programs, and Maggie Callon, Program Coordinator for the Undergraduate Public Health Programs, worked to develop a field exposure model that involved recorded interviews with public health professionals from around the world; this was supplemented with live group interviews and one-on-one interviews that students conducted with public health.
"The public health field study exposed me to the huge range of job opportunities a SLU public health degree can help me get while showing how the skills I’m learning in my courses apply to these professional's daily practice. The experience showed me that most of public health work isn’t just in a health department but is also in hospitals, tech companies, law offices, NGOs, and consulting firms," said Patrick Murphy, Accelerated BSPH/MPH student, BSPH 2023 and MPH 2024.
The idea was proposed to the Undergraduate Public Health Steering Committee in May 2020 and implemented that summer.
Michelle Azar, MPH 2022, joined the team as a Graduate Assistant responsible for expanding the interview library and coordinating in-class logistics.
The team contacted over 30 public health professionals from around the globe with a request to conduct and record interviews about their career path and current job as they related to the course for which the interview would be used.
The effort to recruit public health professionals who were excited to share their experiences and help students find their passion for the field and affirm their career path was met with overwhelming success.
Interviews were recorded for three different undergraduate courses, with questions that related to course objectives. Additionally, professionals were invited to participate in group-style interviews, and students had the opportunity to conduct interviews themselves, asking questions they’d written with guidance from the Program.
Companies and organizations that participated included SSM Health, University of Colorado Health, Procter & Gamble, World Health Organization, and Operation Food Search.
“It was [students’] first time doing any kind of informational interview, and it was an opportunity for them to practice those skills, becoming comfortable with those networking skills and professional communication. I saw a lot of growth in all of the classes” Azar said.
With this unique experience for the undergraduate students, many found it interesting how applicable their coursework was to different areas in public health.
According to surveys about the videos, the majority of students agreed that they enhanced the concepts learned in class and something new about the St. Louis community and global health. The students overwhelmingly enjoyed seeing the connection between public health and the professional world.
In the future, as pandemic restrictions ease, Dr. Arnold and Ms. Callon are looking to combine the current field experience component with the traditional service learning objectives from pre-pandemic years.
“We’re in a position where we probably could go back full-time to service learning, but we’ve gotten such a good response from these field exposure videos and interviews that we have decided to keep them as a part of the curricular resources for students. Students really appreciate learning what public health looks like in the workforce and the real world.” Callon said.
College for Public Health and Social Justice
The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.
Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.