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UHC Practica: MPH Students Tackle Urban Health Challenges Through Experiential Learning

October 25, 2016

Four MPH students recently completed practicums with funding support from the Urban Health Collaborative, an initiative of the Dornsife School of Public Health. As the inaugural cohort of UHC funded practicums, their wide-ranging work illustrates the breadth and depth of public health. The students engaged on the local, regional, and national levels with topics including active transportation, air pollution, encouraging policy related activities, and early childhood learning.

Giselle Babiarz, MPH ‘17, completed her practicum with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the metropolitan planning organization for the 9-county, bi-state region of Greater Philadelphia. Babiarz worked on DVRPC’s “Indicators of Potential Disadvantage” web application and data tool with Shoshana Akins, MPH’15, the first staff member of DVRPC with a public health background. In recent years there has been a resurgence in attention given to the connection between public health and the fields of urban/regional design and transportation planning, which exemplifies Health in All Policies, a priority of the Dornsife School of Public Health.

Alexandra Skula, MPH ‘17, spent her practicum working at the center of a partnership between a local high school in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Point Breeze (Girard Academic Music Program), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a University of Pennsylvania environmental toxicology center (CEET), and Philadelphia Air Management Services. The goal was to assist high school students in developing risk communication tools to communicate the health effects of ambient air pollution in their community. Skula played a central role in leading the design of educational materials and organizing a large community event to disseminate this information to residents who can use it to demand improvements.

Vaishnavi Vaidya, MPH ‘17, supported the early learning initiative out of the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) during her practicum. Vaidya conducted a qualitative survey of parents to assess their knowledge of and interest in using high-quality early education programs, updated a web-based interactive map of quality early education centers, and created a crosswalk to identify gaps between multiple standards of high-quality early education centers. Vaidya’s crosswalk was included in the plan presented to Philadelphia City Council members when they were deliberating the sugary beverage tax that would fund Universal Pre-K in Philadelphia, which will improve educational outcomes, an important social determinant of health.

Samantha Weckesser worked at the Health Federation of Philadelphia to advance the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) Program, a program that brings together 14 city, county, regional, and state sites actively engaged in building the movement for a just, healthy and resilient world. Weckesser conducted an environmental scan of policy-related activities in these sites to assess capacity and plan technical assistance in response to community needs. Successful technical assistance will enable these communities to improve community resilience by explicitly applying Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) science, data, and language, and thus improving public health.

The Urban Health Collaborative is committed to improving health in cities by increasing scientific knowledge and public awareness of health and health variation within cities, and by promoting urban policies and partnerships that promote health and reduce health inequalities.

First year students interested in urban health practicum funding should look out for a call for proposals in Winter 2017.