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Dornsife SPH Magazine Vol. 24 Student Highlight: Jack Pellegrino

The following story is an excerpt from Dornsife's 2024 magazine:

May 2024

Jack Pellegrino’s path in public health began in his undergraduate education at the University of South Carolina. Beyond his foundational coursework, he supported research projects dedicated to understanding risk factors associated with malaria, COVID-19, neonatal hypothermia, and postnatal depression which helped solidified his decision to further his education in epidemiology.

Another deciding factor, Pellegrino interned with the COVID-19 Containment Division at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health during the summer of 2022. He credits both experiences for giving him a strong background in research design, data analysis, and community outreach.

Originally from Norristown, returning to the Philadelphia area, a place he considers home, for his Master's in Public Health (MPH) was a welcome opportunity. Pellegrino was accepted into the Drexel Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) MPH program and was awarded a Dornsife Public Health Research Fellowship for the 2023-2024 academic year. The highly competitive fellowship is for students with a strong interest or experience in urban health and health disparities. The award includes a tuition scholarship and research assistantship that pairs fellows with a faculty mentor.

“I was honored to receive a competitive fellowship. I was extremely excited to learn that I would be matched with a faculty member to assist them with their research,” said Pellegrino.

Pellegrino was paired with Brent Langellier, PhD, MA, associate professor of health management and policy at DSPH, whose research seeks to understand and address drivers of health disparities which aligned with his goals.

Langellier is currently investigating the impacts of a community-based organization in Philadelphia called FarmerJawn whose mission is to increase access to organic, non-processed food in the food-insecure neighborhoods in the city. Specifically, Pellegrino is helping him research how the educational programs and urban farms established by the organization will affect the health of these communities.

So far in this research project, Pellegrino has gained a lot of practical experience from collaborations. “I have worked with multiple people from different corners of public health. I have met and worked with staff from FarmerJawn, professors at Drexel, and another fellow graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania,” shared Pellegrino. “It has been a pleasure to work with a variety of individuals who all have different educational and social backgrounds, and having multiple opinions from different backgrounds has really improved the quality of work we are able to put together.”

As the research progresses, Pellegrino will continue to gain skills in designing studies and collecting impactful data. “So far, I have learned a ton regarding study design and the development of tools that will generate data for our study from my colleagues with experience.”

In addition to this hands-on learning experience, Pellegrino has found having a mentor to be a real asset in mapping his career trajectory. “Having a professor in your corner to answer questions that may arise and support your development as a person and a professional is extremely beneficial. It is reassuring to know that [Dr. Langellier] is concerned about my future and wants to help me design a path to best reach my goals in the public health field.”

Langellier, along with his fellow faculty members at DSPH, view mentorship as a key component of the DSPH student experience. “Working with faculty mentors is invaluable for public health students in fostering their professional development and contributing to public health. The exposure to real public health research and practice challenges provides students with practical insights and skills, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and its application,” said Langellier.

Additionally, Langellier notes the impact students like Pellegrino can have. “Engaging in projects and collaborations that are already established enhances the students' learning experience. It allows them to contribute meaningfully to ongoing initiatives and gain a deeper understanding of public health work without having to develop relationships or create their own project from scratch.”

The exact direction Pellegrino’s career will take after graduation is not certain, but what is certain is his commitment to using his training to solve complex public health problems. “A lot of the health disparities are complex and require multi-pronged solutions and collaboration across different work sectors. I am very interested in working to find solutions to these issues,” he shared.

Check out Dornsife's 2024 magazine