News and Announcements - HBS/ PBHL Fall 2020 Spotlights
Letter from the Graduate Director
I hope our Fall 2020 newsletter finds you safe and healthy. The ongoing pandemic has shown us that health and wellbeing touch every corner of our lives--from work and parenting, to politics and health care. As such, training in the health sciences has never been more relevant. I hope that throughout your education and your careers, you find ways to continue learning about, and contributing to, the health and wellbeing of our world. Below, we have some spotlights on students, alumni, and faculty. I hope you find them as interesting as I have.
We’ve begun a listserv for job market candidates and recent PhD graduates. If you would like to sign up for the listserv or if you have positions to post, please email email@example.com.
We also have some brief news and notes at the bottom. Please send us a note about your latest professional accomplishments for inclusion in our next newsletter.
Undergraduate Alum Spotlight
Adnan Syed, BS
Adnan graduated from the Public Health undergraduate program with a Bachelor of Science in 2019 and is currently a professional research assistant at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Hospital. He says that every day in his role brings something new. He works on multiple mixed-methods evaluation projects to improve healthcare for veterans and is responsible for recruiting, interviewing, transcribing, and analyzing the data he collects. Adnan is also a research assistant at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. He is working remotely on several projects that examine how people make decisions using different marketing techniques. In one project, he is exploring whether disclosing costs affects the utilization of healthcare services. He finds the integration of business marketing strategies to be a novel approach to health promotion.
Adnan pursued many research opportunities during his undergraduate career. At first, he worked in a lab learning different bench science techniques, but he wanted an experience that allowed him to work with people. That is when he emailed his professor, Dr. Meng Li. By the end of his sophomore year he was working on multiple projects alongside Dr. Li. He shares that, “It really taught me that research can be enjoyable. I thought bench research was the only thing out there and this really opened my eyes. I never thought I would be so interested in social psychology research.”
Reflecting on the Public Health program Adnan says, “I really like how the classes were co-taught and how all the faculty did their own research because that provided a really different perspective.” He goes on to say, “it made me realize how vast public health is.” He also enjoyed multiple opportunities to volunteer through the CU Denver Public Health Association and Lynx Alternative Breaks.
Adnan doesn’t plan to stop here. He is in the process of applying to medical school. He finds that the public health route to medicine “offered a new perspective”, one that was more in line with a “preventative approach.” While he isn’t sure which field of medicine he will pursue, he knows that he will bring the skills he learned from his public health background and research experience.
Graduate Alum Spotlight
Mondi Mason, PhD, MPH
Mondi Mason completed her doctorate in Health and Behavioral Sciences in 2003 and has gone on to work in both the academic and applied sectors. Currently, Mondi is the Food Policy Program Administrator at the City and County of Denver’s Department of Public Health & Environment.
Mondi works at the local and regional level to address food insecurity. She is currently coordinating a multi-year project called Food in Communities, which partners with community members, local organizations, food policy councils, and municipal and county agencies to address food policies, systems, and environments. Food in Communities uses a community-based participatory approach to develop and fund community-driven action plans and project ideas that increase access to nutritious, affordable and culturally important food. Mondi says that it is important for her to “lift up community voice, support their ideas, and provide evidence that comes out of the projects to inform policy makers at local and regional levels.” This work became even more pressing with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mondi relates that “COVID really sped up the work because people had to pivot from planning into action. For example, food pantry partners were seeing six times the number of people they would normally see. COVID exacerbated the inequities that already existed.” Her work exemplifies the benefit of community-led research—it allows practitioners and researchers to meet people where they are.
Mondi says that the Health and Behavioral Sciences program was a good fit because it allowed her to combine her background in anthropology with public health. The doctorate afforded her new opportunities to take a critical lens to issues that impact communities like food insecurity. During her time in the program she enjoyed interacting with her cohort peers, many of whom remain friends to this day. Her peers came from different backgrounds and professional disciplines, which made for “robust and heartfelt discussions about class readings.”
If you apply to a doctoral program Mondi suggests that you are “clear about what your vision is for yourself and your career and why you’re applying.” For Mondi it was important to focus on community engagement. She says, “people love their community, and they want to make it better.” In her work she gets to ask herself, “what can we, as a municipality, do to support making community health better?”
Current Undergraduate Spotlight
Emily Barrington is in her last year of the Public Health undergraduate program. Emily has always known she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She began her academic journey at CU Denver as a Biophysics major but after spending the winter break of her freshman year at a post-disaster site in Ecuador, she changed her major to public health. While in Ecuador she realized that politics, philosophy, and culture all play a role in population health. She met students from the Public Health master’s program and was intrigued by their conversations about how the structure of a community affects health. Emily says, “what drew me to public health as an aspiring doctor was realizing all the factors that go into your patient’s health. You can see one problem and throw antibiotics at it or a band aid, but your patient may live in a low-income area where there are a lot of other factors to consider.”
Emily’s favorite course in the major is Perspectives in Global Health. She likes that the course offered students an opportunity to work in teams to discuss global concerns like poor maternal child health or civil unrest. Emily built on her love of global health by starting the Global Health Club in the Fall of 2019 with the support of faculty sponsor Jean Scandlyn, PhD. Emily says her goal for the group is to “give students an opportunity to learn about global health by reviewing academic case studies to build future leaders in global health rather than perpetuating a voluntourism mindset which can be damaging to underserved communities.” While global work allows you to travel, it also requires time and dedication. For Emily, it is important to partner with communities to identify the major issues and to fit solutions into an existing way of being, rather than to try to change a culture.
In addition to her coursework, Emily works with faculty on research. She is helping Dr. Amy Nacht of the University of Colorado Hospital, with a project on maternal health in Guatemala, and Dr. Jennifer Boylan of the Health and Behavioral Sciences Department, on a study focusing on meaning in life and cardiovascular health.
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Emily plans to continue working as a certified nursing assistant and research assistant in global health projects while applying to medical school.
Current Graduate Spotlight
Emily Melnick, MPH
Emily Melnick earned her Master of Public Health with a concentration in nutrition from Colorado State University before starting the PhD program in Health and Behavioral. After her MPH Emily got a job with the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center. She worked on the Culture of Wellness program to promote healthy eating in preschools. Her first few years in the job inspired her to go back to school for her doctorate while she continued to work. Emily shares, “I enjoyed being in academia and admired our principle investigator. I saw for myself that I wanted to be in that role guiding research and answering research questions.”
Emily found out about Health and Behavioral Sciences through a colleague. She thought the emphasis on theory and interdisciplinary research was appealing. Emily tells me “it is interesting to have people with expertise in anthropology, psychology and sociology come together to think about different ways to answer questions.”
Before applying to the program, Emily met with Dr. Meng Li of the Health and Behavioral Sciences Department. When they met, everything clicked. Emily continues to have a close relationship with Meng. Emily says that designing studies, analyzing data, and writing papers with Meng has taught her how to be a critical thinker and a better writer.
Emily’s dissertation studies the protective factors that mitigate the risk of childhood obesity. She has also explored different types of research during her time in the program. In her work with the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center she uses a community engaged approach, directly engaging with community partners. In a recently published paper in JAMA she used an experimental approach to assess whether kids ate more fruits and vegetables when eating from a plate covered with images of fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains. In her dissertation, Emily is examining whether social support protects against the risk of adolescent obesity.
Emily says that if someone is interested in applying to a doctoral program, it is important to find a good advisor “because you get stuck and frustrated and having that person give experiential advice is really helpful.” She also suggests that you get a good standing desk and pick a favorite coffee shop!
Ronica Rooks, PhD
Ronica Rooks, an Associate Professor in Health and Behavioral Sciences, recently returned from an international Fulbright Canada fellowship at McMaster University in the Department of Health, Aging and Society. Her semester was cut short due to the pandemic, but she still says that her time there was fruitful and allowed her to pursue important research among older adults. Her research uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how gentrification impacts chronic conditions among vulnerable populations and racialized minorities. Her most recent publication with co-author and Health and Behavioral Sciences doctoral student, Tristen Hall, examines how racial and ethnic minority subpopulations experience a disproportionate burden of asthma and adverse childhood experiences.
When asked what attracted her to Health and Behavioral Sciences, Ronica says, “I never felt bounded by a single discipline.” Ronica’s PhD was in Sociology and she had two post docs: one in geriatric epidemiology and one in health disparities. Ronica describes her line of work as sociology with public health and gerontology interests. She says it was important for her to find a place that encouraged this type of interdisciplinary work. She also enjoys living in Colorado for all the outdoor activities it has to offer. She says it is “nice to get out and explore in Colorado.”
Ronica teaches several undergraduate and graduate courses where she incorporates student feedback to tailor each course to the students in it. She currently mentors five doctoral students and one undergraduate student. Ronica says, “I like working with students one-on-one because you get to know them in-depth, and you get a continuous relationship. The depth of that relationship is rewarding.”
For anyone applying to the Health and Behavioral Sciences doctoral program she recommends, “find someone who is willing to work with you and nurture you. Not just one but a team of people because a team gives you multiple perspectives and you can get different strengths from different people.”
Brief News and Updates
HBSC Alumna Sharon Devine, PhD is retiring at the end of December, 2020. Sharon has been an integral part of our department for many years in both our undergraduate and PhD programs. Sharon reflects on her time in the HBSC program, "It was such a luxury to go back to school after many miles in another profession and to study something new. The faculty were so welcoming and supportive. One of the best decisions of my life." We wish her luck and happiness in her next endeavors!
HBSC Alumnus Mark Strand, PhD is a professor at North Dakota State University with a shared appointment in the School of Pharmacy and Public Health Program. He shares, "My experience as an HBS doctoral student was fantastic. My cohort was very close, and we had so much fun learning together, and spending two years together multiple times a week. The PhD allowed me to move forward as a researcher and scholar, and become a professor at North Dakota State University. I have achieved many career goals because of what the [CU Denver] PhD did for me in preparing me to be a competitive researcher. Best wishes to the program and the university on another high impact 25 years!"