What do you get when you ask a high school sophomore, “What is public health?”
If the sophomore was one of the recent high school students selected to participate in the Public Health Academy, you will likely be amazed by the response. Her answer will incorporate a working knowledge of the five core areas of public health along with a personal account of why she believes public health is important in her life and that of her community.
From July 18-29, the Colorado School of Public Health – in coordination with Aurora LIGHTS , Colorado Area Health Education Center and Aurora Public Schools – played host to 10 local high school students for the inaugural Public Health Academy at the Anschutz Medical Campus.
Each day for two weeks, academy students delved into a deeper understanding of public health through guest lectures, field trips and hands-on activities. Their learning experiences were developed by a collaboration of public health staff, faculty and stakeholders, and were designed to showcase the relevancy and career opportunities available through public health.
“Our goal was to give students an overview of the field of public health and to make the field real to them as a possible career choice,” says program organizer Fayette Augillard of the Colorado School of Public Health.
Activities included a trip to the State Capitol to meet Rep. Rhonda Fields, House District 42 and member of the health and environment committee; to DeLaney Community Farm to understand the connection between the environment and health; and to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to explore how the state prepares for and responds to emergencies and disasters.
The daily experiences gave each student an opportunity to interact with practicing professionals. The process aided students in understanding how a career in public health will enable them to better serve their communities now and in the future.
Because of the community focus, the program selected local high school students from groups traditionally underrepresented as health professionals. Each student received a stipend sponsored by the Mountain and Plains Education Research Center and their program expenses were covered with financial support from Aurora LIGHTS.
“Since its inception in 2008, Aurora LIGHTS has involved more than 800 educationally disadvantaged or economically disadvantaged students in their health careers pipeline,” Augillard says. “The school’s collaboration with Aurora LIGHTS, Colorado Area Health Education Center and Aurora Public Schools gives CSPH the opportunity for community engagement, youth learning, and helps us to build a diverse and representative academic community committed to social and economic justice in health.”
Students rounded out the program by leading a public health forum in front of their families and program mentors. Each student explained his/her favorite discipline within public health and how that role was related to building the foundation of public health in their community.
“The students did a phenomenal job with their presentations. We could not have asked for more from them nor had a better group of students to participate in the inaugural Public Health Academy,” Augillard says.
Additional information about the Public Health Academy is available on the Aurora LIGHTS program website.