Alumna Kathleen Cunningham selected as an ASPPH/NHTSA public health fellow

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USF College of Public Health alumna Kathleen Cunningham has been selected to the ASPPH/NHTSA Public Health Fellowship for the 2020-2021 year at the U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters (DOT) in Washington, DC. Her appointment began in September.

The fellowship is a collaborative effort between the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), DOT and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It is a unique training opportunity offered to graduates of CEPH-accredited schools and programs of public health. Fellows work with national experts in injury prevention and motor vehicle and highway safety issues to examine the causes and etiology of motor vehicle crashes and injuries.

Alumna Kathleen Cunningham, MPH (Photo courtesy of Cunningham)
Alumna Kathleen Cunningham, MPH, CPH (Photo courtesy of Cunningham)

Cunningham was first introduced to public health while earning her BS in nursing at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. 

“We had a basic class on the importance of public health and social determinants of health that influence individual health. It made perfect sense to me as a big proponent of preparedness and prevention,” she said. “I feel like solid public health efforts reduce the overall burden on the health care system. I have seen too many patients that we could have done more for if they only had support earlier on in their community.”

After graduating from Kent State with her BS in nursing and BA in biology with a minor in health care ethics, Cunningham joined the USF COPH to pursue her MPH in disaster management, humanitarian aid and homeland security

Cunningham said she chose the USF COPH for three reasons: the well-rounded programs with topics she was interested in, online courses that allowed her to live and work from anywhere and still obtain her degree, and the affordability.

“I personally don’t like the idea of finances limiting learning, and there is a lot to be said for minimizing debt and getting the education you want,” she said.

Cunningham also enjoyed all of her professors who encouraged multiple perspectives and dove into particular interests while also connecting these interests to the overall learning. 

“My mentor, Dr. Tony Masys, and my practicum advisor Dr. Jennifer Marshall, were absolutely great. They encouraged me to think about my long-term goals and what projects would most accomplish those things,” she said. “Special shout out to Dr. Janice Zgibor, who helped me get my practicum direction and my study abroad to Australia.”

As an online student who worked full-time as a travel nurse, Cunningham said that she did face some challenges during her time at the COPH. 

“Online group projects were my biggest challenge. Many of us were of differing career backgrounds and degree programs, so one person would be speaking at a whole different level about homeland security and military operations which could lead many lost, but it was great practice for the pandemic, however, where every project is virtual!”

Cunningham working in the field a first-year public health fellow
in the federal office of Emergency Medical Services under the National Highway and Traffic and
Safety Administration. (Photo courtesy of Cunningham)
Cunningham working in the field a first-year public health fellow in the federal office of Emergency Medical Services under the National Highway and Traffic and Safety Administration. (Photo courtesy of Cunningham)

Before applying for the ASPPH/NHTSA Public Health Fellowship, Cunningham had originally applied for ASPPH fellowships with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Monica Stadtler, director of DEI and graduate training programs at ASPPH, emailed me about this fellowship with the Office of Emergency Medical Services (EMS),” she said. “I have an interest in most things medical, so I went ahead and applied. I was completely surprised when they called me for an interview, since my background is not EMS specific, but I was really intrigued by how much the office does with such a small staff and the opportunity they were offering for me to grow and focus on skill development.”

As a  first-year public health fellow in the federal office of Emergency Medical Services under the National Highway and Traffic and Safety Administration, Cunningham is currently working on is improving her data analysis and communication skills while working on a variety of office projects that she hopes will promote emergency medical and 911 services in order to increase recognition and requisite support.

“My team is fantastic. It is such a great group of driven, hardworking and congenial people. I have had no shortage of projects I could jump in on, or ask for clarification about, and they are more than happy to help, provide information, or connect me to the resources I need,” she said.

Cunningham is also using much of what she learned at the USF COPH in her current position, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am utilizing the disaster management side of things far more than I expected with the pandemic,” she said. “Having a working knowledge of the system in place during a pandemic has been helpful in prioritizing actions and directing information.”

While it’s still early on in Cunningham’s fellowship, she said that she’s been fairly proud of her ability to take information in and put it into a digestible perspective.

“My goal is to continue to do that for the benefit of others, gathering data and then presenting it in a way that illustrates the importance of action and advocates for affected groups,” she said.

Alumni Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

Marine biologist, actress or world traveler.

Where would we find you on the weekend?

Taking a class, in salsa or diving or whatever!

What is the last book you read?

“The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited,” by the McElroys.  Before that, “Snuff”, by Terry Pratchett.

What superpower would you like to have?


What’s your all-time favorite movie?

Practical Magic.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health