One of the USF College of Public Health graduation requirements for an MPH degree is a supervised field experience. Similar to an internship in other disciplines, FE allows students to explore their academic interests in a monitored professional setting.
According to the Council on Education for Public Health, the accrediting body for schools of public health, “a planned, supervised and evaluated practice experience is an essential component of a public health professional degree program.”
Whether international or domestic, via FE students able to choose an experience that complements their particular interests. In fact, the experience can practically be a window into their dream jobs.
This was the case with Mandy Chan, just one of about 250 COPH students to complete a field experience in 2014. The Sarasota native worked with Feeding America Tampa Bay on its Meals for Minds program at Foster Elementary.
“This meal program targets low-income families who may be food insecure,” said Chan. “By providing bagged food for them, they could feed their children at home.”
Feeding America Tampa Bay staff and Chan believe that proper nutrition can often make a difference in a student’s schooling. By providing the means for food-insecure families to serve their families nutritious meals, they believe they can positively impact both a child’s behavior and academic performance.
Chan’s field experience allowed her to apply her public health passion for ending hunger in America in a professional setting, all while making a difference in local school children’s lives. Chan came in at the start of the program to help evaluate what could be done with the grant the school had received. She was able to work directly with students, parents and staff by conducting surveys to determine whether there had been any marked differences from the beginning to the end of the school year.
When she had a chance to talk to the parents and students recently, Chan said, they told her the program made a significant difference when their food supplies were low.
“Every one of them gave positive remarks,” she said. “As of now, the program is still running at Foster, and the students are always excited when Feeding America Tampa Bay comes out.”
Chan’s field experience is by no means the only FE success story COPH has to offer.
Elisabeth Franzen completed her field experience requirement with Students Working Against Tobacco. The organization works with youth in middle school to arrange events and activities geared toward the vision of a tobacco-free Florida. For Franzen, whose one wish is “to be a part of something bigger,” her placement was practically a wish come true.
“Through this experience, I have become more aware of what drives policy chance, big tobacco marketing and how community coalitions come together to make a difference,” she said.
Franzen was able to explore a world of professional opportunities and assist full-time staff with completing the tobacco grant work plan. She helped with community coalition activities, hosted educational programs and gained invaluable experience with grant writing.
While the field experience is deemed “a requirement,” placement itself provides obvious short-term benefits, like practical skills and a deepened understanding of public health theories; it can provide lifelong benefits, as well.
“This experience has enhanced my understanding of my future career goals and aspirations such as my love for teaching and being a community partner,” said Franzen.
No matter where COPH students choose to complete their FE, one thing is for certain: The experience goes far beyond a box on the graduation checklist. The placement is a chance for students to explore their desired field, to test out their public health savvy with training wheels and to make a difference in their community or in the world.
Story by Shelby Bourgeois, College of Public Health writing intern. Photos courtesy of Mandy Chan and Elisabeth Franzen.