From campus to the community: COPH faculty report on 2018 community engagement endeavors

| Academic & Student Affairs, COPH Home Page Feed, COPH Office of Research, Featured News, Monday Letter, Take Note!

USF College of Public Health (COPH) faculty members presented to staff, fellow faculty and local partners highlights from their 2018 community collaborations. Engagement plays a strong role in the COPH’s mission “to provide excellence in public health education, leadership, advocacy, research and service.”

The year-in-review event, held in December at the COPH, was organized by Dr. Joe Bohn, a COPH assistant professor and director of community engagement

Some of the community-engagement projects discussed were ones that have been ongoing for several years; others were brand new initiatives.

Dr. Claudia Parvanta, director of the Florida Prevention Research Center (FPRC) at the COPH, introduced Manuel Mayor and Virginia Liddell, both COPH graduates and FPRC intervention program managers. The pair spoke of their involvement with employer-sponsored colorectal cancer screening awareness programs.

“The guidelines on when to get screened for colon cancer are on the verge of being lowered from age 50 to 45,” said Parvanta. “This means we will need to reach out to even more people, and we need to take more of a public health approach. We are hoping to learn from the colorectal cancer screening awareness programs and see what else we can do in the area of employer-based health promotion.”

Attendees of a wellness fair walk through a blowup colon with polyps. The colon is a visual aid used by COPH FPRC intervention program managers to help educate about colorectal cancer screening and awareness. (Photo by Virginia Liddell)

Dr. Stephanie Marhefka, an associate professor of community and family health, reported on research she is conducting with local departments of health and other wellness agencies. The project focuses on the use of videoconferencing for women living with HIV.

“We have lots of good evidence-based practices for this population,” Marhefka noted, “but we are not good about getting those practices out to the community, especially in rural areas. This led us to start thinking about how we can reach people at the places where they already go to for care.”

Marhefka and her colleagues embarked on a program in which women with HIV could visit the clinics where they receive care and sit in on videoconferences with other women with HIV, discussing things like safe-sex practices or how to best disclose their HIV status.

“We found that the women loved it,” Marhefka said. “They felt like they were more present and engaged with the videoconferencing than if they met in person. For a lot of women who have children at home or who live with people who don’t know they have HIV, videoconferencing at a clinic was a safer option for them than doing it at home.”

Dr. Katherine Drabiak, assistant professor or bioethics and genomics, discussed her involvement with the medical ethics committee at Florida Hospital-Tampa over the last 2-years. “We talk about cases where there are ethical disputes. We talk about what happens at the end of life. Do we withdraw treatment? What if the physician disagrees with the family? What if the family disagrees with each other? And what does the law say about all of it? What are the potential options for action? There are so many questions and not always clear answers.”

Elizabeth Dunn, a COPH visiting instructor I, presented on a collection of community-outreach projects and research performed with undergraduate students. The work focused on disaster preparedness, public safety, and anti-human trafficking projects. In addition, she provided an overview of the new Public Health Innovation Studio course that was launched in the summer of 2018. This service-learning course focused on engaging students with research and service in conjunction with the Hillsborough County community-needs assessment. It engaged students with a photovoice project looking at the social determinants of health and contributors to poverty.

COPH undergraduates and faculty volunteer at the Tampa Heights Community Garden to learn more about food insecurity and how to address needs in the community. (Photo courtesy of Justin Weiner)

Some other new-for-2018 community-engagement initiatives centered around health advocacy. Dr. Karen Liller, a professor of health education and community and family health, began a student group called the Activist Lab, which provides interdisciplinary advocacy, education, research, and service opportunities for students. Dr. Anna Armstrong, a COPH alumna and an assistant professor of community and family health, had students team up with community partners from Moffitt Cancer Center to help bring to life her undergraduate course on health advocacy in which patient navigation and advocacy are central themes.

COPH students and Dr. Liller (far right, back row) attend an Activist Lab meet and greet. (Photo courtesy of Karen Liller)

All in all, 11 faculty members presented highlights of their projects at the half-day event.

“Universities and communities can make a difference when they work together,” said the now-retired Dr. John Curran, a former USF Morsani College of Medicine professor of pediatrics who presented data on the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan he helped develop. “Together, they provide important opportunities to make life better.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health