Students flip to virtual experiential learning

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USF College of Public Health students have continued to find ways to achieve their experiential growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our students have shown perseverance and resilience in their shift to virtual experiential learning,” said Somer Burke, alumna and assistant director of experiential learning at the USF COPH. “Without any warning, students were asked to stop their in-person experiences in the spring or change their plans for in-person experiences this summer and fall. In almost all cases, the students embraced the change and made the transition easily. Our students, faculty, and community partners have worked together to find alternative ways for students to meet their program requirements while providing beneficial support to the community organizations. Through creative approaches that rely heavily on technology, our students have continued to work in our local, national, and international communities.”

Rolando Trejos Saucedo, MPH student and board member of the USF COPH’s Activist Lab, is one such student who found a way to gain additional experience virtually this summer.

MPH student Rolando Trejos Saucedo. (Photo courtesy of Trejos Saucedo)

Through a partnership between Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., Trejos Saucedo was trained for 11 weeks via the  Cancer 101 training program on how to deliver cancer education to “Spanish preferring communities.”

“Students from different health colleges of USF engaged in topics regarding cancer prevention in the Latinx community in the United States and became certified as a trainer,” he said. “This cohort was the first fully-online.”

Trainees of the program focused on the differences between the Latinx community and the U.S. in areas including risk factors for cancer, principles in cancer treatment, cancer and chronic diseases, survivors and caregiver support, supporting future cancer research, and HPV and cancer, among others.

“This training program allowed me to deepen my understanding of the epidemiology of cancer, the influence of  race/ethnicity in the prognosis and response to cancer prevention and treatment, the importance of cancer research for public health, and the implications of clinical research participation to advance cancer treatment and improve survival rates,” Trejos Saucedo said. “This training program allowed me to apply of this knowledge to underrepresented populations in research­­—the Latinx community in the United States.”

Trejos Saucedo, an international student from Panama, said having this experience helped to compliment all he’s learning while earning his MPH.

A graphic shared on social media highlighting this year’s Cancer 101 graduates. (Photo courtesy of Trejos Saucedo)

“Having this opportunity to work with the Latinx community regarding cancer further motivates me to work on reducing disparities in cancer treatment based on race and/or ethnicity. It also helps to understand how my work as a master of public health student could help allocate resources and justify the need for culturally competent and diverse policies, programs, and interventions,” he said.

He said he also credits the program for opening him up to more possibilities in the future.

“When I started this training, I had limited knowledge in cancer research, but by the end it was clear that cancer research is a research area that I am passionate about and I hope to get more involved in future cancer research initiatives like understanding how intersecting identities impact the prognosis and survival among cancer patients,” he said.

Certificate of completion Trejos Saucedo received at the conclusion of the Cancer 101 training program. (Photo courtesy of Trejos Saucedo)

Ayesha Salar, MPH student who also serves as president of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Student Organization and director of professional development for the Public Health Student Association, spent her summer as an intern with the Centene Corporation, a managed care organization and Fortune 100 company.

She said she learned about the virtual internship, which ran from May 19 to Aug. 7, through LinkedIn and decided to apply.

Salar, who interned as a data analyst for quality, medicare strategy, helped to analyze data to develop member health profiles to serve as a cross-section of analytics and inform health plans on their robust and unique membership make up.

“I also conducted data analysis on members with chronic diseases to elicit themes and trends to understand their continuum of care and the ability to react to prevention and wellness activities. These analyses supported targeting methodology and rationale for strategic campaigns and initiatives to achieve Centene’s mission­­—Transforming communities, one person at a time,” she said.

MPH student Ayesha Salar. (Photo courtesy of Salar)

“It was amazing to see how much the company invested in the virtual interns and had a complete intern team dedicated to provide remarkable experience and unending support with webinars, meet and greets with executive leadership and training sessions,” she said. “The entire leadership at Centene from my director, Anthony Allegretta, to the entire quality team embraced me from day one. I was also teamed up with two mentors, Gabbie Scholz and Joshua Littleton, who provided close guidance helping me understand the industry standards and process quickly. Overall, I was amazed by the leadership at Centene, which builds an inclusive workplace where individuals have the support to learn, generate ideas, and solve problems every day by finding new opportunities for growth and innovation.” 

Salar said the internship experience has helped her to grow professionally.

“I developed better problem-solving skills, principled agility to adapt to frequent changes with the current COVID-19 situation to be able to deliver better healthcare for members in the community,” she said. “I also developed interprofessional skills along with data analytical skills by analyzing real-time data. I truly believe this internship experience transformed me in multiple ways through which I can continue to make significant contributions in the field of Public Health.”

A group of USF COPH students—Carla Salazar, Wendy Duncan, Sharonda Lovett, Si Ning Chan, Summer Hargreaves, Shalon McCarty, Kadija Nathan, Christopher Jalicki, Matthew McCullough, Alison Colyer, Khushali Vashi, Linda Zoungrana, Kelly Simpson—joined BroadStreet’s COVID-19 Data Project Internship.

BroadStreet, a data and software company for social good, provides “public good tools that allow professionals to spend their time and resources on improving community health and is a collaboration of approximately 300 students, statisticians, epidemiologists, health care experts, data scientists and other passionate professionals who are committed to having the most accurate, community level data about the COVID-19 positive tests and fatality rates, COVID-19 executive orders, and COVID-19 positive tests and fatality rates broken down by race and ethnicity.” 

“The BroadStreet COVID-19 Data Project is a great example of a new opportunity that arose due to the pandemic,” Burke said. “The project was completed virtually, allowing our students to work with students from all over the country on a project that is beneficial and relevant. Our students now have practical experience in tracking and collecting data, data visualization, working with an interprofessional team, and collaborating remotely to take with them into their future public health career.”

MPH student Sharonda Lovett, president of the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization, served as the quality assurance lead of the Southeast region.

MPH student Sharonda Lovett. (Photo courtesy of Lovett)

She supervised a team investigating inconsistent trends in data over time, working on data quality assurance methods for 627 counties in seven states. The Southeast region included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“Participating in any effort that allows us to better understand the novel coronavirus disease, especially as an emerging public health professional, is an unprecedented training opportunity,” Lovett said. “Through this experience, I have been able to enhance my skill development related to infectious disease surveillance systems and data visualizations. One of the core functions of epidemiology is that it can (and should) be used to guide policy development. Without data and continued surveillance efforts, we would not know as much about COVID-19 as we do right now. It is important to have the most accurate representation of data to identify hotspots and guide prevention measures, which may ultimately stop the spread of the virus.”

To see BroadStreet data, visit:

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health