Collaboration and community: Inspiration Beyond the Classroom at Virginia Public Health Conference
October 25, 2023
Eight students and five faculty and staff members from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Public Health Program attended the Virginia Public Health Association’s annual conference, keeping updated with what’s new in the field and connecting with public health professionals.
Attended by public health professionals from throughout the state, including several master’s in public health (MPH) alumni, the two-day event was held in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of September and featured keynotes from the state health commissioner and the president of the American Public Health Association. The college’s Public Health Program has long had a connection to the conference, as Kerry Redican, professor of public health administration, served on the association’s board for several years.
"We were the school that had the most students there — it was nice to see students digging in, getting involved, and networking."
"We were the school that had the most students there — it was nice to see students digging in, getting involved, and networking," said Sophie Wenzel, assistant professor of practice and the associate director of the Center for Public Health Practice and Research.
The conference allowed students to learn more about the field, and it also gave faculty members an opportunity to share their work with other professionals who work in Virginia. Alasdair Cohen, assistant professor of environmental epidemiology, gave a presentation titled “Drinking Water Access, Quality, and Associated Health Outcomes in Appalachian Virginia.” Wenzel presented on two Virginia-based projects: an adult vaccine education project in rural Virginia and a grant program that supports partnerships between research institutions and community partners.
"I like being able to share work that we've done, and I hope to inspire others. After my presentations, several people came up to talk to me, to exchange business cards and emails, and now we're trying to see where we can collaborate,” said Wenzel.
Second-year MPH student Cynthia Cutler networked and explored career options at the conference.
"As someone who is getting ready to graduate, I thought this conference would be helpful to find a job later on; I could learn something different about the types of careers I want to focus on,” Cutler said. “Everyone I talked to was so passionate about the things they were doing in their communities and how they were working to make them better.”
For Cutler and fellow public health student Hanna Howell, the conference offered the opportunity to put classroom learning in context and learn more about the field.
"A lot of public health is collaboration,” Howell said. “We're all in this together, fighting for an issue or trying to get a program in place. The importance of knowing your community and knowing your colleagues is so important in public health, and that's something that was emphasized to me at the conference." Howell is in the accelerated degree program; she is simultaneously in her final year of her bachelor’s degree in public health and her first year of her master’s.
Attending the Virginia Public Health Association’s annual conference was a valuable experience for faculty and students alike.
"Sitting in all the breakout sessions and attending panels — it really fuels your fire,” Howell said. “It gets you excited to come back and apply what you learned and take everything you heard with you.”