From the Front Row: Student Ambassadors on their role in the college

Published on September 11, 2020

 

 

The following is a transcript of an episode of From the Front Row: Student Voices in Public Health, the University of Iowa College of Public Health’s student podcast. This episode features a discussion between College of Public Health students and host Steve Sonnier and CPH graduate student ambassadors Emily Houston and Madison Snitker. They discuss the role and activities of the CPH Graduate Student Ambassadors program.

Steve Sonnier:
Hello, and welcome back to From the Front Row. My name is Stevland Sonnier, and today I am joined by two of our College of Public Health graduate students, Emily Houston and Madison Snitker. Today we’re going to be talking about our College of Public Health Graduate Student Ambassador Program, what it looks like, and the process for getting involved.

Steve Sonnier:
Welcome to the both of you.

Emily Houston:
Thank you.

Steve Sonnier:
If you guys can both start off by saying what program track you’re in and how you decided to choose that program track.

Emily Houston:
I started, while I was in the undergraduate program, I got my Bachelor of Arts through the College of Public Health. I just graduated this past May, in 2020. While I was in the college I found out about the undergrad to grad degree program, which is a combined degree program, so getting your master’s and your bachelor’s in five years instead of six, which sounded like a great idea to me since I knew I wanted to get my master’s anyways.

Emily Houston:
And then I’m specifically focusing on policy in my MPH. That was a pretty easy decision for me once I sat in with Linn County Public Health on a couple of collaborations that they were doing with the Cedar Rapids City Council. I got to just see what that policy looked process looked like at the local level, and I really liked it so then I decided to stick with policy.

Steve Sonnier:
Perfect. And then Madison, if you want to go next?

Madison Snitker:
Yeah, so like Emily, I’m also a product of the undergraduate public health program, but I am in the Community and Behavioral Health Department. I’m receiving my Master of Public Health doing the undergrad to graduate program as well. So doing that in five years instead of six, like Emily mentioned. But I got into my own department niche within public health, just being introduced to so many different areas and topics public health covers within the undergraduate department.

Madison Snitker:
So I was really interested on how public health empowers individual communities and how we can do our own public health work and how that might differ from community to community. I work at Johnson County Public Health, and I love doing boots on the ground operations with Johnson County Public Health. I’ve done a couple of different internships with them, and it’s just, it’s so different from operation to operation within Johnson County Public Health. I love doing the community work. So that’s my whole area of interest.

Steve Sonnier:
And then diving more into our topic for today, what are the College of Public Health Graduate Student Ambassadors, and what are some of the roles that the ambassadors play in our college?

Emily Houston:
So essentially the Graduate Student Ambassador Program is, like you said, all graduate students in the College of Public Health. So it could be [CHG 00:02:54], MPH, MS students, doesn’t matter your degree track as long as you’re considered a graduate student.

Emily Houston:
Our biggest role that we do is recruitment for the college. So we attend visit days for potential students who are interested in our program, we get outreach, we get word out about the College of Public Health, both on the University of Iowa campus, as well as at other colleges. And this kind of just falls into one of the more the undergraduate ambassador role, even in high schools we get word out about public health. It is still an emerging field and they always say, “If we’re doing it right, you’re not seeing us. You’re not seeing the work that we do.” So it’s important that us, as ambassadors, we get the word out about the College of Public Health and what we do, and the areas that you could study.

Madison Snitker:
We meet monthly or bimonthly to just go over topics of interest to us, and we do look at the program and how we can provide more resources to students too. I think that’s very important, because we’re constantly looking at how we can lift up either other students in all the programs, and I’m constantly learning from all the other ambassadors about their individual programs, and how we can continue to educate others on those programs that we offer here at Iowa.

Steve Sonnier:
And then tapping more into the learning process. How will this look different, given our unique circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic? How will this year look for the Graduate Student Ambassador Program and its participants?

Emily Houston:
Well, this semester specifically we are going all virtual. So all of our meetings every month or bimonthly will all be held virtually on Zoom, which provides for a fun, a different outlook than what we’ve done before. A few things that we are able to focus more on this semester that we haven’t been able to previously, is our social media presence, specifically, this podcast, that’s kind of an ambassador-driven project.

Emily Houston:
And then we also are able to do more virtual events as far as outreach, whether it’s working with alumni, working with current University of Iowa students, whether it’s working with prospective students from other colleges or other areas. It’s just really fun that we get to connect more with people because we’re able to do it virtually. It’s almost easier to get people on a Zoom meeting than it maybe would be to get them to Iowa City or to get them all in the College of Public Health. It’s great that we can just have these meetings via Zoom now.

Madison Snitker:
Yeah, I think Emily covered all of it. I don’t have anything else to add.

Steve Sonnier:
That’s great. Now, speaking of someone who came in from out of state to Iowa, I definitely probably would have appreciated doing a Zoom situation at the time. It’s nice that it’s so ubiquitous at this point, that people can easily access the college and what it has to offer and be able to reach out to current students.

Steve Sonnier:
Can you give us some insight into what your guys’ favorite part is about being in an ambassador, or the opportunities that it’s presented you with along the way?

Emily Houston:
I mean, Madison kind of touched on this one a little bit, but I think my favorite part about being an ambassador is, I mean, I’ve been in the college for, this is my fifth year in the college, but it’s great to hear from other students, from other departments, about the work that they’re doing, about their classes. I think the ambassador program is really a great segue into that, that even though I feel like I know so much about the College of Public Health, there’s so much still for me to learn and I get to learn from other students, which is great.

Emily Houston:
And then another one of my favorite parts about, and I think this has been a great opportunity, and my favorite part, for example, we had orientation a few weeks ago before students were here, and it was awesome that I already knew so many faces. I knew so many names before they had even really begun their classes here at the University of Iowa and in the College of Public Health. That’s really fun for me, that I get to be a resource for these people, but also just a friendly face that they know, and that they know that they can contact me if they have questions or that they can just come up to me and say hi, and they have somebody that they’re comfortable with already. The ambassador program has been a great stepping stone for that.

Madison Snitker:
I think my favorite part has definitely been talking to students who don’t even know what public health is. Maybe they’re just coming to fairs to see other majors or other programs that are out there and just, they walk up to our table and be like, “Public health? What is public health? Is that nursing? Is that a doctor?” Walking through what public health is and does, and seeing it spark interest within them and resonate with maybe some interests that they have, and they’ve never heard of it, so they’re immediately interested and want to know more.

Madison Snitker:
And I love talking about how public health even has interacted so far with their life. They’ll give me examples and I say, “Yeah, of course that’s public health.” And they’re just absolutely shocked because they’ve never heard about it before. So I love being able to spread the awareness and just spark some interest, within other populations.

Madison Snitker:
And then as far as some other opportunities, both Emily and I serve as national This Is Public Health ambassadors. So that’s been a really great way to learn from other professional students all over the country who also serve as ambassadors nationally, and hear about their different schools of public health and what they do within their own programs. And just the different kinds of public health out there besides, even just at Iowa, learning about what they’ve been doing within their own communities, in their own programs. I think that’s been a really awesome way to meet other professionals, and get even more word out on the national level rather than just at the community of Iowa.

Steve Sonnier:
And within that scope of things that you’re talking about for these opportunities and being a part of the ambassador program, do you find that the workload is manageable given all of your other schoolwork or other associated responsibilities?

Emily Houston:
Absolutely. For me, being in the ambassador program here at the University of Iowa, it’s really not that time consuming. I would say, I think on average, we were told to expect, what was it, like five hours a month or something along those lines. I mean, it’s really … And you balance that out, it’s one hour a week. It’s just a little bit extra of your time. Nothing that’s going to overwhelm you or anything like that, which I really appreciated, especially because like I said, when I started the ambassador program, I was a sophomore in the College of Public Health, so I was still really finding my footing in the College of Public Health and still in the University of Iowa.

Emily Houston:
I think a lot of grad students see that same or have that same feeling because they’re here for such a short amount of time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with as much as is being thrown at you and as much opportunities as you’re being presented with. So I think that five-ish hours a month, totally manageable. And even with This Is Public Health, it’s another … We pick our projects, we pick, we don’t really have meetings that often, but we do get to pick what we work on and we get to pick how involved we are, as long as we are staying involved. So that’s another, again, totally manageable, totally customizable to what you have time for and what you are interested in.

Madison Snitker:
Yeah, definitely. It’s completely manageable. I think it’s also a way for me to interact with my students who I’ve, other students in the program who I don’t see every day in my classes. I’m in classes with mainly community and behavioral health students, other than our core classes that we take, so I think it’s awesome to meet other students and meet them on a personal level. Because it is hard to meet people personally through classes because you are sitting there in your lecture, in your class, and if you have small breakouts, yeah, you meet some people, but I love getting to know everyone through the ambassador program. It’s something that I look forward to every month or twice a month.

Steve Sonnier:
Yeah, it’s a really good interprofessional opportunity. It’s really fantastic for meeting a lot of folks from different practice areas. And you both have mentioned the This Is Public Health side of things.

Steve Sonnier:
Can you talk a little bit more about that program, and what it entails and how you got into that as an opportunity?

Emily Houston:
Yeah. So Madison and I were actually both nominated by a staff member in the College of Public Health, and so they put our name out there to the This Is Public Health Ambassador Program, at which point they reached out to both of us. We just chatted with them, realized we were interested in this program, they were interested in having us. And the great thing about that ambassador program is, like I said, you can really choose projects that you’re interested in.

Emily Houston:
So everybody is involved in social media because of course getting word out about public health is so important. But beyond that, we can choose projects that we’re interested in, whether it’s a social media specific campaign ran by the American Schools and Programs of Public Health, ASPPH, that’s our overarching organization within This Is Public Health. But so yeah, if you’re helping with a certain social media campaign, for me, I’m on a project where we work on specifically recruiting, so exactly what we do already in the ambassador program. That’s something that I’ve worked with a lot in the last few years in the College of Public Health, so I’m excited to share what I’ve done with students from other schools, as well as hear what they’ve been doing at their schools.

Emily Houston:
And there’s a bunch of other projects within that. Madison, maybe you can talk about what you do in there as well.

Madison Snitker:
Yeah, so it’s been a great way for me to tie in a lot of my interests within my own niche of public health. So I am involved in the graphic design part of it, so creating logos, creating campaigns. So it’s brought together my interest within public health, but then also my interest with outside of public health. I am a creative person. I love creating things. So it’s been able to tie a lot of my interests together.

Madison Snitker:
And then I love campaigns. That’s one of my big areas that I would like to see myself in a career in, in the future. But I’m already working on a campaign with their marketing, with the ASPPH office, their marketing office, creating campaigns about COVID-19. So that’s been already something that I’ve gotten to experience through that, that’s going to be very useful in the future for me.

Madison Snitker:
And then we also do a ton of graduate fairs based around different career options within public health. So even as graduate students, we’re constantly learning about the different areas that we can go into as a career with our degree. So I think that’s very important as we’re also continuously learning ourselves and educating others.

Steve Sonnier:
Yeah. It sounds like a tremendous amount of exposure and also helping you figure out more what is up your alley, what is up your side of things that you’re interested in. So that’s excellent that you both get to participate in that. Congratulations.

Steve Sonnier:
How can someone apply to be a graduate student ambassador here at the College of Public Health?

Emily Houston:
We will, and Steve correct me if I’m wrong on this, but hopefully by the end of this week, we will have the ambassador applications rolled out. That will likely come in an email from myself, Emily Houston, just so you know that. We are still working on a couple of tweaks to change, make changes from what we’ve done last year, obviously with our change of going virtual. And a great thing about this being a fairly new ambassador program, is we get to learn things every year and we get to make changes as we see fit, which is great.

Emily Houston:
So like I said, we’ll hopefully get those rolled out and the next few days, by the end of the week. And then there’s just, like I said, an application that you’ll fill out, we’ll get back to you regarding interviews, regarding any questions that we have about your application and then we go from there.

Steve Sonnier:
Perfect. And then within that too, as well, one of the really nice things about being part of the Graduate Student Ambassador Program, is that it is cultivated by the people who are in it. It’s very responsive to where the ambassadors are interested, and if they see opportunities for outreach or if there’s things that people want to do or ideas, it’s really nice to be in such a small, but really collaborative group to get initiatives going, and chat about things that we all want to further, the field of public health.

Steve Sonnier:
The last question for our podcast today, that we ask everyone who comes on, is what is one thing that you thought you knew, but were later wrong about? And this can be in the field of public health or as an ambassador or any other part of your life.

Madison Snitker:
Yeah. So one thing I really didn’t know was just how broad the field of health was. I’m speaking back to when I came to Iowa as a freshmen, and I just came from a rural community and I had no idea the scope of health that exists out there. I had no idea that public health even existed. I thought my only way to impact the world through healthcare was to become a doctor or to become a physician’s assistant, and so I was very, very wrong about just how broad health and science is. There’s so much out there and there’s so much we can do, and there’s something for everyone out there. I think that’s one of the most important things that I’ve learned that has impacted my life in a huge way.

Emily Houston:
Yeah. I mean, I have to echo that. I definitely learned that throughout my time in public health as well. I would say specifically for this question, last spring when we went to online classes, I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy them. I’m definitely a hands on, in-person learner, but Zoom has been a great tool, and so something I was wrong about is that I actually like online classes so much. I like being able to, obviously, feel safe and socially distance in my own home, but also feel really connected through Zoom, and be able to stay as well connected, I guess I already said that, but connected to my classmates and to my professors. So that’s just something that was kind of a change of mindset, but it’s really been a positive change.

Steve Sonnier:
Yeah. I had an experience with an online class even before the pandemic had started up, and it was probably one of the best taught classes that I had experienced in a really long time. And similar to you, came in, I was not sure exactly how the online format would play out, but ended up really just enjoying the class and having a wonderful time and learning a whole bunch.

Steve Sonnier:
I want to thank you both for coming on today and chatting with us more about the whole Graduate Student Ambassador Program. We wish you guys the best of luck in the upcoming semester with all of your scholastic achievements and there on too.

Emily Houston:
Thank you, Steve.

Madison Snitker:
Yes, thank you, Steve.

Steve Sonnier:
That’s it for our show today, you can find us on Facebook at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. We’re on iTunes and Spotify, as well as the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Let us know what you thought about this episode and series at cph-gradambassador@uiowa.edu.

Steve Sonnier:
This episode of From the Front Row was hosted, edited and produced by Stevland Sonnier. Thank you to our guests, Emily Houston and Madison Snitker for coming on the pod this week. This podcast is brought to you by the University of Iowa College of Public Health. See you next week, and stay safe and stay healthy.