Submit a proposal for the First Generation Summit

All faculty, staff, and students are invited to submit proposals for presentations at the 2nd annual “I’m the First” First Generation Summit.

The goals of the summit are to spread awareness and understanding of what it means to be a first-generation college student (the first individual in their family to attend college), and to provide resources that will be helpful both for students and for the faculty and staff who want to help them succeed.

The First Gen Summit will be on April 13th, 2019, at the Iowa Memorial Union, from 10 pm to 5 pm.

If you have an idea for a presentation on a topic that intersects the first-generation student identity and the goals of the summit, please submit your idea for consideration:

The deadline for submission is Friday, March 1st.

Submissions to present will be reviewed by UISG and members of the First-Generation Student Task Force.  A total of eight presentations will be selected.

The First Gen Summit will be sponsored by the University of Iowa Student Government (UISG), working in collaboration with the First-Generation Student Task Force. The Task Force is a committee of faculty and staff brought together by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

CPH game night is Feb. 21

CPH game night is Feb. 21


Take a break and enjoy some Mario Kart, Catch Phrase, Super Smash Bros, Jenga, and many other games from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21 in C217 CPHB. Feel free to bring your own games — and snacks! Hosted by the CPH Graduate Student Association.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the College of Public Health in advance at 319-384-1500.

Fellowships and internships build bridges from school to workforce

Chelsea Hicks completed an internship at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in the summer of 2018.
Doctoral student Chelsea Hicks completed an internship at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in the summer of 2018.

Gaining hands-on experience in the field is a key way for students to apply and fine-tune the knowledge and skills they learn during a degree program. Most graduate students in the College of Public Health complete a practicum or internship as part of their course requirements, and they often seek out additional fellowships or internships to enhance their career trajectory.

Anjali Deshpande, director of the college’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program, says that since arriving at the University of Iowa three years ago, one of her top priorities has been to encourage students to apply for national-level internships.

“I’ve been very interested in giving our students opportunities to compete for fellowships across the country, such as through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH),” says Deshpande.

She calls these programs “advantageous bridges between school and the workforce.” Their benefits go in both directions:  providing significant experience and connections for students while also letting leaders in public health get to know the strengths of the UI’s programs via its students and alumni.

Since the last presidential election, Deshpande says there has been much greater attention paid to the public health of rural areas. Both the CDC and NIH are focusing on disparities of social determinants of health, including transportation, affordable housing, and access to care. Because of the UI’s focus on agricultural and rural health issues, Iowa students are particularly well positioned to be part of this national conversation.

“Our students are prepared to hit the ground running in an internship position, whether it’s at the state, regional, or national level,” says Deshpande. “They’re also eager to learn, network, and bring back new ideas, which adds vitality to our programs.”

Below, several CPH students and recent alumni discuss the work they completed during their internships and fellowships and what they gained from their experiences.


portrait of Wendsay WorthAfter graduating with an MPH in community and behavioral health in May 2018, Wensday Worth packed her bags and moved to Maryland to begin the Health Communications Internship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Her work now varies from drafting communications plans to writing tweets.

“I am growing a lot of communication skills that I hope to apply more directly to the public health venue in the future,” says the Ottumwa, Iowa, native. Her current work entails simplifying scientific information for the general public. As an example, she says that high performance computing (HPC) is vital to the institute’s work.

“We’re collecting more data than ever before,” Worth says. “To be able to explain HPC and why it matters to cancer research and should be funded, we need to be able to help people understand it.”

Worth entered the College of Public Health straight from her undergraduate work in psychology at the University of Iowa. She says that she was very open to the focus of her study when she began. As a graduate researcher for Professor Barbara Baquero, she had to create newsletters and brochures that accessibly conveyed findings and recommendations from the CDC. She also worked on a podcast, for which she interviewed students about their classes, practicum experiences, and research.

“I discovered that I really enjoyed communications and the challenge of conveying complex ideas,” she says. She hopes to eventually have the opportunity to work on a national public health campaign, particularly around mental health and substance abuse.

“In the current times,” Worth notes, “it’s critical to reduce stigmas and make an impact.”


Chelsea HicksThroughout her two-month internship at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in the summer of 2018, Chelsea Hicks worked hard on her assigned research, but she also took every opportunity possible to work on connecting with others.

“My mentor at the CDC set up a lot of meetings for me with researchers and advocates who work in many areas of violence prevention,” says the PhD candidate in occupational and environmental health.

During her internship, Hicks worked on a series of international surveys that measure the impact of violence on children in different countries. She was involved with beta testing questionnaires and was at the table during calls with various countries to edit the survey’s language and ensure that it was culturally appropriate. Additionally, she created fact sheets from the surveys’ results intended for funders and policy makers.

“This experience, which was facilitated by the UI Injury Prevention Research Center, helped me to see that I want to be part of data collection, but I also want to be involved in the next stage that gets change to happen,” says Hicks, who received a BS in biology and community health from Tufts University and an MPH in occupational and environmental health from the UI. In particular, she hopes to focus on policy and advocacy aimed at helping women and children who have experienced violence.

Now, working on the second year of her doctoral program with a focus on occupational injury prevention, Hicks is still involved with the CDC. She is continuing her collaboration via writing papers based on her work from last summer. Her time in Atlanta provided her with an extensive network, both from the informational interviews with researchers as well as with the other fellows in her program. Most importantly, she says, “It helped me to know what I am capable of and can do next.”


Portrait of Kaitlin Emrich, 2017 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient.“The fellowship was a door opener for me,” says Kaitlin Emrich of her two-year CDC/Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) Applied Epidemiology Fellowship. Following her graduation with an MPH in epidemiology in 2009, Emrich’s fellowship placement took her to Des Moines where she worked at the Iowa Department of Public Health in the Bureau of Environmental Health Services.

The national fellowship included a first-year focus on evaluating surveillance systems, one of the core competencies that fellows from across the country completed. During the second year, Emrich was involved with development of the Iowa Public Health Tracking Portal and enhancing reportable environmental conditions.

Emrich says she was one of the only members of her national cohort to be placed in the state in which she already resided. This has proved a boon to her current position as supervisor for assessment and health promotion at Linn County Public Health as she is still in contact with her mentors and others in Des Moines. She also shares information with members of the cohort, with whom she met three times annually during the fellowship during conferences and trainings.

“I knew I wanted to work in governmental public health at the state or local level,” says Emrich, whose first job out of the fellowship was with the Black Hawk County Health Department before becoming an epidemiologist for Linn County. “Without this experience, though, I never would have been able to move ahead in my career as quickly as I have.”


Jonathan OrtegaDuring his summer 2018 internship, Jonathan Ortega, a Master of Health Administration candidate, shadowed the president of a major hospital in Chicago. He says the experience was “an exceptional opportunity,” from which his biggest take-aways were “learning how she deals with people and manages relationships and how to lead a meeting.”

He spent half of his days shadowing the lead administrator at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and the other part of his internship completing an analysis of the urban medical hub’s “throughput.” He explains that this is essentially the total time between when a patient walks into the ER and when he or she is discharged, including all of the in-between steps, such as lab work and accessing a bed. “It’s looking at the overall process of someone entering the system to when they leave it,” explains Ortega.

Ortega, who came to the UI straight from his undergraduate degree at Illinois State, was impressed by how the medical center interacted with its diverse, urban neighborhood. “It was very eye-opening how invested they were in Lakeview [and the surrounding area],” he says. “From nurses and staff to top administrators, they really tried to proactively address different languages and cultures. They wanted each patient who entered the hospital to feel comfortable.”

This attention to detail led Ortega to join the College of Public Health’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee this year. The internship also paid off as he was able to speak from experience when he interviewed for post-graduate fellowships in hospital administration. This July, he will begin a two-year fellowship in health administration at The Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin health network in Milwaukee.


Mikaela Mikkelsen, an undergraduate public health major, talks about her summer internship with the Scott County Health Department in Iowa.

Learn tips for creating postdoc magic on Feb. 13

Spotlight Series LogoWednesday, Feb. 13
12:30 to 1:30 pm
Ellig Auditorium (N120 CPHB)

From the mentor’s perspective: Using postdoctoral scholars to help advance the work of a research team or lab

From the postdoc perspective: What should a postdoctoral scholar seek in a position?

From all perspectives: Tips for mentoring, professional development, and future academic placement

A panel discussion with:

  • Daniel Tranel, PhD, Professor in Neurology and Brain Sciences
  • Shelly Campo, PhD, Associate Professor in Community and Behavioral Health
  • Nicole Novak, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar in Community and Behavioral Health


Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the College of Public Health in advance at 319-384-1500.

MHA student Marisa Polonsky wins ACHE essay competition

Marisa PolonskyMarisa Polonsky, a second-year Master of Health Administration student in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, earned first place in the Graduate Division of the Richard J. Stull Student Essay Competition in Health Care Management, sponsored by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Polonsky will be recognized at the ACHE Congress on Healthcare Leadership in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, March 6.

Polonsky will receive $3,000, and transportation and accommodations expenses for two nights paid by ACHE. The Iowa MHA program will receive $1,000 for the first place finish. Her winning essay, “High Reliability Organizations: The Next Frontier in Healthcare Quality and Safety,” will be published in a future issue of ACHE’s Journal of Healthcare Management.

CPH student Leighton Hill is motivated to make a difference

portrait of Leighton HillStudent Leighton Hill found a perfect fit in the undergraduate public health program at Iowa.

Starting college can be a daunting experience, but Leighton Hill quickly found a sense of community at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Now a junior, Hill has emerged as a student leader, successfully balancing classes, work as a Resident Assistant, an internship, and other student organization activities.

Along with approximately 50 other students, Hill is a member of the first graduating class of undergraduate public health majors at the UI and one of two dean’s scholars in her class. From the time she entered the College of Public Health in 2016, she has found the atmosphere “super welcoming.”

Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hill never felt intimidated about talking to professors and graduate students about her classes or career aspirations, something that can be overwhelming to many first-year students.

“It’s a very supportive environment,” she says. “Everyone wants to help everyone do well.”

 Supporting Others

Hill is now playing a vital role in fostering that sense of support among her peers. This year, Hill serves as both Resident Assistant (RA) of the new Public Health Living Learning Community and as a board member of the Undergraduate Public Health Organization. During the 2017-18 academic year, Hill and a handful of students came together to establish the new student group. This year, their efforts have turned to planning and holding events.

At one meeting, graduate students discussed their paths and areas of specialty to highlight the variety of opportunities in the public health field. Another meeting featured a guest speaking about her global public health work.

“Recently, we had Jayme Ward, the co-founder and executive director of Far Away Friends, Skype in to speak about the work this organization does to empower rural communities in Uganda,” says Hill. “This was a great opportunity to see a potential career path into the nonprofit world or global health, and it was inspiring to see Jayme’s passion for her work and to know that we could be in a similar position in a few years.”

Other events are social in nature, aimed at building community and helping students unwind with peers who share similar academic goals and interests. Once per month, the group plans a service project. In the fall, members devoted a weekend morning to building a Habitat for Humanity house.

The group’s mission doesn’t end there, says Hill, its operations director. The organization will serve as a liaison between undergraduate students and CPH administration to relay suggestions and feedback.

Building Community

The role of RA in the new Public Health Living Learning Community in Catlett Hall seemed like a “perfect fit,” Hill says. Communities offer many benefits to students, including stronger academic performance and higher retention and engagement.

Hill handles traditional RA duties, such as helping roommates work out differences, having regular one-on-one conversations with residents, and planning social events. She also serves as a mentor, sympathetic ear, and informal CPH adviser, helping to cement a sense of community among students with an interest in public health.

Residents come to her with questions about public health events, potential career paths, and classes.

“I get a lot of questions about core classes for public health students,” she says. Citations for research papers are another popular topic.

Translating Science

In addition to her work and volunteer activities, Hill is gaining hands-on experience by holding down a 10-hour-per-week virtual internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention translating scientific information into non-technical terms. She works for the CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases program, which distributes funds to jurisdictions to battle infectious disease threats.

In her work, she reads jurisdiction reports showing how funds are being used to promote public health and translates the information into success stories that can be shared with the public.

“I think it’s really interesting to learn about all the projects they are doing and to be able to have this experience of working with a team in Georgia while I’m in Iowa. It really shows the importance of communicating and working toward a common goal,” says Hill. “Eventually, I want to work at the CDC or someplace similar.”

She’s also helped Paul Gilbert, assistant professor of community and behavioral health, with a project involving social host liability laws.

As for her next steps, Hill plans to apply to the Undergrad to Grad program in the UI College of Public Health, which enables students to earn both their undergraduate and graduate degrees in five years instead of the usual six. She’s currently pursuing epidemiology as her area of interest.

A Passion with a Purpose

Hill’s passion for public health is personal.

“When I was growing up, my dad struggled with multiple chronic illnesses, including diabetes and arthritis, and this sparked my interest in learning more about diseases,” says Hill.

She wanted to learn more about risk factors and prevention, as well as “living conditions that could have an effect on the outcome of these diseases,” she says. The field of public health—and epidemiology, in particular—seemed like a perfect fit.

“When I started my public health classes, I began to learn about the field of epidemiology and realized that many of the questions I had been asking about what led my dad to have health issues were similar to the questions that epidemiologists ask when studying larger populations,” she says.

A Pioneering Student Spirit

Hill adds that being a member of the inaugural class of Public Health undergraduates has been “a very special experience.” As the first students to take each class, she says, “we’ve been so fortunate that our professors work with us to make sure we have a positive experience and are continuously thinking of innovative ways to help us learn.”

By serving as an RA and co-founding the Undergraduate Public Health Organization, Hill says, “I’ve been able to develop many leadership and communication skills through these opportunities, and this has been one of the most significant aspects of my time at the university.”

Margaret Chorazy, clinical assistant professor of epidemiology and director of the college’s Undergraduate Program, agrees that there is “something special about our inaugural class of undergraduate students. In a way, they are pioneers. They have experienced so many firsts with us as a program. They’re like Leighton—eager, enthusiastic, motivated, passionate, and inspirational.

“Our tagline is ‘Public health is making a difference: Be part of it,’” Chorazy continues. “Leighton and others have taken that to heart and are making a difference in the lives of students who follow them.”

Photo by Katy Stites