Aug. 30 2019

Welcome to Public Health

More than 600 new public health students arrived on campus last week to begin their academic journey at the Columbia Mailman School. They come from 36 different countries on 6 continents and 39 different U.S. states and territories—each with unique backgrounds, interests, and ambitions.

They include Hugo Camarena, a clinical researcher in solid organ transplantation and “Dreamer” under the DACA program; May Sifuentes, who worked at Planned Parenthood to develop and implement communications strategies, such as the “Not In Her Shoes” video; Kidd Solomon, who wrote his senior thesis on the effect of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the LGBT movement and has worked to provide HIV testing to high-risk populations in New Orleans; and Eri Tayama, a dual degree student at Columbia Mailman and School of International and Public Affairs who managed humanitarian relief programs for the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Also in the incoming class are fourth-year students in the Barnard College-Columbia Mailman “4+1” program who will be taking classes in the Core this fall, as a part of their education in the liberal arts and public health that will earn them a BA and MPH in the spring of 2021.

“You are our future; you are public health’s future; and you are the world’s future,” said Dean Linda P. Fried, as she welcomed students on the first day of Orientation. “We have a deep commitment to ensuring that when you finish your education here you will be ready to enact that future in a way we all need.”

“This is a time for public health like no other.”

In the 20th Century, public health progress in areas like vaccines, injury prevention, and reproductive rights dramatically extended life expectancy, Dean Fried explained. The field continues to be vitally important in the 21st Century, adding new scientific tools such as the study of the exposome and new priorities like preparing for the health impacts of climate change. “This is a time for public health like no other,” she said.

Throughout Orientation week, the incoming class—including one of the School’s largest ever cohorts of MPH students—received an introduction to public health and took part in the Self Social Global Awareness workshop, an exercise that helps students develop the skills to create an inclusive community and promote health equity. For the first time, new students also had the chance to participate in a series of mini-classes on topics such as financial literacy, communications skills, finding and sustaining a support network, and building solidarity and social justice.

New educational offerings available this fall add to the School’s courses on food and health and open new opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. Later this fall, Mark Bittman, a member of the Department of Health Policy and Management and bestselling cookbook author, will teach a class that combines cooking with an examination of the food system; additional food-related classes will be offered in the spring. Students will also collaborate with their counterparts across the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) on activities that continue the School’s commitment to interprofessional education. As part of that effort, in November, Charles Branas, chair of epidemiology, will lead a case study in gun violence and its impact on health with Angela Mills, chair of Emergency Medicine at CUIMC. 

Returning students arrived on campus, too, most of them with real-world experiences from their summer practicums. They include Krish Bhatt, who worked at Harlem Grown where they organized workshops on herbal medicine and strengthening sustainability, nutrition and community; Vivian Mao, who was at the Cleveland Clinic Innovations Office where she developed a business plan for one of the Office’s many spin-off companies; and Nika Sabasteanski, who was in Geneva at the International Centre for Migration Health and Development (ICMHD), a World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating center. (Read more about students’ summer practicum experience by following Columbia Mailman on Instagram.)

In a Student Voices post, Sabasteanski wrote that examining issues related to forced migration fueled by climate change at the ICMHD left her feeling “challenged and engaged.” Last week Scientific American published an article she wrote arguing that the U.S. must do more to prepare for climate migrants: “The climate crisis will challenge us, but it is an opportunity to invest in our strengths and face the sobering reality of our generation by preparing ourselves for what is to come.”