Real-World Experiences for Adaptable Students
By David Pratt
Above. Brittany McQueer (left), MPH ’20— Gelman Global Scholar, Reproductive and Women’s Health Intern, and Scott K. Simonds Scholar—talks with Rita and Rebecca Gelman at the Michigan Union during a global public health poster session. Photo by Austin Thomason.
“Our school has 1,200 students motivated to change the world,” says Emily Youatt, assistant dean of Student Engagement and Practice and director of the Office of Undergraduate Education. “They are united in their desire to see healthier communities and address social injustice.”
“Our students’ sense of mission is foundational to their degrees, as is their classroom work. But there is a third pillar of a graduate degree in public health,” says Youatt. “We require practical, engaged learning—often in the form of summer internships, many of them abroad, in more than a dozen countries.”
In these internships students apply classroom skills in the field, and they learn the soft skills of leadership and collaboration. “This is one of the most meaningful experiences students have with us,” Youatt observes.
Just as internships are critical to student training, funding from loyal supporters is critical to the internships. While some partner organizations can help with living expenses, less resourced organizations (community NGOs, for example) cannot do so. Students might also have to bear travel expenses and other costs. While COVID-19 moved many internships online, daily living expenses follow you whether you go—or stay.
Many students have been helped through these and other barriers by the Gelman Global Scholars Program, established by Charles, MPH ’58, and Rita Gelman, and the Sunway Trust Scholarships, established by Florence Lee, MPH ’77.
I knew it would be incredibly interesting to dive in and find new data. But without the Gelman funding, I could not have given so much time to the project. —Payton Watt, Master’s Student in Epidemiology and Health Management and Policy
“The scholarship fund is part of our family’s philosophy of giving back,” says Rita Gelman, who, since her husband’s death in 2018, has stayed involved with the activities of the Gelman Global Scholars. Says daughter Rebecca Gelman, “My father said he ‘came from nothing,’ so he understood the impact of financial hardship on a student.”
In summer 2020, Payton Watt, a master’s student in Epidemiology and Health Management and Policy, wanted to partner—virtually—with the Galilee Society, a bipartisan organization in Israel concerned with health issues among Palestinians. “Galilee wanted to support me,” Watt says, “and I knew it would be incredibly interesting to dive in and find new data. But without the Gelman funding, I could not have given so much time to the project.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, students with internships have faced what might seem an insurmountable obstacle: they cannot travel. But partner organizations, like the Galilee Society, have stepped up to make virtual internships possible, often with significant time zone differences. The research has been as fruitful as in past years, and students were able to disseminate their findings via online poster presentations.
Two years ago, the poster session was an in-person event at the newly renovated Michigan Union. Rita and Rebecca Gelman attended and interacted with dozens of Gelman Global Scholars.
With the Gelman Fund supporting over 40 public health students from across all six departments each year, the impact of these projects is expansive. “The ability of our public health students to do meaningful research, procure mentors, and evaluate the successes for future interventions is truly impressive,” says Rita.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Florence Lee received an MPH in 1977 from the School of Public Health, with a focus on Nutritional Sciences. She was looking for a way to help students who wanted to pursue a career in public health but couldn’t otherwise attend graduate school due to financial circumstances.
So Lee established the Sunway Trust Scholarship and Internship Funds to support students in each of the six residential graduate departments within the School of Public Health. Lee wanted to support all six departments in the school with the fund “because in public health you need interdisciplinary knowledge to be successful,” she says.
Lee enjoys staying in touch with Sunway beneficiaries. This summer, thanks to Sunway, Brianna Siracuse, master’s student in Environmental Health Sciences, had a remote internship with Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, a San Francisco nonprofit addressing exposure to chemicals linked to breast cancer.
Flo and others believe in our power to solve those problems. It is good to know someone
out there believes in us.
—Brianna Siracuse, Master’s Student in Environmental Health Sciences
“We recipients all had a Zoom meeting with Florence,” Siracuse recalls. “It showed great solidarity between generations. It may seem the younger generation has all the passion. We have seen horrible environmental predictions come true in our lifetimes. But there are older people, like Flo, doing all they can to help the younger generation address these issues. It is really moving to me. Flo and others believe in our power to solve those problems. It is good to know someone out there believes in us.”
Cassie Gaskins, BS ’20, is a nontraditional, first-generation master’s student in Environmental Health Sciences specializing in industrial hygiene. “Because of the Sunway Trust,” Gaskins says, “I was able to be a full-time student. And it’s really special how Flo meets with the students she helps.”
Because of the Sunway Trust, I was able to be a full-time student. And it’s really special how Flo meets with the students she helps. —Cassie Gaskins, Master’s Student in Environmental Health Sciences
This summer, Gaskins interned at a Boeing maintenance facility in Texas. “They take a holistic approach to employees,” she says, “including psychosocial aspects. This was my ideal internship. It feels like everything is paying off for me now.”
Anthony Dang, MPH ’21, was both a Gelman Global Scholar and a Sunway Trust Scholar, and “At Michigan Public Health, my personal interests in health, nutrition, and human-centered design became something of an academic obsession,” Dang says.
Dang was a member of the team that won the 2020 Innovation in Action competition, a campus-wide competition in which students design and pitch prototypes of real products and along the way build interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and other engaged-learning skills.
My personal interests in health, nutrition, and human-centered design became something
of an academic obsession.
—Anthony Dang, MPH ’21
“The support I received from the Gelman and Sunway funds allowed me to participate in a range of enriching activities, including the Innovation in Action competition,” Dang says. “These practical skills enhanced my ability to pursue public health interventions that take into account the entire lived experience and contexts of the communities public health is trying to support.”
About the Author
David Pratt has written for a number of schools at the University of Michigan, in particular the School of Social Work. He is the author of six books of fiction and many zines and reviews and has performed his work in New York City, in Detroit, and online.
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