Breaks and Plunges

Breaks and Plunges

HazMat-ting a Break Away

There was no basking on the beach at Cancún for the 9 SPH students pictured above, who spent their 2012 winter/spring break donning HazMat suits at a training site near Lansing. It was part of a 5-day, 40-hour certification session conducted by the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Training Center. The students—all pursuing M.P.H. degrees in industrial hygiene-hazardous substances—got hands-on training in how to handle hazardous situations such as an oil spill or a toxic waste clean-up. One instructor said he admired their pluck. “What great students, to give up their winter break!”

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Taking the Plunge

They hailed from as far away as South Korea and as nearby as Bloomfield Hills, but the 288 first-year SPH students who took part in last fall’s Practice Plunge had one goal in common: get to know southeastern Michigan, and the public health issues that define the region, up close and personal.

Just days before the official start of the academic year, seven busloads of incoming students, together with a dozen SPH faculty and staff members, traveled to four Michigan counties—Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Genesee—to hear from county health department officials and work with community-based organizations. The day-long service-learning experience introduced students to the kind of work they could be doing for the rest of their careers and “got us excited about school,” as one participant put it.

  • At the Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, a school for pregnant teens and a working farm, SPH students, faculty, and staff helped members of Greening of Detroit weed fields and clean out chicken coops. Greening of Detroit is dedicated to the reforestation of Michigan’s largest city.
  • At the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, Practice Plunge participants filled backpacks with school supplies for over 800 local kids, cleared debris from a playground, sorted clothes, and weeded a community garden. “This is how we do what we do—through volunteers like this,” said a grateful Jason Morgan, the center’s director of community engagement.
  • In Flint, SPHers sorted, packed, and processed food for local distribution at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
  • At the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools in Ypsilanti, they helped school-based health clinics spruce up for the start of the school year.
  • In Dearborn they tilled vegetable beds at the ACCESS Organization Peace Community Garden.
  • And just a few miles from SPH itself, Practice Plunge participants helped Ann Arbor’s Food Gatherers sort nonperishable food items—including scores of donations from SPH students themselves—for local distribution to people in need.

“It’s an opportunity for students to understand what health departments do and how public health is actually practiced in the community,” said Dana Thomas, the student affairs program manager for the SPH Office of Public Health Practice, which organized the plunge. “It gives students a reference point as they go forward with their learning.” View photos from the 2011 Practice Plunge on SPH's Facebook page

student photos

Tornado Aid

Eight UM SPH students traveled to Kentucky in late March to conduct a door-to-door community assessment as part of relief efforts in an area struck by tornadoes on March 2, 2012. The students—who traveled under the auspices of the Michigan Public Health Action Support Team (PHAST), housed in the SPH Office of Public Health Practice—spent three days performing a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER. Developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CASPER is a tool aimed at standardizing assessment procedures for U.S. public health disaster response. It’s a quick and low-cost way to determine the health status and basic needs of an affected community.

In the weeks immediately following the tornado strike, information gathered by the PHAST team in Kentucky allowed public health and emergency managers to prioritize their responses and make informed decisions regarding the distribution of resources. The assessment also helped identify what worked and what didn’t, so that emergency responders could be better prepared for future disasters.

The PHAST team also included a regional epidemiologist, three public health associates from the CDC, SPH faculty member Eden Wells, and PHAST team leader Dana Thomas. According to Thomas, PHAST teams have made 14 trips in the past decade, with four to disaster sites, including a 2006 field visit to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Not Just a Simulation

riggsFive students on the PHAST team were enrolled in “Epidemiology and Public Health Management of Disasters,” taught by SPH faculty member Eden Wells, M.D., M.P.H., who accompanied the team to Kentucky. In early March, the students completed a disastersimulation exercise, followed by a guest lecture from Commander Margaret Riggs, a CDC career epidemiology field officer stationed in Kentucky. “Riggs saw the level of preparedness that Michigan students had received, and she asked us to deploy a PHAST team to the Kentucky area hit by storms,” said Wells, who has been working with the CDC for the past two years to enhance the science of disaster epidemiology.More photos from Cmdr Riggs visit on SPH's Facebook page.