Public health chooses undergraduate student as a means to change

Andrea Kennedy

Andrea Kennedy, BS ’24

Public Health Sciences

Andrea Kennedy, BS ’24, likes to say she stumbled into public health. To be fair, she knew she wanted to do something related to health as she prepared for college, taking anatomy and physiology courses in high school in Holland, Michigan.

“I’m also a problem solver,” Kennedy said. “I like gaining knowledge and trying to figure out how to apply that to situations, so that led me down the pre-health track.”

Her freshman adviser at the University of Michigan suggested that she take the course PUBHEALTH200, Health and Society: Introduction to Public Health during her first semester.

“I think public health chose me, completely by accident,” Kennedy said. “Once she was exposed to the sheer variety within the field, she was set on an exploratory path. “I realized that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted within public health.”

Kennedy will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health Sciences from the School of Public Health. She was named a James B. Angell Scholar for earning all A’s for two or more consecutive terms while taking a minimum of 14 credit hours each term. As a recipient of this award, she will be recognized at Honors Convocation for accomplishing the achievement six semesters in a row.

After graduation, she will move to Chicago to work at Pathstone Partners, a management consulting firm that works with healthcare organizations to improve financial and operational performance without compromising the quality of patient care.

I think public health chose me, completely by accident. I realized that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted within public health.”

Kennedy’s journey to public health policy

Once Kennedy matriculated to Michigan Public Health, she became interested in “the applicable portion of public health and what can we actually do to create change with policy.”

Her first research position was under Justin Heinze, associate professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, and Susan Franzen, research specialist, in the University of Michigan Research Collaborative FYI-3 Lab. Kennedy studied the effects of cannabis legalization in Michigan and familial and neighborhood factors and their effects on children from smoking households. She helped with interviews and surveys with participants, created a codebook to manage data and performed literature reviews.

“That was my first introduction to policy and how it affects people’s lives,” said Kennedy, who also minored in History.

Next, she joined the University of Michigan Exposure Research Lab under Rick Neitzel, professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Global Public Health, performing literature reviews as part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety grant. That involvement opened the door to getting hands-on experience studying noise before and after a freeway redesign in Detroit with the lab, addressing “environmental injustice.”

“I’m part of a group that’s been trying to verify the Michigan Department of Transportation’s noise-exposure measurements for the interstate. I’m in Detroit taking noise measurements, which is something that I had never done. I’m used to entering stats in my computer like a lab technician and not so much being in the field, so it was fun to learn that side of it. 

“Research has definitely shaped most of my skills and experiences, and I think that’s where I kind of gained the most traction for my future career.”

These interactions with Michigan Public Health’s world-class faculty as an undergraduate student further cemented her understanding of the real-world implications of health policies on communities.

Outside of her academic responsibilities, Kennedy was involved with the Public Health Association (PHA) and Delta Epsilon Mu, a university pre-health fraternity. As the director of internal events for PHA, she promoted the public health program to freshmen and sophomores. 

Kennedy also was a volunteer for the Admission Ambassador Program in the Office for Student Engagement and Practice. Throughout the academic year, Admissions Ambassadors assist with various recruitment initiatives for prospective and admitted students.

“It was really fun because I enjoy talking to people about Michigan Public Health and what it’s like to go to school here,” she said.

Kennedy, however, faced personal challenges early in her college experience.

Like many college students, she dealt with some significant mental health struggles. In her sophomore year, she found assistance through support resources available on campus, such as the Counseling and Psychological Services.

It was a turning point that allowed Kennedy to not just excel academically, but to truly enjoy it.

“I went from doing fine at school but not being thrilled about it to actually enjoying going to school,” she said.

[Public health] is the most rewarding field because you get to see so much. Whether it's nutrition, environmental health or policy, public health is the key to change.”

Paving a path for a career in public health

In 2023 as a summer intern for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Kennedy gained valuable experience as a competitive intelligence analyst, solidifying her interest in insurance and health systems.

“That internship is what eventually led me to what I’m going to do in my career, as I get to leverage my public health influence,” she said. 

Kennedy enjoyed being able to bring a public health perspective into the business world, a space she was familiar with because both her parents have a business background. Having that mindset when she started applying to jobs in August helped lead her to the opportunity with Pathstone. She was hired in December after four interviews.

“I felt like I had a leg up because of my knowledge of the health industry and that’s what they specialize in,” Kennedy said. “Plus, to go from having small classrooms and a small cohort at Michigan Public Health, to a smaller, boutique company really felt like a good fit. And Pathstone stands for the mission values that I agree with—along with our school—and they are consistently giving back to the Chicago community.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy plans to take her consulting skills to an insurance company or a health system, combining her strategic vision with her public health perspective.

“I’m trying to turn it around,” she said of entering the business world with a public health lens. Her long-term goals reflect a commitment to instigate meaningful change, equipped with the knowledge and experience Michigan Public Health has provided her.

Considering the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy sees her field with newfound clarity. It wasn’t just about countering the crisis, but about contributing to a discipline that sheds light on the value of health beyond the clinical setting—informing policy, ensuring safety and promoting wellness.

“It’s the most rewarding field because you get to see so much," Kennedy said. “Whether it's nutrition, environmental health or policy, public health is the key to change.”