Undergraduate Public Health Students Promote Service to the Community

June 7, 2013

Photo: Public Health Club President Sarra Sabouri registers a student during the UMass Amherst DKMS Bone Marrow Registry drive.

At the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS), the undergraduate public health sciences degree program has been designed to provide opportunities for students to be engaged with the community – whether through community service, service learning, internships, community-based research or other forms of community engagement. Approximately 60% of SPHHS students participate in some form of community service or volunteer work, and an equal number take part in an internship or field work.

“Service is a cornerstone of the public health major,” says undergraduate program director Dr. Gloria DiFulvio. “Allowing students the opportunity to engage with the community provides the student with hands-on learning rather than merely theorizing about a community problem.”

Students have an opportunity to receive hands-on learning in a variety of ways; one of the most popular is through membership in the undergraduate Public Health Club. The Public Health Club, which works collaboratively with the department’s undergraduate peer advisors, its program director, and Ms. Megan Griffin, the program’s undergraduate advisor, conducts service and outreach to the larger community through a variety of student-organized activities.

The club’s main goal is to promote public health throughout UMass Amherst and the surrounding community. They welcome all students within and outside the major to raise public health awareness via workshops, volunteer work, and in promoting National Public Health Week. The club sponsored a number of events throughout National Public Health Week this year, including CPR and first aid certification, “Empowering a Healthy UMass Community” and other positive health promotions that raised awareness of physical, mental and emotional health and safety, as well as yoga, healthy diet and stress reduction events. They also invited students to contribute to a “What Is Public Health?” mural in the university’s Campus Center and created an online photo collage of community items representing public health.

In addition to their work during National Public Health Week, the club helped organize a holiday toy drive to benefit the children at an early childhood education program, hosted a variety of career prep workshops and networking events, including their first “Professor Panel,” and helped organize the UMass Amherst DKMS Bone Marrow Registry drive for the fifth consecutive year.

“The ultimate goal of participation in community service opportunities is to develop and enhance one’s capacity to be an active citizen and make positive contributions to the nation’s health,” says Dr. DiFulvio.

The bone marrow drive is typical of those positive contributions.

“We have been invested in this cause since 2009,” says Ms. Sarra Sabouri, a recent graduate and Public Health Club president for the 2012-2013 academic year. “We have registered over 5,500 people to date and have had over 20 matches at UMass! We registered over 1,800 individuals during our three-day drive in April this year.” Through the help of the Public Health Club, UMass Amherst is the largest registered school in the Northeast and the second largest in the nation.

Adds Ms. Sabouri, “As an organization with a goal to better ourselves and help others, what better way to get involved than to save lives?”