Monthly Archives: June 2014

Our Stellar Students: Jenny Dang, Nutritional Sciences, Dietetics

Hi everyone! My name is Jenny Dang and I will be a junior at Penn State majoring in Nutritional Sciences with a focus in Community Nutrition and Food Security in addition to minoring in International Agriculture and Environmental Inquiry. At Penn State I am involved in UNICEF, The Student Nutrition Association, and the Student Sustainability Advisory Council. In my free time I enjoy exploring Pittsburgh, practicing yoga, going to concerts, cooking, and painting.

With the Nittany Lion

With the Nittany Lion

My career goals include becoming a Registered Dietitian and working in public health and community development. I believe it is essential to build a connection between these two things in order to alleviate food deserts and reduce health disparities. Some issues that revolve around this topic stem from the complex cycle between poverty, food insecurity and hunger, poor development and low productivity. Creating programs, policies, and goals towards breaking the cycle would ultimately improve community health.

This summer, I am an intern at the YMCA in the Hilltop Community, which is comprised of eleven City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and a borough. The center provides youth a safe and nurturing environment that drives on bridging the technology gap. By providing resources for the youth to imagine, design, and create, they are able to tinker and build grit – which is something the staff and volunteers value. Last year, a group of 15 kids who at first had no idea how to turn on a computer constructed a touch-screen computer kiosk from scratch!

My main responsibility at the Hilltop YMCA is leading the Summer Food Service Program. SFSP is one of the many programs in America’s food and nutrition safety net that works to achieve food security for all Americans. During the school year, many children receive free or reduce-priced meals through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Program. However, these programs end when school ends. This leaves many children at risk for hunger, which can hinder their physical and cognitive development and make them more vulnerable to illness and other health issues (see the research here!)

Thus, SFSP was created through the Food and Nutrition Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to fill the hunger gap. The program provides children in low-income areas free, nutritious meals and snacks. Having this food security helps them get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow in the summer months.

Sharing is Caring

Sharing is Caring

The meals usually consist of a sandwich, a fruit or vegetable, juice, and chocolate milk. To reduce food waste, the kids place what they don’t want on a sharing table, which other kids can have.

Aside from the structured daily agendas that include computer classes, lessons on creative writing, and art workshops, the kids are allowed to play games at designated times. On any given day, one can find the kids racing each other on Mario Kart, building houses on Minecraft, jamming out to Eye of the Tiger on Rockband, and laughing at Apples to Apples.

The Youth Room

The Youth Room

After learning about programs and policies related to nutrition education and disseminating nutrition information, I am really excited to take the knowledge and skills I gained in those courses and implement my ideas.

Stay tuned to see the kids learn how to make healthy snacks, create videos about food, and grow vegetables at the community garden!

Our Stellar Students: Julie Dunnigan, Nutritional Sciences, Dietetics

Hello everyone! My name is Julie Dunnigan and I am a rising junior at Penn State majoring in Nutritional Sciences with a dietetics option. I live in New Jersey right across the bridge from Philadelphia, and 10 minutes from The Food Bank of South Jersey– where I have been spending the first part of my summer.

The Food Bank of South Jersey is the largest source of food assistance in Southern Jersey. In operation for over 26 years, it has provided the equivalent of 76 million meals to people and families in need. But, over the years the city requiring the most assistance has been Camden, NJ. This is where I have been spending all of my time while working with the food bank.


Future chefs?

Future chefs?

The food bank’s mission statement explains that its not only important to feed people, but to teach them about nutrition and healthy eating habits as well. So, I have been assisting with teaching classes to elementary and middle school students on the importance of healthy eating and cooking. At first I was nervous about how the kids would take to the lesson plans- middle schoolers are notorious for being tough to handle. But, these kids aren’t only interested in learning, they’re down right enthusiastic!

For the first few weeks I was sent down to a public middle school to help out with an after school program for boys. Another intern and I would help the instructor with a short lesson at the beginning of each session about a nutrition topic while the volunteer chief got the ingredients washed for that days recipes. We would have the kids take part in the demonstrations, my favorite being when the kids had to add up the amount of fat in a Whopper and scoop the equivalent amount of fat out of a can of Crisco. We were all shocked at how much fat there was! During the cooking portion of the class, the boys were responsible for all the preparation, cooking, and clean up with that day’s healthy recipes.

Tastier and more nutritious than fast food

Tastier and more nutritious than fast food

In addition to the cooking classes, I’m also involved in a program the food bank runs which educates children on the farm-to-fork process. The kids learn how the crops from farms end up in grocery stores and, ultimately, on our plates. This activity is geared toward the younger students, in 3rd and 4th grade. The most amazing part about working with all these different kids is that I have yet to find one who does not want to participate in the activities. The curiosity they show makes teaching them so much more fun!

While I’ve had an amazing time working with the Food Bank of South Jersey, I’m also very excited to start the second and most thrilling part of my work this summer, in Africa. For the month of July I will be helping develop a farm for an orphanage in southern Ghana. I look forward to sharing my adventures with everyone when I get back in early August!

Our Stellar Students: Sharmila Sandirasegarane, Post #2

Sharmila Sandirasegarane updates us on health care in Tanzania:

Compared to the Kibiti Health Center, equipped with a few consultation rooms and an operating room for minor procedures, the Lushoto District Hospital seemed to be stocked. Tanzania has a multi-tiered, decentralized health system with facilities ranging from rural dispensaries, with minimal services, to national referral hospitals, with the country’s highest level of care. Between these levels, patients can be referred to health centers and district hospitals.

We toured the district hospital’s various departments, including pediatrics, pharmacy, ophthalmic nursing, maternal health, labor and delivery, and phlebotomy. I was told about the modest patient records systems in many African hospitals, but it was definitely an experience to see the stacks of papers that filled a room. Handwritten sheets marked the numbers of each aisle, which were cross-listed with the patient names in the computer system. I was glad to learn that there was some kind of digital system in place, but the files only connected the names to the identification numbers of the patients, not their actual records. The records only existed in paper form.

We were pleased by the stocks of equipment, especially in the pharmacy, but we learned that it was fairly common for supplies to be out of stock. The medical students and the faculty emphasized their frustration about this problem, especially at a referral hospital. They thought the issue was out of their control as they blamed the lack of government funding for this issue.

This lack of funding is especially infuriating considering the corruption that the students frequently allege of government officials. For example, government officials in all districts own V8 SUVs that they use for a maximum of six years. Two of these cars can cost as much as a CT scan, while the country only had one machine in the country in recent years. This excessive spending is especially frustrating after seeing the lack of equipment in some of the health facilities. Even though the district hospital was relatively well-stocked, it could definitely have improvements in sanitation and infrastructure.

Particularity in dispensaries and health centers like in Kibiti, greater allocation of health funds could be very impactful. The methods of transportation for patients who move through the referral system is also inadequately developed; it is near impossible for patients in rural areas to move from dispensaries to referral hospitals for severe cases because of financial and infrastructure limitations. In fact, patients have to pay for the gas used in ambulances.

There are many underfunded areas in Tanzania’s health structure, even including the salaries of health professionals, which makes the lack of funding a fundamental issue in access to care. Actually seeing these issues first-hand has made me develop a deeper appreciation of the magnitude of the problem.

Our Stellar Students: Karlie Hudock, Health Policy and Administration

Hello, my name is Karlie Hudock, and I am a senior majoring in Health Policy and Administration and minoring in Information Science and Technology in HPA. I am from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, located about 40 miles east of the city of Pittsburgh.

My career aspirations are to work in the health IT field, hopefully in the greater Pittsburgh area. I am currently completing my internship as a summer associate at UPMC in the Information Services Division (ISD). Follow me on Twitter @karliehudock for quick updates on my experience – look for the hashtag #UPMCSA!

At Penn State, I am involved in the Future Healthcare Executives Club. By joining the club, students are able to become a student associate of the American College of Healthcare Executives. This membership opens doors for students when it comes to networking, career planning, and learning more about the world of healthcare. It is also a great way to increase professional development. This March, our group attended the 2014 Congress on Healthcare Leadership in Chicago.

Intern Selfie

Intern Selfie

I began my time at UPMC on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. All 97 summer associates attended an orientation in the U.S. Steel Building in downtown Pittsburgh. I already had learned so much about UPMC and how to chase my dream career. We were instructed to wear a collegiate t-shirt, and I was so happy to see many other Penn Staters!

I am spending the majority of my internship at the UPMC East hospital located in Monroeville. My preceptor is the Chief Information Officer of UPMC East, UPMC McKeesport, and UPMC Mercy. I am so excited to really get into the projects I will be working on.

Until I begin my work for my preceptor, the summer associate program is keeping me busy with projects that each intern will complete. One of these is the kick-off presentation, during which each intern has an opportunity to introduce themselves to the leadership team of their division. These presentations will occur in the UPMC executive boardroom on the 62nd floor of the U.S. Steel Building. Executive exposure is a great component of the program and I am so excited to get my name out there and represent Penn State and the College of Health and Human Development. Also coming up soon are tours of UPMC facilities and an executive lunch. I am nervous but excited to meet the CIO of UPMC and learn as much as I can from him!

Because my internship position is within ISD and my interests are heavily IT related, my long-term project for the summer will involve electronic medical records. I will be working with a Cerner product called PowerPlan. My project will require me to communicate with both the technology management team and clinical staff in order to achieve the best results. Specifically, the PowerPlans will be used to track observation patients and create a more seamless, efficient care plan for the patient. Ideally, they will also enhance the patient experience by eliminating redundancy and allowing clinicians to have a better understanding of what the patient needs.

I cannot wait to get started and see what ideas I can bring to the table! A special thanks goes out to our HPA alumni, who really helped connect me with opportunities I would not have found on my own. Stay tuned for what the summer has in store for me!

Our Stellar Students: Vikki Ulmer, Health Policy and Administration

Hi everyone! My name is Vikki Ulmer and I am a rising senior at PSU majoring in Health Policy and Administration (HPA). Beginning in fall 2014, I will also begin my graduate coursework for a Masters in Health Administration in the integrated BS/MHA program. I was born and raised in Abington, PA, which is a suburb outside of Philadelphia. Both my parents and my older sister attended Penn State, so my family considers Happy Valley a home away from home. I love Penn State and am grateful for the many opportunities that it has given me these past 3 years, and even more grateful that I have 2 years remaining!

In my spare time I love to spend time with my friends, read, bake, and I would have to say flowers are my hobby. I worked at a flower shop throughout high school and return every holiday break from school to help out during the busy times. I also love my longhaired German Shepherd, Thor. The picture below is us on a run together a few weeks ago!

My running buddy

My running buddy

This summer, in order to satisfy the required HPA 395 credits, I am interning at Swiss Re in Armonk, NY (photos below of the atrium and views from the building).

A view of the atrium

A view of the atrium

Swiss Re is an incredible company and thought leader in Reinsurance and all other ventures of their business. I have just wrapped up my first week as an intern and could not be more excited to spend the next 11 weeks contributing to the company. I am the Life & Health Marketing intern and will assist in different strategic marketing initiatives and other intern projects.

A view from the Swiss Re office

A view from the Swiss Re office

So far, I have done a lot of training to get to know the company and its mission, vision, and values. I have also had the chance to sit in on teleconferences with different strategic partners supporting Swiss Re’s coming projects. They have some amazing new programs in the works and I feel very fortunate to be a part of these efforts already.

In addition to the experience gained and work done, Swiss Re’s interns@swissre program is a potential stepping stone to another program graduates@swissre which is an 18 month program training future leaders in life reinsurance and health care. I already feel as though the knowledge and skills I have learned through the interdisciplinary HPA program is applicable to my work. I am excited to see what is in store both as an intern and a new resident of NYC. Cheers to the new experiences and adventures that wait! Happy summer to all!

Our Stellar Students: Victoria Ulmer, Post #2

Updates from Vikki Ulmer on her internship at Swiss Re:


Can Higher Ed Avoid Becoming the VA?

I think the first time I was struck by the similarities (and differences) between health care, my area of economics, and higher education, my employment sector, was as I read Burt Weisbrod’s book The Nonprofit Economy. I had not focused much of my study on industrial organization and the book started my ongoing reflection on how the organizations and individuals in both sectors behave.

This week, the deepening VA scandal has caused me to wonder whether or how universities could avoid a similar fate.  As an economist, I see strong evidence of the power of incentives to impact behavior. I often find myself pointing out to others in higher education how people are reacting quite naturally to the incentives we have provided, and if we want different behavior, we might want to change the incentives.  I also am a strong advocate of measuring what we do and sharing those outcomes transparently with the world outside higher education.  Health care, too, has been pushed to do the same.

The VA scandal makes me try to find some lessons, in the power of incentives, assessment, and transparency for both positive and negative behaviors. It appears that VA managers were given strong incentives in their approach to outcomes assessment; and, when resources for not meeting expectations were in short supply, falsifying data started and became institutionalized.  Despite multiple reports of the problem, senior managers seemed unable to stop or change it.

What are the lessons for universities, as public and private groups push for more assessment and greater transparency? We’ve already seen multiple instances of universities providing false and misleading data to rating organizations. As the effort to measure what we do and share those measures with the public grows, how can we provide incentives for honest assessment and prevent these negative behaviors?  I don’t have any answers, but I think we need to think carefully and move cautiously and measure humbly and encourage dialogue with leaders, faculty, students, families and others on what we are trying to measure, what the data mean, and how we can provide incentives for continuing to improve learning in our universities.