Category Archives: Students

Accessibility (and Efficiency)

Continuing my series of posts on President Barron’s discussion topics, I want to consider his comments on accessibility.

Dr. Barron notes the pressure student debt and the cost of education is placing on accessibility at universities.  The trend of lowering state support for higher education has made it more and more difficult to provide access at reasonable costs. More and more universities are placing a priority on attracting students with funds to pay (out-of-state and international students, for example) to be able to generate revenue. While Penn State has generally maintained its land grant commitment to low income and first generation students, there is no doubt the struggle to do that has become tougher.

President Barron links his thoughts on accessibility to efficiency, stressing that the University’s only reaction to declining state support cannot be to ask students and families for more in tuition each time. Penn State and other universities need to look for efficiency and cost savings.  Over the past few decades, universities have seen their administrative costs skyrocket. Much of that increase is in student services–gyms, athletics, entertainment, health, dorms–as the number of faculty and related instructional expenses were flat or even declined. Of course, students and parents like many of those additional services.  But, if they come at a cost of a reduced emphasis on putting great teachers in the classroom with students, do we need to question the choices we are making?

President Barron writes that “students are customers”. If the customers want more entertainment and less education, should universities respond to that market demand? Is that in the best interest of students and the larger public that Penn State is supposed to serve?

I’ve always believed that the “student=customer” equation is only part of the truth. It devalues what education should be, because students are much more than customers.  Students are my colleagues in a community effort to learn. Students are my proteges, and I have a responsibility to mentor them, not simply provide customer service.  Students are my teachers, as their new perspectives keep me looking at the world of health care in new and different ways.

So how do we better balance accessibility and efficiency, while retaining that core focus on education? What should Penn State and Health and Human Development be doing to make sure that tuition is kept at a reasonable level AND that the right amount of those dollars goes to teaching and learning? What do you think?  Share your comments.

Our Stellar Students: Rhoda Moise, Biobehavioral Health

As a junior majoring in Biobehavioral Health with a double minor in Biology and Health Policy and Administration, I possess a passion for health promotion from proteins to people. As a HealthWorks Peer Health Educator, I volunteer with the University Health Services in order to advocate for health amongst the Penn State community. I also serve as the Treasurer of the Penn State section of the National Council of Negro Women Inc., where I seeks to lead, develop, and advocate for women through philanthropy, prosperity, and the promotion of educational values. I give back to my community through serving as a tutor for the Student Support Services Program, helping to provide student with the tools for academic success. I underscore and advance my mission to promote scholarship through my position as a Scholar Advancement Team member of the Schreyer Honors College where I strive to diversify the faces in the SHC.

I aspire to obtain a PhD in population health in order to conduct research that combats health disparities related to chronic disease. My research interests include health disparities affecting the underrepresented populations and the African Diaspora; attitudes, behaviors, and determinants regarding diabetes among minority and low-income populations; community/family interventions or Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) to improve diet quality and behavior in culturally sensitive ways, and quantitative and qualitative methodology. Last summer I completed a nine week research project under the mentorship of Dr. Emilie P. Smith, as a facet of the McNair Scholars Program which grooms undergraduates for graduate education.

This summer, I have the privilege of conducting diabetes research under the mentorship of Dr. Rhonda BeLue.

Through culturally grounded narrative interviews, this research explores what exercise means to Senegalese individuals in order to help manage diabetic interventions. This approach will also contribute to the field of health promotion by advancing a theoretical framework for delivering culturally competent health in West African cultures. More specifically, the purpose of my project is to identify culturally-grounded diabetes management narratives focused on exercise among diabetic patients in MBour, Senegal. Given the increasing burden of diabetes and chronic disease in SSA, my work has the potential to improve diabetes management and resulting diabetes death and disability. For example, we came across a 67 year old male with an amputated toe as a result of his poor diabetes management.

While exhausting, my work here is extremely exhilarating and fulfilling. The interviews were home visits which lasted about an hour long; moreover, we completed about four interviews a day, totaling at 41 before the data entry process. While my work may not be able to directly change issues such as accessibility/affordability, the conversation generated through these interviews is a start.

This fieldwork also helps frame my ultimate aspirations to improve chronic disease care and management in Haiti. Professionally, this experience will help inform my personal efforts to optimize diabetes management and prevention measures in Haiti. As a first generation Haitian-American, I am extremely invested in combating diabetes disparities since the disease is no stranger to my very own family, both my paternal and maternal sides. Martin Luther King Junior once said, “of all inequality, injustice in the healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” His words stand as the driving force behind my personal and professional aspirations. My academic endeavors and campus involvement demonstrate my passion and commitment to positively affecting public policy and potential health outcomes.

(Sweetest nine month old baby girl found comfort in my arms… I presume, who wouldn’t? She was being pampered as I fanned her! <3)

(Large mango tree in the yard of an elderly woman we interviewed; moreover, she had her granddaughter pick some fresh mangoes off the tree for us! Delectable treat after a long interview in the sweltering Senegalese shade!)

(Not all residents of Mbour have poor diabetes management. 8 month old Mohammed, the grandson of a mid-fifty year old man we interviewed, reached for my packaged water. Of course I had to share with my Young King. The mid aged gentleman told us of the impact the research Dr. BeLue has been doing… As a result of the information he learned in the past year, he exercises every single day and has drastically improved his diet!)

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:


Our Stellar Students: Sharmila Sandirasegarane, Biobehavioral Health

Sharmila Sandirasegarane
Summer Abroad HHD Blog
May 30, 2014

Major: Biobehavioral Health
Minors: Global Health and Spanish
Hometown: Hershey, PA
Extracurricular Activities: Biobehavioral Health Society, Schreyer Honors College Student Council, THON, Mid-State Literacy Council
Career Goals: Aspiring physician

After months of anticipation, I was eager to go into the field in Tanzania. The challenges that were encountered during the day aligned well with the topics that were discussed during my Global Health minor classes. When we arrived at the first home of the village, I thought that we were not going to be able to survey other residents because they were working on their farms. Instead, the medical students and supervisor for the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences were working to establish a relationship with the family.

A woman from the home served as our guide, as we traveled from hut to hut to survey mothers about the vaccination status of their children under two years. If we did not have her flexibility and willingness to help, we would have never have made it through the village. Through high grasses, we walked on narrow, sandy paths to travel to each home, which were spaced at least ten minutes away from each other.

What struck me most was how the way of life was so detached from the rest of the world. I began thinking about the practical constraints with starting health interventions in the area, beginning with the challenges to travel from the village. It took the villagers about an hour to travel to their local clinics. If there were education initiatives conducted in the area, a major challenge would be the travel times for the children to meet. The concepts about individual perceptions of health became clearer to me as I considered that the locals knew what they knew, while modern medicine played a minimal role in the schemes of their lives.

After seeing a setting where global health initiatives could be implemented, I realized the essential nature of cooperating with local individuals. The village had specific needs based on its sanitation system, availability of water, accessibility of homes, and many other factors. Several of these factors could not have been observed if it were not for the cooperation with the locals. This relationship was only established by communicating with the village leaders, the woman who served as our guide, and the women that we interviewed, all in Swahili. I realized that specific conditions were necessary to study remote areas, in order to have any hope of establishing any kind of targeted program.

On a lighter note, I realized how much fun fieldwork can be. I loved observing a different, peaceful lifestyle. I had a great time speaking broken Swahili with our guide, and laughing with her as we walked on the tall grasses as we tried to avoid the water that had taken over a quarter mile of the path. I found the fieldwork experience both eye-opening and exhilarating.

Our Stellar Students: Christina Spohn, Recreation, Park and Tourism Management

Today, I’m beginning a project to share some of the stories of our outstanding Health and Human Development students. Many students responded to my call for guest bloggers to share their summer experiences, whether that’s in an internship, study abroad, research or some other activity.  Here’s our first guest blog:

My name is Christina Spohn and I just finished my junior year at Penn State. I am a Recreation, Park and Tourism Management major focusing in Outdoor Recreation, and you will most likely find me outside, recreating! I am from outside of Pittsburgh, PA and I love all things outdoors- backpacking, fly fishing, rock climbing, biking and the list goes on! At Penn State I am involved in the Outing Club and On My Honor: Campus Girl Scouts of Penn State.My career plans are pretty up in the air, but I would love to work for a federal land management agency in the near future.

Before our summit of Casco Peak. I am in a white coat, farthest to the right

Before our summit of Casco Peak. I am in a white coat, farthest to the right

This summer I am working as a Logistics Intern for the Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS). COBS was the first Outward Bound school in the United States and has been in operation for over 50 years. We run courses ranging in length from 5-90 days focusing on character and leadership development through mountaineering, alpine backpacking and rock climbing.

Mt Massive is in the Sawatch mountain range

Mt Massive is in the Sawatch mountain range

My role here is two-fold: will serve as a field and support intern. As a field intern, I will spend 20 days on mountaineering or backpacking course in the high peaks of Colorado, shadowing the course instructors. We teach students how to travel and live in the mountains, focusing on group dynamics and personal growth. As a support intern, I will be helping courses prepare for their field time, resupply them once or twice during their trip, and help the students close out the course. This includes shuttling students to and from their courses, packing food and gear and helping with evacuations and other course needs.

View of the Mesquite Mountain range.

View of the Mesquite Mountain range.

There is an intern team of 20 people and we are based out of the COBS warehouse on our base in Leadville, CO. Leadville is the highest incorporated town in the U.S. at 10,200 feet, so we are right in the heart of the mountains! We have almost completed training, which consisted of a 6-day field section and 8 days of logistics training.

Ice axes became our best friends over the course of the trip!

Ice axes became our best friends over the course of the trip!

For our field training, we rock climbed and summited Casco Peak, a 13,900 foot mountain in the Sawatch Range. Quite the epic job preparation! During logistics training we have been simulating course events and learning to drive F350 pickup trucks. I’m excited to keep you updated on my mountain adventures!

A view from the office of a typical RPTM intern.

A view from the office of a typical RPTM intern.

If you want to see the appeal of RPTM, think about a management career where THIS is your office, rather than a cubicle!!


The Value of Academic Mentoring

As we begin New Student Orientation (NSO) here at Penn State, I get the opportunity to see the advisers in our College of Health and Human Development work with our incoming students in selecting their first schedule of courses. This experience, heightened by the fact that my daughter will be heading for her own orientation in less than a month, has made me think about the huge value in the advising and mentoring provided through this relationship.

I like to use the term mentoring, because I think advising done well extends to that relationship. If a student invests in developing a strong relationship with faculty and professional advisers, they do become mentors. I believe too many students miss out on this opportunity.

I also want to share my thoughts on planning your courses in college.  I’ll emphasize that nothing I write replaces what a good session with one of our outstanding academic advisers provides.  Each student is unique and an adviser can provide much, much more than the generic overview I’ll share.

One thing I always tell students is to think about your college education in 4 boxes.  Your first box is what we call “General Education” at Penn State.  Its primary purpose is to build the foundational skills needed for college and life success and to explore and integrate–both your own interests and the array of human understanding.  At Penn State and elsewhere, some of the courses here are required, but the rest allow students to explore their diverse interests and different fields of study.  College affords students the time to dabble in a new area, and I encourage students to look for courses and professors that intrigue them, not just something that looks easy or fits their schedule. A mentor here can make great suggestions about the opportunities at a big university like Penn State.

The second box is your major.  These are the courses that will deepen your skills and knowledge in a particular area and prepare you for your first job or your future education. Within these fields there are often areas of specialization, so a student can work with a mentor to understand their fit with those subfields.

The third box is one I think is an afterthought for many students, but I think can be very important.  Whatever major a student chooses, I think they also need to think about how they will distinguish themselves from other students in the major.  What makes YOU different from every other Economics or Biobehavioral Health major? So, this box could be a minor or a second major or a deep study of 1 or more languages or research/study abroad experiences or any of many other ways of emphasizing other aspects that make you unique. A mentor can help a student sort through those many opportunities and find the right one.

The final box is also one that is forgotten.  I call it the fun box. Many majors do have a little room for electives, supporting courses, or other areas where a student has some freedom to choose. Take a class together with friends. Find an interesting course taught by a worldwide expert. Do a Spring Break service learning course. You’re young. Have a little fun (even as you learn!)

My final piece of advice is that building mentoring and advising relationships takes time. Students need to visit their faculty and professional advisers at least once every semester. They need to go visit each of their professors during office hours during the first month of each class and return, not just if they need help, but because they want the benefits of good advice (how do you find a mentor if you don’t talk with them? And your mentor does not have to be an adviser assigned to you!) My biggest disappointment as a faculty member is how few students take advantage of my advising time.

I want to wish our new students in Health and Human Development the best of luck as they plan their future. I want to thank our faculty and professional advisers for the outstanding work they do.  The value of academic mentoring is huge, and students who make the most of these personal relationships will find great success in college and beyond.