The CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program (CUPS) for students interested in public health careers kicked off its second year with a three-day orientation at the CDC Tom Harkin Global Communications Center. The enthusiastic group of 192 CUPS interns and 11 fellows with the Dr. James A. Ferguson Emerging Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program listened to and posed challenging questions for CDC scientists from across the agency.
CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, welcomed students and congratulated them on their selection from more than 2,400 applicants. “When you get a summer internship opportunity you can take it in different ways. But you will find with this, as you will find with just about everything in your life: The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. You can always find people you can learn from, you can always find information you can absorb, and you can always find life experiences that become part of you and make you more able to do what you want to do. I hope this is a successful summer for you.”
The 10-week summer training program, coordinated by the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE), exposes students interested in minority health to the field of public health research and practice by providing hands-on, project-oriented assignments. It is expected that this exposure to public health programs will heighten interns’ awareness of and interest in public health careers. The Ferguson fellowship, administered by the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) in collaboration with the Kennedy Krieger Institute, provides hands-on experience at CDC and other sites for graduate students of underrepresented populations and those interested in addressing health disparities in medical, dental, veterinary, and pharmacy public health programs.
The programs are in line with a larger HHS agenda,
HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial & Ethnic Health Disparities, to increase the diversity of the public health workforce to better address the needs of the nation’s increasingly diverse population.
“By recruiting students who have an interest in minority health, the programs directly address the HHS goal of increasing the ability of all health professions to identify and address racial and ethnic health disparities,” said Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, director of the OMHHE.
In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Frieden discussed the role of public health in closing the implementation gap between what we know and what we do. “While we do research here at CDC, our focus is closing that implementation gap, not just for society in general but especially for the groups that suffer disproportionately from preventable conditions.”
During the three-day orientation, students heard directly from presenters from diverse public health disciplines (i.e., HIV/STD, public health informatics, chronic diseases, blood disorders, tribal support, public health preparedness) to examine program and policy efforts that address health disparities. Presenters also provided information on student internships, the public health workforce, and their own professional paths in public health fields.
“I liked that Dr. Frieden explained the breadth and complexity of public health; that public health is interdisciplinary and touches basically every dimension of life, from public policy to emergency response in catastrophes,” said Jean-Claude Velasquez, a student at Stony Brook University, NY, where he is pursuing a dual degree in political science and philosophy.
Students were particularly interested in the Public Heath Round-Robins, during which CDC staff facilitated discussions with small groups of students. “I especially enjoyed hearing people's stories of how they chose to work with the CDC,” said Julia Soap, a Ferguson Fellow from the University of Kansas Medical Center. Soap comes from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation based in Kansas. “I appreciated the opportunity to network with other students who are doing really amazing work in their own communities.”
CUPS participants will spend the balance of their time in the program working on assigned projects that range from the study of social determinants of health, such as “sociocultural factors related to HIV prevention among gay and bisexual men in the United States,”
to public health reporting focused on metrics and analysis. They will conduct presentations at the conclusion of their projects.
Liburd challenged students to consider their potential future roles in addressing the needs of vulnerable populations. "You embody the knowledge, creativity, stamina, and sense of urgency needed to achieve a healthy nation. We hope you can imagine yourself as a future player,” she said.
“I learned a lot about the health disparities plaguing the United States and some potential ways to lower these disparities. I also learned a lot about employment opportunities at the CDC and in the realm of public health. I loved being at the CDC,” said Zachery Glenn, a chemistry graduate from Jackson State University in Jackson, MS.