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Public health fellows provide 'near-peer' perspectives

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John Carberry

Three recent Cornell graduates have returned to the Ithaca campus to help promote student health and well-being as part of the Public Health Fellows program at Gannett Health Services.

The program involves one-year fellowships that offer recent Cornell alumni a professional development opportunity to explore health-related careers with a focus on public health strategies applied to college students.

Public Health Fellows
Lindsay France/University Photography
Nicolette Lee '15, Jessie Bonney-Burrill '14 and Andrew Eng '15 returned to campus as public health fellows.

Andrew Eng ’15, the Susan H. Murphy Public Health Fellow, and Nicolette Lee ’15, the Lorette Simon Gross ’89 and Dr. Keith Gross Public Health Fellow, intend to help students reduce high-risk alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms as providers of the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) program. They also will work with leaders of fraternities and sororities by coordinating the Greek Health and Wellness Initiative and facilitate outreach programs such as Friend2Friend, which teaches students how to recognize and respond to peers in distress.

Public health fellow Jessie Bonney-Burrill ’14 will focus on education and other strategies to prevent sexual violence. She will work with student leaders to reduce the risk of violence by fostering a positive sexual and social culture on campus.

“The fellows play a critical role in expanding our educational mission by developing and implementing programs that enhance public health,” said Tim Marchell, director of the new Skorton Center for Health Initiatives.

The fellows’ “near-peer” status aids in the success of this outreach, Marchell said. At Cornell, Lee and Eng majored in biological sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Lee also was a resident adviser for first-year students and worked with a service-learning program, Alternative Breaks, which led to her interest in public health. She has conducted research in a nutrition lab, where she analyzed how social media can be used as a vehicle for promoting health.

Eng was a member of Cornell University Emergency Medical Services and an undergraduate researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine. He also served as a biology student adviser and an orientation supervisor.

Bonney-Burrill’s interest in public health sprang from her Cornell studies and her experiences as a peer sexuality educator. She majored in feminist, gender and sexuality studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, and was a member of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center executive board, president of VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood at Cornell, and a campus tour guide.

“Our applications have increased dramatically for these one-year fellowship positions,” said Laura Santacrose ’11, a health initiatives coordinator within the Skorton Center and former public health fellow. “Fellows receive exposure to the interdisciplinary field of public health by working at both the micro level with individuals and the macro level of community health.” The fellows receive intensive training before beginning their work with students, she said.

Marchell said the contributions of near-peer fellows significantly enhance the work of his staff. “When the fellows share the perspectives they had as students, they help inform our programs,” he said. In turn, the fellows gain a sense of professionalism that benefits them in graduate school.

“Public health fellows are directly involved with Cornell’s public health approach to college students, and they can apply this professional work experience to almost any area of health they then choose to pursue academically,” Santacrose said, noting that former public health fellows have gone on to pursue higher education in public health, medicine and social work.

The Public Health Fellows program was launched in 2011 and expanded with alumni support. Mary Kahn ’79 and Stuart Kahn and Mary Zitwer-Millman ’78 and Gerald Millman were instrumental in the formation and funding of the program.

The Skorton Center for Health Initiatives will realize former Cornell President David Skorton’s commitment to “supporting student and campus health through innovation in institutional leadership, education, research and public engagement,” said Marchell. In addition to the public health fellowships, the center also will train future health professionals through field placements for undergraduate students in the global and public health sciences major.

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Nancy Doolittle