Jul. 28 2014

Undergrads Spend Summer Immersed in Public Health

As a soon-to-be senior at the University of Central Florida, Richmond Laryea was always intrigued by the idea of public health. But it wasn’t until this summer that the ideas turned into something more concrete.

Laryea is one of 47 students who have spent the last ten weeks in the Summer Public Health Scholars Program (SPHSP), a partnership with Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, College of Dental Medicine, School of Nursing, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Created three years ago, SPHSP offers students an opportunity to increase their interest and knowledge of public health and biomedical science careers.

"Public health isn’t just about medicine," Laryea says. "I’ve learned that it’s about things like the security and safety of public parks, places for farming, transportation, and education—it really takes place in every sector."

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Minority Health, and Health Equity, the program is designed to represent the broad spectrum of public health practice. Students typically spend three days at an internship, one day in the classroom, and one day on a field trip to places like the Sustainable South Bronx or Harlem Children’s Zone. Each student also gets a one-on-one mentoring session with Robert Fullilove, EdD, associate dean of Community and Minority Affairs and Sociomedical Sciences professor.

Fullilove, who has worked on national pipeline programs throughout his career, says this curriculum is in a class all its own.

"This is one of the most important interdisciplinary developments I have been witness to in the last 25 years," he said. "And it is one of the very best examples of greater diversity in higher education."

Indeed, Laryea’s session with Professor Fullilove stood out as one of the best aspects of his time at Columbia. Citing Fullilove’s ability to "encourage us to think outside the box," Laryea says he now understands how to utilize his education in real life.

In the future, Laryea is setting his sights on an MD-MPH track in medical school, a specialty in cardio-thoracic surgery, and because of his summer here—a newfound interest in public policy and health.

"It’s been inspiring to meet so many people here who are going to dedicate our lives to changing the world in different ways."

Summer Medical and Dental Education Program

Similarly, the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a six-week residential program for first and second year college students interested in medicine and dentistry.

Established by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), this program aims to assist diverse first and second year students with their pursuit of medical and dental school.

Jalen Benson, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, was eager to spend his summer in New York City. He learned about his pre-med options by shadowing doctors, taking classes, and participating in seminars.

"It was jarring to see how important public policy is to the medical profession," Benson said. 

Such aha moments reinforce why this program is so important to Hilda Hutcherson, MD, associate dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

"This program really gives students the support and encouragement that they may not be getting from other places," she said.

Read more about CUMC's Summer Programs for Minority Students.