By Vanessa Brizuela
In July 2015, 27 diverse and dedicated public health professionals met for the first time as the second cohort in the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s DrPH program. Over the course of several weeks we learned from our differing and interesting backgrounds through our participation and collaboration in different courses. As a result, I kept feeling we should capitalize such varying degrees of experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm beyond the walls of the classroom.
That summer, I had the opportunity to serve as a Teaching Fellow in Dr. Sue Goldie’s Fundamental Concepts of Public Health course for MPH students during summer orientation. It was through multiple conversations with Professor Goldie that we connected my interest in driving student-centered learning opportunities with the work she and her team were leading at the Incubator —an odd name for a fabulous space that fosters creativity, education, and global health.
She offered a meeting space, resources (human and food-wise), and expertise for us to “incubate” a new idea: grouping all DrPH students who were interested in learning from each other. The emphasis was placed on this as a shared space and time to both explore new themes and delineate our vision for our future careers as public health leaders.
I convinced one of my colleagues to organize this with me, and in December 2015, Pablo Villalobos and I led the first of five monthly meetings where a group of 12-17 DrPH students gathered to test and refine new ideas through constructive discussions that led to further exploration about the trends and the broader implications of the work we aspire to as leaders . We talked about the future of public health and our role in it, leadership, top-down/bottom-up interventions and influence, communication, and conflict resolution. Professor Goldie and her team supported the goals of our core group of colleagues from cohorts 1 and 2, and encouraged us to continue doing so in the future. In fact, the overwhelming majority of students expressed interest in continuing this experiential and reflective process, highlighting the benefits of this collaborative off campus space to discuss and connect with fellow students, giving more meaning to our experience as doctoral students. I plan to continue spearheading this endeavor with new colleagues joining the program in 2016, and building on this cadre of committed professionals.
Organizing these meetings was one of the most personally satisfying activities of my first year DrPH program. Because it was student-centered, because it purposely carved out time from our calendars to learn more from each other, and because it helped in cementing a strong community of leaders who will surely aid in making the world a healthier, safer, and more equitable place in the future.
For more information on these meetings visit: http://gheli.harvard.edu/news/incubator-fosters-public-health-graduate-student-learning and http://gheli.harvard.edu/news/drph-students-build-professional-camaraderie.