High school students sample field of public health

David Williams addresses the high school students.

April 20, 2016 — The field of public health provides an opportunity “to be a ripple of hope in improving the lives of others,” David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health, told an audience of high school students visiting Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Williams was among the Harvard Chan faculty who addressed about 100 students from Boston-area schools who attended the fourth “Let’s Talk Public Health: Youth and Public Health Conference” on April 15, 2016.

“Your race determines on average how long you live,” Williams said, citing statistics from the U.S. and abroad showing significant discrepancies in lifespan and other health factors among blacks, Native Americans, and other native borne populations compared to whites and other groups. Years ago it was thought biology was to blame, he said. “Today we know it’s more about society,” Williams said. “Under the skin we are all the same.”

The conference was designed to provide underrepresented local high school students with a framework to learn about public health from current Harvard graduate students and faculty, according to Harvard Chan students Samara Jinks and Paul Reeping who helped organize the event, along with fellow students, and the School’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Activities included campus tours, mini-lectures by faculty and students, a public health case study, and an interactive public health equity session done in collaboration with the Boston Public Health Commission.

Meredith Rosenthal discusses field of public health.
Meredith Rosenthal describes field of public health.

Dean Designate Michelle Williams, Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Public Health and chair, Department of Epidemiology, and Meredith Rosenthal, associate dean for diversity and professor of health economics and policy, welcomed the students. They described the broad range of career possibilities in public health, ranging from analyzing statistics or developing economic policies to working in the area of social justice or urban design. “Whatever your skills, whatever your passion, there’s a place for all of those skills in public health,” Williams said.

Marge Dwyer

Photos: Sarah Sholes