Student Spotlight: Santana Silver, MPH-HSB ’21

Santana, thank you for taking the time to speak about your experience during the Winter 2020 CDC Evaluation Course (SBS 550). Let’s begin with an introduction of you and a general overview of the course.

I am in the MPH-65 program within the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Before studying at HSPH, I worked with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which is a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of Camden’s most medically and psychosocially complex and underserved individuals. Inspired by my direct work with patients to remediate social determinants of health that affected their health and life outcomes, I was compelled to pursue a MPH degree to further explore my interest in links between social inequalities and health disparities, with a focus on how social determinants affect chronic disease and mental illness risk in marginalized populations.

Aligning with my career goals to implement evidence-based programs, practices, and policies that promote health equity, the CDC Evaluation Course (SBS 550) offers students the opportunity to gain a practical, applied field-based experience in public health program evaluation. The first portion of the winter session course is spent at the CDC headquarters, where students receive instruction on program evaluation from CDC experts and HSPH professors. Next, students travel to their matched sites across the U.S., where they interview relevant stakeholders and investigate contextual factors to inform their evaluation plan of a real-world public health program.

For the first week, you were on the CDC’s Atlanta campus. What was your biggest takeaway during this time?

My biggest takeaway during my experience at the CDC headquarters was the importance of collaborating with and engaging stakeholders throughout public health program implementation and evaluation. Regardless of the program, strategic partnerships between private, public, and community-based entities are necessary to provide adequate resources and buy-in to not only implement but also evaluate the effectiveness of programs. As an evaluator, it is critical to learn the role and perspective of each stakeholder to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the program to be evaluated and develop a focused evaluation design that is situation-specific and addresses potential contextual factors that may help or hobble the program implementation and/or evaluation.

The following week, you and your partner, Karen Jiang, MPH-HP ’21, traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands. What was your project there?

The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health is currently implementing a Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, which is a group-based 6-week educational workshop aimed to improve eligible participants’ knowledge and ability to self-manage chronic disease. While the program has been shown to be effective at improving participants’ health outcomes and health care utilization in a variety of populations and settings, it has not been evaluated in the context of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Therefore, my role is to develop an evaluation plan that the Department of Health will utilize to assess the effectiveness of the program implementation and impact. In order to develop a feasible and context-specific evaluation plan, I spent a week in the U.S. Virgin Islands, primarily conducting interviews with a variety of stakeholders to learn more about the program and sociocultural and political-economic environmental factors that may influence it.

What was your biggest challenge working in your project site?

The biggest challenge was establishing our role in the program evaluation process and setting clear and consistent expectations regarding our involvement. Several stakeholders assumed that we were conducting the actual evaluation, rather than solely developing the evaluation plan to be implemented by the Department of Health. While there seemed to be confusion about this initially, our conversations with stakeholders and collaboration with leaders in the Department of Health helped to clarify our role.

Do you have any advice for future students participating in SBS 550?

Take full advantage of this unique opportunity for academic and personal growth. You get the chance to engage with public health experts across a variety of fields and roles – ask as many questions as possible to as many people as possible! During the valuable exposure to federal, state, and local public health entities, pay attention to which environment you resonate with to help inform your career path. In your project site, immerse yourself in the local culture, try new foods, and embrace uncertainty and unfamiliarity!

– Interview by Daniel Choi