The practice of making a professional
Service learning – it is one of those things that students regularly label “resume building” with activities like alternative spring breaks or workplace internships. But for Colorado’s public health faculty and administrators, it is so much more.
Service learning is an approach to education that pairs public health practice in the community with curriculum in the classroom. It is supported by an extensive network of community partners and serves as the foundation for growing the next generation of professionals.
In her capacity as the practicum coordinator, Dr. Jan Gascoigne is the faculty lead on many of the school’s service learning initiatives and community partnerships. She and her colleagues in the school’s Center for Public Health Practice and academic departments identify and develop the spectrum of activities for the practice-based learning program by building upon these partnerships.
The practice-based program includes volunteering, curriculum infusion, independent study, the master of public health practicum and master’s capstone project. Field experiences and hands-on professional learning are woven into the school’s courses, activities and program expectations. The success of the school’s practical integration is due in large part to an extensive and growing network of active community partners. And among the most active partners is the Public Health Alliance of Colorado.
The alliance is a collaboration of ten Colorado public health organizations whose individual membership reflects all levels and types of public health professionals. The school works closely with the alliance on research projects, guest lectures, seminar sponsorships and advisory board service. Because of its activity with the school and its broad membership, the alliance is a logical community partner for the school’s practice-based learning program.
“I began working with the Public Health Alliance of Colorado as an intern in May 2009,” states master of public health student Adrienne Veyna. “What was meant to be a summer internship grew into my practicum experience and thus my master’s project as well.”
Dr. Gascoigne advises many students like Adrienne. She pairs their interests with community partners in order to support larger projects and goals like the practicum. Dr. Gascoigne understands that a single volunteer opportunity can lead to a larger commitment, whether a practicum or even employment – all objectives within the practice-based learning program. And for Adrienne, the alliance seemed like the perfect fit for exploring an interest in policy, completing a practicum and building a career.
The alliance was founded shortly before the Colorado School of Public Health, and according to Alliance Executive Director Lee Thielen, policy development was one of the surprises of the organization’s development.
“The original planning meetings of the [member] organizations led to policy being seen as an area that would be too hard to reach consensus. The enthusiasm and participation of the associations in support of the Public Health Act of 2008 threw that assumption out the door,” states director Thielen.
Now, the alliance and its organizational membership are active in policy circles and discussions. They support and help to develop new ways of moving public health forward through policy and advocacy. Because of these activities, the alliance is the type of organization capable of supporting student success and professional development.
“[Adrienne] is helping us develop a new group-the Colorado Association of Local Boards of Health which will include county commissioners and appointed board of health members,” comments Thielen. “From the associations, students can learn about continuing education on a broad range of topics, participate in policy discussions and legislative calls, and network with the broad public health community. That networking may come in handy when it is time to pick an internship or look for a permanent position,” she states.
This is precisely why community partnerships and practice-based learning are critical to the success of students in the master of public health.
“The connection I’ve created with the Public Health Alliance of Colorado has added greatly to my graduate school experience. Through this connection I’ve been able to attend meetings that I otherwise would never have had the opportunity to attend,” reflects Adrienne. “I learned so much about how the public health system in Colorado really functions.”
In a state with retiring public health professionals and national estimates of workforce shortages, the Colorado School of Public Health’s practice-based learning program gives students the training and advantage necessary to assume a place among the next generation of professionals.
“Our partners are growing their future employees,” comments Dr. Gascoigne. “[Students] really start to embody themselves as public health professionals. They walk in to a practicum seeing themselves as a student and they exit seeing themselves as a public health professional.”
For more information on practice based learning visit our website. If you would like to partner with the school to host an intern or practicum student, please contact Dr. Jan Gascoigne at Jan.Gascoigne.@ucdenver.edu.