In the age of COVID-19, the UIndy Public Health program is committed to making a difference. UIndy graduates promote health and prevent disease within local and global communities, as well as reduce health inequities through conscientious application of evidence-based public health strategies including programming and policy development.
One of those graduates, Alli Nelson ’20, now works for the Indiana State Department of Health as a COVID-19 Health Educator Epidemiologist. Below is a Q&A about her experience in the Public Health Education and Promotion program at UIndy and what it has been like to start her career in the midst of a pandemic.
What was your year of graduation, major and any minors or concentrations?
I graduated with a B.S. in Public Health Education and Promotion from UIndy in August of 2020. I am part of UIndy’s 4+1 public health program, so I am currently finishing up my last year of my Master of Public Health program at UIndy and will graduate with my MPH in August of 2021. I was very lucky to be able to complete an extra accelerated program so I will graduate with my Bachelors and Masters in four years.
What was your experience in the public health program? How did it prepare you for your current career?
I cannot say enough good things about UIndy’s public health program. It prepares students so well to step out into the workforce either with an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree. The program gives you plenty of opportunities to network with professionals in the field and build relationships that prove to be beneficial upon graduation.
Additionally, the public health program focuses heavily on hands on experience. You are actively working with the community to design health education and promotion programs/interventions, conduct evaluations, compose grant proposals, and so many other hands on activities. This is so beneficial for students as it gives them the experiences that prepare them and allow them to standout when they are looking for a career.
The program pushes you to grow as a professional and develop important skills such as team building, communication, networking, problem solving, critical thinking, cultural competency, and so many other skills. The program also connects you with professionals and organizations that could be your future employer. That was the case for me. Our program director sent out an email of job openings at the Indiana Department of Health that was sent to her by a former UIndy graduate and I interviewed for a position and landed a job.
Can you give us a little more information on your current role?
I am currently contracted by the Indiana Department of Health as a COVID-19 Health Educator Epidemiologist. Within this role, I am working on an infection prevention and control program that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is rolling out called Project Firstline.
The aim of Project Firstline is to provide basic infection prevention and control trainings to all frontline healthcare workers, so this could be nurses, physicians, environmental service workers, dialysis facility workers, outpatient facilities, etc. Basically, we want everyone to know basic infection prevention and control like the back of their hand.
To reach this goal, I and another health educator will be providing 10 regional Project Firstline trainings within the next two years. The trainings will be based on the needs of the regions that will be identified through a Learning Needs Assessment that will be distributed throughout the state. This will assess what infection prevention and control trainings frontline workers currently receive and what are the gaps in the training that need to be addressed.
On the logistical side of things, I work on providing the grant deliverables for the grant that is funding this project as well as developing distribution lists of all dialysis centers, local health departments, homeless shelters, outpatient clinics, ambulatory surgical centers, primary care centers, and others to use to disseminate the needs assessment and the trainings.
How’s your transition to the workforce been? Especially with regards to starting during the pandemic.
The transition has not been too difficult. UIndy’s MPH program was online prior to COVID-19, so I was used to being productive and working from home. My current job is also fully online, so it wasn’t too different of a transition.
I attend a lot of Microsoft Teams meetings which is helpful to answer my questions and collaborate on different projects. I would love to work in person with my supervisor and other health educator, but it is not essential at this moment and it is safer for us to work from home. I was very fortunate to find employment during the pandemic, which I know was not the case for many. I am very thankful for my public health education that has prepared me to step in a role where I can help when a strong public health workforce is needed now more than ever.
Did any faculty or staff mentor you when you were a UIndy student? If so, who are they and how did they help?
I feel like all of the public health faculty and staff have mentored me throughout my time at UIndy. When we were on campus, I was definitely the student that went to professors office hours very regularly. Dr. Heidi Hancher-Rauch, Dr. Angelitta Britt-Spells, and Dr. Kara Cecil have played a very important and impactful role in my development as a public health professional.
I have sat down with all of them and received very valuable advice and talked through how to set myself up to be a successful/impactful public health professional. I never doubted that the public health faculty did not want the best for me and took time out of their busy schedules to meet with me and many other students. They are all great role models for all the public health students in the program.
I cannot say enough good things or thank them enough. I did not originally start as a public health major and I was originally on track to go into the Occupational Therapy program at UIndy, but they helped me discover my passion for public health and decide that I wanted to spend my life using my passions for the greater good of the public’s health.
What would you say to high school students who are considering UIndy?
I would definitely recommend UIndy to high school students. If you are wanting an institution that you know has your best interest in mind, UIndy is for you. If you want professors that care for you and success and are available to you, UIndy is for you. If you want to build community and have a close cohort to walk through college with, UIndy is for you. If you want to make a difference in your community during school and after graduation, UIndy is for you. If you want to gain professional experiences and skills that will set you apart upon graduation, UIndy is for you. If you want to take pride in your education, UIndy is for you.
Do you have any advice for UIndy graduates?
My advice for UIndy graduates would be to have confidence in your skills and the education you received. You are capable and qualified for a position. I know being a graduate in 2020 can make it difficult to find a career due to the current circumstances, but this season will also build skills, character, and qualities that will be very attractive to employers. 2020 graduates are flexible, adaptable, determined, and will be valuable assets to a company. Have patience and trust that your hard work, dedication, and education will pay off.