Broadening perspective amid the pandemic

Newly minted Public Health graduates gain insights from hands-on training, pandemic relief efforts

“Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to reject an opportunity.”

That’s according to West Virginia University School of Public Health graduate and School of Medicine-bound Jeevan Murthy.

The same rings true for several of his fellow 2021 graduates, who all said yes to, quite possibly, one of the most significant opportunities of their lifetime – and, most certainly, of their college careers.

Murthy and several of his B.S. in Public Health peers – Dakota McCollian, Lilith McGhee and Adrian Thomas – along with Chrissy Donahue, who just earned her Master of Public Health in Biostatistics, worked alongside team members of the Monongalia County Health Department to support pandemic relief efforts, volunteering at COVID-19 testing sites and The Greater Monongalia County Vaccination Clinic

Chrissy Donahue, Lilith McGhee, Dakota McCollian, Jeevan Murthy and Adrian Thomas donning their graduation caps and gowns as they stand beside a School of Public Health vertical banner.
Left to right: Donahue, McGhee, McCollian, Murthy, and Thomas waiting to line up for the Commencement ceremony on May 16. (WVU Photo/J. Wilmoth)

“For four years, I have listened to lectures and read textbooks about disaster prevention, disease epidemiology and other topics on public health,” said Murthy, a Charleston native and Honors College graduate. “We were granted the opportunity to apply this education and serve on the frontlines of the pandemic, which has caused great burden and loss in our society and will never escape our minds.

“Yet, this experience has also opened my eyes even more to the important work that public health officials provide during times of need and showed the importance of a good public health infrastructure.”

Depending on the daily demands, the students’ responsibilities ranged from assisting with swabbing – carrying out anywhere between 40 to 200 tests per day – to handling data entry and registration to helping with community relations.

McGhee, who is also from Charleston, found the experience at the vaccination clinic to be particularly rewarding, noting that nearly 40 percent of West Virginians had been vaccinated as she was wrapping up her semester.

“As a West Virginian and future public health professional, this is something I was extremely proud of,” she said.

For Donahue, a two-time School of Public Health graduate from Moorestown, New Jersey, serving as a volunteer at the testing sites gave her a new perspective.

Chrissy Donahue works at the registration computer at the COVID-19 testing clinic.
Donahue works at one of the registration tables at a COVID-19 testing clinic on March 8, 2021. (WVU Photo/B. Persinger)

“It was helpful to see a pandemic response in action, especially as a biostatistics major,” said Donahue, who plans to enroll in the PhD program this fall while continuing working for Health Affairs. “The ‘action’ part of a pandemic response for a biostatistician is more on the backend, doing data analysis or something along those lines. So, this was something different from what I would normally do.”

Murthy, McCollian, McGhee and Thomas also completed their applied field placements with the MCHD, which was recently awarded the 2021 Outstanding Community Partner Award. This experience gave them additional hands-on training opportunities that included conducting research and literature reviews, assisting with public awareness campaigns and working with the MCHD Quick Response Team – a collabration among first responders, public health practitioners and many other partners dedicated to helping those struggling with substance abuse.

“Through this field service, students are able to apply theories, concepts and knowledge gained from their public health curriculum as they address important public health issues,” said Audra Hamrick, director of public health practice and service learning, noting that each graduating senior typically contributes a minimum of 75 field hours during their final semester.

And while this year was no different in terms of the hours required, it was certainly unique.

“Living through a pandemic as a public health student has been the epitome of experiential learning,” Hamrick said. “Some of our students had to complete their field work remotely while others were fully in person or in a hybrid model but, regardless of how they served, their efforts and contributions all made a difference on our campus and throughout our community.”

Brittany Irick, MCHD special projects and grants coordinator, agrees.

“We hosted four students this year – we’ve never hosted four undergraduate students at one time – so this was a first, but it was a great opportunity to do so,” Irick said. “We’ve managed a lot of the COVID response over the past year, and it’s been crucial to have additional help, so having each of them was a huge asset to our team. They were able to do hands on work during a pandemic, and most people won’t be able to do this in their lifetime.”

MCHD Threat Preparedness Specialist Joe Klass hopes the time and effort they invested will pay off. 

Adrian Thomas sprays disinfectant onto a cleaning cloth as she works at the vaccination clinic.
Thomas volunteers at The Greater Monongalia County Vaccination Clinic on March 12, 2021. (WVU Photo/B. Persinger) 

“It would have been very difficult to do what we did without the help of so many students helping out and volunteering during this truly historic event,” Klass said. “Hopefully, the knowledge and skills they gained through their experiences in working with us will serve them well throughout their entire public health careers.”

Pictured at top: Jeevan Murthy conducts a COVID-19 nasal swab test at the WVU Recreation Center alongside Dr. Diane Gross, adjunct professor in the Dept. of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and regional epidemiologist for the MCHD, on March 8, 2021. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)



CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health