Putting passion into practice: School of Public Health students engage in valuable, hands-on learning opportunities

Although Mohini Chatterji left her home in India, she was able to make another home at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health.

“This is such a close-knit school,” Chatterji said. “They always have time for you. We are a family and it feels like you’re part of something special.”

Since coming to WVU, Chatterji has made a concerted effort to be fully engaged in the life of the School of Public Health, which eventually led her to becoming president of the Student Association of Public Health. She works hand-in-hand with the School, and has been instrumental in organizing meetings, volunteer activities and community outreach events.

Like Chatterji, Brenna Kirk has also had an exceptional experience in the School of Public Health.

Kirk is co-president of Gamma Mu Chapter of Delta Omega, an honorary society for graduate students in public health. Recognized with the Chapter of the Year award for the seventh consecutive year, the organization fulfills its mission through extensive outreach, alumni engagement and member participation. Kirk believes the family-centric school and the various activities it creates for students are what separate it from the rest.

“I can honestly say there has not been a single instance where I have been disappointed,” Kirk said. “The School is very creative and strategic in the types of opportunities it provides for its students.”

Community outreach opportunities grant students the ability to impact areas throughout the state and provide needed care and support. From working with agencies to assemble and distribute naloxone rescue kits to volunteering for community programs like Read Loud and Habitat for Humanity, students gain valuable experience in their field of study as they are inspired to continue learning their practice.

Chatterji has had extensive hands-on experience while in the School. In addition to being involved in community outreach, she has taken advantage of external partnerships – of which there is no shortage.

“We are fortunate to have a long history of collaborating with a wide range of partners,” School of Public Health Dean Jeffrey Coben said. “From agencies and organizations at the local, state, national and international level, our faculty and staff have been diligent in their efforts to invest in these partnerships and expand them over the past several years, resulting in a wealth of experiential learning opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students alike.”

This diverse group of external partnerships allows students to fully explore the field of public health. Megan Govindan, director of community leadership and social action, is one such partner who commits to raising the bar in order to help students get the best out of their experience.

“With field experience, the gloves are off,” Govindan said. “Students are expected to put in the work. This will help them identify interests and elevate their public health passions.”

Chatterji’s gloves are off, having gained valuable experience working as a research assistant for a randomized control trial that allowed her to travel across the state. She has also had experiences with the Monongalia County Health Department – with which the School recently established an Academic Health Department – the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and WVU Extension Service.

“The School really inspires me,” Chatterji said. “It pushes me to want to learn every day and be a continuous lifelong learner in and out of the field of public health.”

Along with community outreach, students are heavily involved in service learning. Audra Hamrick, director of public health practice and service learning, makes this possible for students. Hamrick has been instrumental in developing many initiatives and maintaining ongoing partnerships for the School.

“Service learning is an important part of our students’ education,” Hamrick said. “The idea is that students get hands-on learning opportunities, and that no single experience is too great or too small.”

Hamrick believes it is important to create a variety of opportunities for students so everyone can find something they are passionate about. Her goal is to help students hone their skills and, ultimately, find and practice their passion in public health.

And once students identify their passion and put it into practice, they’re given the resources to think about the next big step – whether that includes advancing into a graduate program or landing their first job.

Scot McIntosh, the School’s first director of career development and student success, is instrumental in connecting them to those resources, including career counseling, mock interviews, resume and curriculum vitae prep and a job board that provides currently available positions across the country.

McIntosh, who was recently named the 2020 recipient of the Excellence in Student Services Award by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, says he’s noticed a shift in the School since his arrival.

“The thing I’ve noticed most since I’ve been here is the culture change,” McIntosh said. “The students are more engaged than ever and are hungry for growth and knowledge.”

The School’s unique location further distinguishes it from other programs throughout the country.

“Students with a passion for social justice and change will have an enviable living and learning experience as part of our program,” said Linda Alexander, senior associate dean for academic, student and faculty affairs. “West Virginia is the only state in the U.S. where all of its counties are considered Appalachian, so students in our program are exposed to scholars who not only understand the health issues affecting the world’s populations, but have contributed to research that provides the answers to complex health issues right here in our state.

“Our academic programs are designed to expose students to these issues, training them to prepare real-world solutions.”

With an overarching mission to improve the quality of life for West Virginians and all who call Appalachia home, the School of Public Health is rapidly building upon its strong foundation of faculty and programs that pre-date the School’s official establishment in 2012. And at the heart of its mission are its students and the steadfast commitment to develop them into exceptional public health leaders of the future.



CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
School of Public Health
304-293-1699; nikky.luna@hsc.wvu.edu