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Public Health Students Use Leadership to Change the Health on Campus

Published: January 16, 2013
Public health students recently held a health fair for local senior citizens.
Public health students recently held a health fair for local senior citizens.

Christina Fisher ’13 used to look at Plant Hall’s minarets from her downtown office window and know that she was meant to be studying at UT.

Now, having just turned 30, Fisher is changing careers and living out her passion.

As an intern with the Florida Asthma Coalition and Florida Department of Health, Fisher is helping to improve the awareness of clean air and its impacts on children with asthma.

“The number one reason for absenteeism in Florida schools is asthma-related issues,” said Fisher, a public health major. “What I’m doing in my internship is collecting success stories for their grant applications to show the progress they’ve made with their initiatives.”

In addition, Fisher is working with assistant professor Mary Martinasek creating a template for schools and institutions like hospitals to report these successes. Once completed, the template and examples of success stories will be published on the Florida Asthma Coalition’s website.

“I take this issue to heart because my mom has been severely asthmatic for most of my lifetime,” said Fisher, of San Diego. “It’s debilitating for her because they didn’t have these kinds of treatment programs for her when she was young.”

When she graduates, Fisher wants to pursue research opportunities, an interest she attributes to her UT professors and mentors.

“They’ve created a monster in me because now I’m seeking information all the time,” Fisher joked. “I’d love to be a health educator to teach children preventative measures on nutrition, sexual health, exercise and mental health so they can have long, healthy lives.”

Fisher’s internship is just one of the experiential opportunities available to UT’s public health students. In the realm of epidemiology, students conducted a surveillance project on seat belt usage. They discovered that of more than 100 people exiting the West parking garage, males tended not to wear seat belts which reflects a national trend. Now the students know how to focus their prevention measures.

At the McNiff Fitness Center, public health students asked about 70 students if they knew of the high importance of resistance training in reducing osteoporosis. They found that females knew of this connection, but they weren’t doing weight-bearing exercises shown to reduce the risk for the bone disease. Now the public health students are working with the McNiff staff on program planning to address this issue.

At the Aquatic Center, public health students found that males were more likely to wear sunscreen versus females who wear tanning lotion. Now sunscreen usage programming can be targeted to the right market.

Breathe Easy UT is made up of students and faculty administrators working to make the University a tobacco-free institution. With the help of a Florida Department of Health grant for tobacco-free initiatives, they’ve established smoke-free zones and have a smoking cessation counselor available to all students, faculty and staff. Martinasek and associate professor Rebecca Olsen have received a UT Delo grant to continue a study on the usage of hookah, and with the help of students, will continue their campaign this spring semester.

“The students are competing with master’s students when they graduate, and they’re getting the jobs,” said Olsen. “We’re providing a synergistic opportunity to help with the health of students on campus and provide leadership experiences. Our students will find jobs because of the experiences they have here at UT.”

Fisher said that Olsen and Martinasek find a way to open as many doors for their students as they can.

“I’ve never had an institution be so passionate and care about their students so much,” Fisher said. “They give you all the opportunities in the world. If you’re willing to put in the hours and work, the world is open to you.”