Summer Program Helps Youths Identify Public Health Concerns in Their Communities

by Haein Shin and Lolimar Peña |September 11, 2020
class photo over zoom

Image: Haein Shin

As part of a program titled Learn-Try-Apply, young people in Upper Manhattan spent the summer working on hands-on projects to identify and learn more about the public health concerns of their communities. Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) helped to curate one of the topics featured in the eight-week program, working in partnership with NY Presbyterian Uptown Hub and Kent State University. The project came about as a way to better understand what kinds of community-driven public health and education models could help to address community needs in Upper Manhattan.

Meeting over Zoom each week, the youths learned from a variety of experts in public health and community education. The interns then applied their learnings to group projects, which they chose based on the issues they wanted to help address in their own communities: nutrition, mental wellness and substance abuse. The takeaways and project summary can be found here.

From program partners and guest speakers, the interns learned about:

  • Community mapping, tracking contents, assessments and assignments (Haein Shin, CSD)
  • Citizen science and community education (Radhika Iyengar, CSD)
  • Public health 101 and careers as public health researchers and practitioners (Ozge Karadag Caman, CSD)
  • Community mobilization (Tara Stafford Ocansey, CSD)
  • Mental wellness and coping strategies (Joyce Ku, certified school counselor)
  • Nutrition, healthy habits and local resources (Amy Chen, licensed dietitian and nutritionist)
  • How to use STEM activity kits to alleviate digital fatigue (Joanne Caniglia, Kent State University)
  • Communications (Brighton Kaoma, Earth Institute Initiative on Communication and Sustainability, Columbia University)

These talks, which illustrated the community-based, inter-sectoral linkages of health and education and gave tips about activism and advocacy, helped the interns build toward a community plan for the issues they chose to focus on.

map on Zoom

Image: Haein Shin

Uptown Hub’s summer Learn-Try-Apply program has addressed other themes in the past. This summer’s new “Public Health and Community Education” track came about by merging Uptown Hub’s framework with CSD’s diverse public health and community education expertise, along with Kent State University’s Activity Kits. The partnership demonstrates how important it is to create new connections, sustain relationships, and maintain a sense of community, even during a pandemic.

Next, the team plans to use the contents of this course to curate a free online module that can be applicable to not just health issues, but to broader sustainability, climate change and ecological and societal issues. Stay tuned!

We would like to thank New York-Presbyterian and Uptown Hub program for this collaboration, and the speakers who shared their expertise with the interns of this track.

Uptown Hub is housed within New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and is a part of Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Criminal Justice Investment Initiative(“CJII”) to establish a Youth Opportunity Hub in Upper Manhattan. Along with community collaborators, the initiative serves over 250 youths aged 14 to 24 years each year who have been or are at risk for involvement with the juvenile or adult judicial systems. Uptown Hub’s mission is to act, create, and inspire growth within youth and their communities. By promoting positive and healthy futures, the Uptown Hub empowers members to develop self-advocacy and pursue their dreams by connecting with holistic and culturally affirming services and resources. 

The Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) is based at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. The primary mission of the Earth Institute is to achieve sustainable development. Scientists are applying their expertise to reducing hunger, disease and environmental degradation, particularly in nations ravaged by global pandemics, climate change and extreme poverty. CSD focuses on education, health, environment and economic development in lifting rural communities out of extreme poverty, under the global Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

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