Partnership boosts public health career opportunities
Recent Saint Michael's graduates Maura Dodge, Emilee Cornelius entering Boston University School of Public Health as Select Scholars, feeling motivated and well-prepared
Silver linings are hard to find in a pandemic, but Saint Michael’s College students interested in public health careers are discovering heightened purpose and focus from the challenges that COVID 19 poses.
For example, two 2020 graduates, Maura Dodge and Emilee Cornelius, have been accepted to the prestigious Boston University School of Public Health this fall as “Select Scholars” just as Saint Michael’s is rolling out popular new majors in public health and health science alongside a Graduate Certificate in Health Equity sequence, according to Professor Patti Delaney, founding director of the Saint Michael’s Public Health Program.
“The field of public health is right in the ‘sweet spot’ of doing good and doing well,” Delaney said. “Impressive students like Maura and Emilee are well-positioned to build upon the mission-driven education of Saint Michael’s College and achieve great things in graduate school in public health. Even prior to COVID-19, the field of public health was slated to grow substantially in the coming years.”
As the Virtual Commencement Class Speaker for the Saint Michael’s College Class of 2020, biology major Dodge told her classmates that their unusual circumstances and the demands of the times have made them “a generation of doers and contributors.” To do their part, Dodge and Cornelius are the first Saint Michael’s College students to take advantage of this relatively new and expanding Select Scholars program at the BU School of Public Health (BUSPH).
Leaders at both institutions said the new Saint Michael’s offerings in this field should be a natural ongoing feeder into the program, which offers a guaranteed tuition discount and flexibility in applying as seniors. Dodge was an earlier-decision candidate who took advantage of a Select Scholars travel program that covers costs of a Boston campus visit, while Cornelius was able to apply late in senior year and still be accepted to start in fall.
Dodge said she took the St. Mike’s Introduction to Public Health course in the fall of her senior year and it stirred her interest in this new career direction. “I had never really thought public health for a career before,” she said, “though I knew I wanted to be somewhere in health care and policy and on the clinical side – so everything interested me when I heard about the course.”
The College’s Select Scholars partnership with BU came about when Professor Delaney worked closely last year with a Purple Knight alumna, Professor Carol Dolan ’79 of the BUSPH faculty, in establishing an arrangement that places Saint Michael’s among a sizeable and growing number of top and diverse institutions with similar partnerships. After Delaney came to the class that Dodge was taking to tell about the new opportunity, Dodge ended up applying.
Says Delaney, “The brand new Saint Michael’s graduate certificate in Health Equity has been designed with the BUSPH curriculum in mind. Students who successfully complete the graduate certificate at St. Mike’s will receive transfer credits towards the Master’s of Public Health (MPH) at Boston University School of Public Health, one of the top 10 programs in the country.” Similar possibilities exist in arrangements with the University of Vermont’s School of Public Health, said Saint Michael’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Trumbower.
Delaney said faculty in the Boston program have indicated to her that students like Dodge and Cornelius “are likely to be highly successful in the interdisciplinary field of public health. Thanks to their strong background in the liberal arts, our students come in to their program as well-rounded scholars with a strong multidisciplinary background in fields such as statistics, ethics, biology and sociology.”
Ann Marie Larese, senior director of admissions at BU’s School of Public Health, said 2021 will be BUSPH’s 45th anniversary as one of oldest and highest ranked programs in the U.S. She said currently 18 schools are part of the Select Scholars network—three of them international, including one in the United Arab Emirates and one in South Korea; the network also includes several Historically Black Colleges, as more colleges of all profiles have been expressing interest too in joining the network.
“These are usually schools where faculty have special connection, as in the case of Carol Dolan at Saint Michael’s, and they create a pipeline to our program,” Larese said. “That’s one of the ways we connect with schools.” Larese said she personally visited Saint Michael’s this past academic year before the pandemic took hold, speaking with classes and meeting personally with Professor Delaney, Dodge and other students.
Larese said the coming academic year will be the Select Scholars Program’s fourth cycle of recruiting and trying to retain students from this expanding network of Select Scholars Schools. “One factor that works for schools within the network is that many of them, as at Saint Michael’s, may not have a graduate school in public health, so with the rise of undergraduate public health majors and minors and departments, we are starting to see more schools beginning to put money in this area and making investments into undergraduate courses; so it is a great opportunity for both sides to connect and look for the best and brightest of students who want to make a difference in public health,” she said, adding that the pandemic appears to have widened student interest in public health careers.
The new Saint Michael’s majors in the field are Public Health, which “encourages people from across a variety of disciplines to work together to explore the causes of the world’s health problems and develop solutions,” and Health Science, which “combines biomedical instruction with an understanding of how psychological and societal factors impact health,” according to the program descriptions.
Similarly, students can choose different tracks in the public health graduate programs in Boston. Dodge said she is excited to start a one-year course for a focused master’s in applied public health research, including taking a few courses this summer while she’s living at home and working part-time at Home Depot. She thinks the broad experiences afforded by her Saint Michael’s education will be a true asset in a public health career. “I’m interested in going to medical school – I’d like to be a research physician and do work in the field of public health while also having a clinical application of the work,” she said.
“I think with an MD I’ll have an opportunity to work with patients directly in a clinical setting,” Dodge said, “and with a background in epidemiology, I think I will be able to understand the data I’m receiving on things like pandemics like we are seeing now, and try to find ways to match the public health perspective with the clinical perspective to find a way for the best patient outcomes and for the system as a whole.”
Dodge is “a huge proponent of the liberal arts education” as she experienced it at Saint Michael’s, through an Honors Program curriculum that allowed her to take courses like creative writing or world religions, affording “an expansive view of the 20th Century, everything from architecture to art, wars to poetry.” She even picked up a minor in religious studies, and took a study trip to Israel and Palestine her junior year led by VPAA Trumbower and Professor Edward Mahoney. Dodge also was very active as a tour guide in the Founder’s Society, was heavily involved in Orientation planning, including on the board senior year, and played on the women’s rugby club.
She feels her major was ideal to prepare for her career aspirations. “We have a pretty diverse biology major at St. Mike’s so, you get a taste of everything from animal science to environmental science to anatomy and physiology,” she said. Dodge got interested in the research side of science through her Saint Michael’s courses that included a lot of lab experiences – she particularly was inspired by taking developmental biology with Professor Ruth Fabian-Fine since the class used exciting high-tech equipment for microscopy in labs. “Once I’m at Boston U, I will be doing 400 hours of in-lab research as the culmination of the program since it’s a public health research program — and I feel very well prepared for that,” Dodge said.
Same schools, different paths
Emilee Cornelius, who majored in biology and minored in sociology at Saint Michael’s, also became interested in BU’s public health program after Larese visited campus in January. “All the biology majors had also just received an email explaining the new Select Scholars program that BU was offering to Saint Michael’s students and I remember thinking that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to apply,” she said. “I originally applied as undecided because I was interested in all aspects of public health and wasn’t sure exactly what certificate I wanted to pursue. Now, I’m leaning towards the health communication and promotion certificate because as I took a couple of public health classes my senior year, I realized that I wanted to be able to work in a field in which I can promote healthy behavior and changes for many populations.”
A Rutland, VT, native, Cornelius participated at St. Mike’s in several intramural sports, the Random Acts of Kindness Club, and was an officer the past two years of the Tri Beta national academic biology honor society. She explained her how her relatively late career interest took form:
“I took intro to public health this past semester, and demography and public health back in the fall — both with Professor Candas Pinar [of the sociology, public health faculty]. She really helped me find what I am truly passionate about — I loved the way she taught classes, and I couldn’t be more thankful for her support throughout my last year at Saint Mike’s,” said Cornelius, who plans to take the first semester of school at BUSPH online so she can keep her current job a little bit longer and save some money. “I’ve also been nervous about the uncertainty of being able to meet in person for classes so I thought that this was the safest call,” she said, “though I cannot wait to be able to get on campus and explore all that Boston has to offer.”
Dodge is more familiar with that, since she grew up closer to Boston in Attenborough, MA, where her St. Mike’s alumnus dad, Jeffrey Dodge ’82 is now a dentist who also was a biology major. “He had a good time at St. Mike’s, and that was a huge reason my brother, Jeffrey R. Dodge ’17, also went there,” she said, sharing that her brother was a history major and now works for Oldcastle International Concrete and Masonry. Maura is sorry to have missed out on Commencement ceremonials as her dad and brother experienced due to the pandemic, but she was happy she was able to play a role in the nice virtual ceremony and honored to be selected by classmates as speaker.
“It helped give us closure and supply us with an informal but real end to help us celebrate,” Dodge said. “It would be cool to see my classmates in a year and hear where everyone is by then — I hope we all get a chance to be together in summer of 2021 and celebrate our achievements as a class together.”