International Practicum Revealed webinar
In this Student Success Spotlight webinar, University of Southern California’s Master of Public Health (MPH) online program student, Kieshla Louchnikov. Kieshla will share her experience leading public health efforts in Uganda this past summer.
Use the media player to control volume or pause the presentation if you’re viewing on demand. If you’re having technical difficulties or would like to ask a question please enter in the Q-and-A box. Here’s a quick look on what we’ll be covering. With us today is Dr. Shubha Kumar, program director of the Master of Public Health Online program at University of Southern California. Summer 2016 graduate Kieshla Louchnikov and MPH team representative Chantel Aftab and enrollment advisor Steven Gutierrez. First we’ll hear from our panelists, who will share a little bit of their background with us.
Then, Kieshla will share her experience leading public health efforts in Uganda this past summer. Chantel will moderate the discussion. Lastly, enrollment advisor Steven will feature the admissions requirements, important dates and deadlines and information about how to contact us if you’re ready to begin an application or if you have more questions. We will end the presentation with a Q-and-A. I encourage you to stick around for that. So let’s get started. Hello, Dr. Kumar, thank you so much for joining us today. Would you please share a little bit about yourself with our audience?
Dr. Kumar: Sure. Hi everybody. Thank you for joining us. My name is Shubha Kumar, and I’m the director of online MPH program here at USC. I’m also an assistant professor within the division of Global Health and Disease Prevention. My background is working specifically in global health. I’ve been working in public health for over 15 years now in the context of health policy and management. I’ve worked in several different countries in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in South America, primarily looking at health systems and where there are gaps and opportunities to improve health care for folks needing access.
As well as at the policy level in terms of how countries can develop policies, create better access to monitor quality of care, et cetera. I am really excited about the field of public health personally because there’s so much one can do in this field, there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something going on and so much variety and breadth of options to work in this field. I’d love to share more with you all as time progresses.
Ligia: Thank you. Chantel, would you share a little bit about yourself with the audience today?
Chantel: Yeah, I’d love to. Hi everyone, my name is Chantel Aftab. I am the current MaPH Student Board Online Student Representative for this school year. I’m in my second year as a student on the Global Health Leadership track. A little bit about me: I received my bachelor’s in psychology from UC San Diego a couple years ago. I’m currently working in research, molecular bio research for the United States Navy. I first became interested in public health when I began volunteering with a nonprofit medical missionary that partners with UC San Diego students and USC medical students and physicians.
We go down to Tijuana, Mexico — we spend the weekend there. It really opened my eyes to the field of global health and public health. I hope to attend medical school some day at USC, where I can use my breadth of knowledge from this program and as well as the medical background and impact the lives of others on a more global scale. This program has been wonderful. I currently live in San Diego. Having an online program, I’ve been able to be part of the Trojan family while still residing in San Diego.
Ligia: Thank you very much. Now Kieshla, we’d like to hear a little bit about your background.
Kieshla: Absolutely. As mentioned earlier, I am a recent graduate. I just completed the program in August with an emphasis in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I’ve also earned an MBA and a BS in biology. I initially started my career in a pharmaceutical industry, first as a quality control analyst in a bio-pharmaceutical startup and then as a microbiology technician for a major pharmaceutical company. For more than 10 years now though I’ve been working in the legal field; however, the pull toward laboratory work and research and health care was always there.
I ultimately decided to pursue my MPH to transition into a public health focused career. I am native to Los Angeles and I chose this program in particular because USC was one of the only schools to offer an Epi Bio track in an online format, which was a perfect scheduling set-up for me, because I am married with two children.
Ligia: Thank you so much. With that, I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Kumar, who will share a little bit about the university and the program.
Dr. Kumar: Thanks, Ligia. A little bit about USC. We are one of the world’s largest private universities, and we rank among the top 10 in federally funded research activity. We’re very well-known for innovative university and community partnerships. We have a diverse student body of about 40,000 students, including undergraduate and graduate. We’re quite large. About 20 percent of our student body are international students. In terms of the School of Medicine here at USC Keck, we rank in the top 25 medical schools for federally sponsored research.
We have a wide variety of faculty who conduct research across 24 academic departments and 7 research institutes including the Institute for Global Health, the Institute for Prevention Research, the Cancer Institute, Epigenetics, et cetera. We have two USC-owned and three affiliated hospitals, including LA County for USC. We are a big player in the Los Angeles community with several research institutes, departments and hospitals affiliated with us. In terms of students at the Keck School of Medicine we have about 700 medical students: roughly 300 doctoral, 800 master’s students and 500 undergraduates.
In terms of NPH online program specifically, our MPH program on campus was actually established in 1998. We are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health as well as WASC. We’re regionally accredited by WASC. Our online program really built off of our on-campus program where we have the same faculty teaching in our courses as well as the same tracks. U.S. News & World Report ranks USC among the top 25 of the nation’s best universities.
Our online program offers specialized tracks including Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Health Education and Promotion, a new track in GeoHealth — which really combines spatial analysis skills as applied to public health. It’s a particularly cutting-edge track that no other school is offering right now online. There’s a high market demand for skills in this area. As well as Public Health Policy, the new track we’re offering, and of course we offer a track in Global Health Leadership.
There’s five specializations for students to choose from to really allow you to explore what your interests are and where you want to go in your career. In terms of the curriculum requirements, we have five required courses, which reflect basic public health knowledge including biostats, epidemiology, environmental health, U.S. health care delivery, and social and behavioral health sciences, as well as a course in leadership and management and then a practicum, which we’re going to touch more on a little bit later.
What’s a practicum? A practicum is a culminating experience that MPH program requires for graduation.
It’s a structured, goal-oriented, and competency-driven supervised field training experience. It’s essentially like an internship where you are working in the field at an agency of your choosing that has something to do with public health. You’re working to develop specific competencies that you’ll identify that you want to really master in your training. This component of the program is really aimed to combine classroom knowledge with real-world experience. In terms of the practicum itself, it’s a 300-hour requirement where you’re working at an agency of your interest, which can be anywhere in the world.
It could be local, it could be domestic, it could be even at the federal level or at the international level. We work to help place you in an agency where you want to be. We have over 225 sites that we’re currently partnered with, and that list is always growing. Some examples of local sites that we’re partnered with where students can do a practicum are LA County public health department, several community-based organizations, hospitals, and clinics. If you want to work at the federal level, there’s opportunities to work with the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, and the CDC.
Internationally, we’ve placed students in the World Health Organization as well as the United Nations. We also offer specialized global health trips to Panama and to Geneva, et cetera, where students can then complete a practicum following the faculty-led trip. Some examples of practicum sites and deliverables that students have completed: We have students go to Proyecto Hombre at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Spain, where students have designed a needs assessment as well as a brochure for community health organization.
Another example is at Zynx Health in Los Angeles where students have completed literature reviews and data analysis to really advance the mission of the company. On a federal, level the National Cancer Institute, we had a student working on a patient navigator handbook. Then back to the local level, Para Los Ninos and Los Angeles creating health education curriculum, as well as evaluations of particular programs that have been launched within the community.
Ligia: Thank you so much. Before Kieshla shares her experience in Uganda, Dr. Kumar, can you provide us some context for our audience? Why was Kieshla selected to be featured today?
Dr. Kumar: Sure. Kieshla was selected because of her A) fantastic work that she’s done for her practicum, but B) also the drive that she showed in choosing what she wanted and really following that. The self-drive and determination, as well as for her to share her experience about how she was able to balance her work both here as a working professional with a family and completing an international practicum all at the same time.
Ligia: Thank you. OK, with that, Kieshla, would you talk to us a little bit today about your international practicum in Uganda?
Kieshla: Sure. My practicum was conducted on the direction of Dr. Heather Wipfli, a professor in the program here. She’s also associate director of the USC institute for global health. I worked with Ray United FC. It’s a nonprofit organization which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Wipfli’s son when he was in the fifth grade. The organization’s mission is to improve the health of children in their community, utilizing community development programs and partnerships, public health education, all under a soccer camp format.
In one facet, this translates to the two-week immersion trip that I participated in, which also included a soccer tournament and public health education workshops. There are also other initiatives which include partnering with schools to implement a public health curriculum throughout the school year and challenging the students to present projects to improve their schools in their communities. My practicum specifically, I start with how I found it. I was watching a webinar, which was very much like this one, dedicated to international student opportunities.
Dr. Wipfli, as well as several other professors and program representatives, talked about international projects that they were involved with and work that they were doing in other countries. I was very interested in Dr. Wipfli’s presentation. I sent her an email asking for more information, some time to talk with her and get a better idea on the kind of work that she was doing and the possibility of working with her for my practicum. As a result of that email, she responded, and we set up a time to meet.
During that conversation, we talked a lot about my personal objectives, my goals, what I wanted to achieve for my practicum and how I could benefit from working with her organization, and what I could offer the organization through a practicum opportunity. As a follow-up, she asked me to drop an outline of my intended plan based on my objective, and she provided some additional responsibilities, both that supported the organization’s needs as well as rounded out the requirements of my practicum. Those combined really developed the framework for my practicum project. Personally, I had to remain objective.
I wanted to use my practicum to help define my career path. I wanted to explore my interest in disease prevention and women’s health. I wanted to make a difference in a community. I wanted to feel my commitment to continue working the field because again this is my transition into public health. This was the start of it for me. The project that we designed had three main goals. I needed to conduct research, to understand the current public health position in Uganda. I was going to do data collection and analysis through public health assessment and student surveys, then ultimately develop a women’s health intervention.
Once the goals were defined, that translated into three stages of work. The first work was pre-work that I conducted before the trip. Starting about two months before we left, I started research. I did article reviews. I read publications and materials on current interventions and work that was already going on in the country being conducted by other organizations. Then I did personal interviews. I used this as an opportunity to talk with people who had been in countries and worked with other organizations or had ideas about things that they thought were important.
What they were doing to get a better understanding on how things worked. I knew absolutely nothing about Uganda and nothing about international work. This is also the stage in the pre-work where I drafted the first draft of the assessment, which was also a challenge because the only experience I’d had with drafting an assessment was through school work. Of course, I had to go back through school work and review my notes and figure out how to put together a first draft of an assessment. That led to the second phase of work. Once that part was done, we were in country. Now we’re going to spend two weeks in the country.
We get to Uganda and that work consisted of camp participation, administration and revision of the student survey and in country research, just basic research. During the camp, I was partnered with two local university students, and there were several groups of students. We broke up into, I would say, a small workshop-style group, and we taught different public health topics. My particular topic was sexual health. We discussed basic sexual health information to rotating groups about, I would say, 20 to 30 students and 10- to 20-minute sessions from about 8 in the morning to about 5 in the afternoon, for five days.
The information included puberty, sexual maturity, safe sex practices and disease transmission. We taught both youth and young adults. The curriculum was a little bit different based on the audience. It was also during a session that I asked for volunteers to pilot the survey that I drafted and based on their responses, the questions that they asked, the difficulties that they had with the questions. The way I drafted them, I was able to refine the questions on-site to make them easier to follow and answer without assistance from, say, a proctor or a teacher, which was ultimately the goal of the survey.
For students to take it independently so that they weren’t influenced by the answers that they were given. The second week of the trip consisted of tours of local hospitals, clinics, health service organizations, the local school of public health from the university there. We also attended a school where the yearlong curriculum would be implemented. All of this was part of the research that I was collecting and getting a better understanding of the current public health position as well as the services that were offered and the resources that were available there in country. That covered our two weeks in country.
The last phase of the project was the final refinement of the student survey, which I did here once I returned. Ultimately, what I found after being in country was that we have to draft two separate surveys: one for youths and one for young adults. The manner in which we ask questions and the wording that we use had to be very different. Not just from a perspective of there were cultural differences that we had to modify for because here we commonly use a rating schedule — very likely, somewhat likely — and those concepts didn’t translate well when we asked those questions of students there in Uganda.
We also had to number every question, because if we had a question that had several areas to respond they would tend to respond to every question the same way as opposed to reading each question separately and giving a separate answer. Little things like that had to be refined before we could come up with a final product. This is also where I developed the women’s health interventions based on my in country research. That really wraps out the practicum as a whole. Go next slide. I’ve chosen a group of pictures to give you a high-level idea on what it was like to be in country.
The first picture is a view from the apartment we stayed in. We stayed in the city of Kampala, which is very much like a major city here in Los Angeles in a way. Some of the city roads were dirt, some were paved. I’d say the largest difference would be traffic. They don’t have the same traffic laws we have here, so that was interesting to navigate walking across the streets where there are no stoplights or necessarily a right of way. The next picture is a picture of, I would say, a pretty typical picture of a village that we would work in.
We stayed in the city and we rode a bus every day out to the communities that the soccer tournament and public health workshops were conducted in. This is a pretty typical picture of what the little villages looked like. One of the most memorable things would have been, I’d say, the bathrooms were also one of the … If you could see, this really small hut or little brick buildings in the middle. They were just a brick building with stalls. They did have doors and a roll of toilet paper but there was just a hole in the ground. That was the restroom. Being out there for eight hours, at some point, throughout the week you had to use it.
That was, I’d say, probably a most memorable of I think different things. Next picture would be prepping for camp. That was a daily occurrence. We prepped every evening for the next day to camp. We served about 250 to, I would say, 325 students a day, through public health education in the soccer camp. Part of the day the students were required to rotate through public health seminars. The other part of the day they played soccer. We put together a little grab bag, I would say, which consisted of a T-Shirt, the public health workbook, a pencil, hand sanitizer, those kinds of things.
They were just small handouts. And then, of course the T-shirts that they wore at the camp. If you go against the bottom row left another picture of the rural areas which was more typical of the areas we worked in. The next picture is of two little boys in one of the villages. The reason I chose this picture is because this is another memorable experience that is so different from what we would experience here in the States. These two boys were about 3, and this was the last day of camp. There was a major tournament, a huge community event. Maybe 500 people, maybe not that many. Maybe 400, hard to tell.
These two little boys, they walked around all day all over the entire camp by themselves, and they were 3, but they were fine. I remember thinking I just have to take a picture of them, and that’s why I included that picture. The last picture on this slide is a picture of the typical morning. Now you see all of the students who have put on their camp T-shirts, and there’s an opening ceremony where we’d give them instructions on how the day would work, and it’s before soccer starts. Then session starts. Next slide. Again these are pictures of just some of the children playing soccer.
You’ll notice that some of them will have … Some students came in full soccer gear, some students came in just regular clothes. Some played in soccer cleats, some played without soccer cleats, with no shoes at all. It was just a huge disparity from one child to the next. You never really knew. Here, that would be almost impossible for a child to walk out on a soccer field with no shoes on when you have another child playing soccer who is in shin guards and cleats. That would just almost never happen. The next picture was also taken on the last day. It is a picture of two groups.
Those are the soccer coaches with the red jerseys on, and the instructors from the public health side of things in the yellow shirts. We played a small soccer game against each other at the end to entertain the children. It was an amazing experience. We as the teachers won. We beat the coaches, so that was pretty awesome. The next picture is a format of how we taught some of the children, one of the youth groups. Sometimes we would have them sit in circles, because it was a little bit more interactive to sit in a circle and have them follow along in a book as we were reading or have them read to us.
We used different formats with almost every group. We were very flexible. We had to keep them interested and focus on the information to try to pass as much information in such a short time as we possibly could. In addition, I included the pictures of dancing again to show that between teaching and soccer we didn’t just stand to ourselves. We interacted with the children as well. You’ll see us dancing sometimes. Sometimes we played games, we had conversations with individual students who were really interested in our lives here, and we talked to them about their lives there.
It was a huge learning opportunity just to be able to interact with them on a personal level and learn a little bit more about their daily lives and then to get to know a little bit more about our daily lives. The last picture I included because when I signed up and decided to go to this practicum, I didnt know anyone else there except for Dr. Wipfli, who I met when I decided to reach out to her for this practicum. I also met the in country coordinator beforehand.
My time there and all of the things that we did both inside the camp and outside in our personal time, I made great relationships with people that I still connect with and stay in touch with. If you see the male on the far left, he’s actually one of the local university students that I still keep in touch with. We still send messages back and forth. Hopefully we’re planning a trip to go to other places together. Next slide. I included this last slide because during our downtime I also had an opportunity to learn a little bit about the culture just from doing personal excursions. I went to a cultural dance performance.
We took a trip down the Nile river. It’s a short cruise. That was the weekend between the two weeks in the camp. We went camping on the Nile in a tent on the Nile. Yes, that happened. We got to do a safari. We did a water safari, where you see the crocodile. I had to take that picture of the crocodile, and I was that close. The boat pulled up right up to the shore. We went rhino-trekking. Of course, the last picture of our safari we were on a … I believe it was a two-day safari. We were on a two-day safari the last weekend before we came home. We saw a lion, elephant, we were actually charged by an elephant. We saw a giraffe.
It was absolutely an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Next slide. In my final stage of my work, this is the assessments survey that I ultimately drafted. This is the version for young adults. It was designed to be administered both pre and post, not necessarily at the camp. The camp was used as a pilot. This particular survey was designed for the additional initiative where they’re implementing the yearlong public health curriculum in the schools.
This survey was administered at the beginning of the school year, and it will be administered again at the end of the school year to gain an understanding of their public health knowledge before and after the curriculum had been implemented, as well as basic demographic information. Next slide. This is the intervention that I drafted based on all of the research that I did beforehand in country. The feedback that I received, a lot of the information that I attained from talking to some of the larger groups of girls that were involved in some of the latter days of the camp.
I ultimately came to the decision that menstrual health would be a good area to design an intervention, and so this is a two-page handout which is a quick, easy reference, in my opinion, the way I drafted it to give them basic information on understanding what menstrual health is. Understanding what menstruation is and the importance of menstrual health. Thank you.
Ligia: Thank you. Now I’d like to invite our student representative, Chantel, to ask you a few questions about your experience, as she is a student in the program currently.
Chantel: Thank you, and Kieshla, thanks for sharing some of those memorable photos. They’re really wonderful to look at. Just some questions that I’m sure are on a lot of students’ minds. What really drew you to an international versus a local practicum?
Kieshla: I think the real draw for me in addition to really just wanting to be a part of this particular program was to have an opportunity to design my own practicum as well as the flexibility. I looked through a lot of the practicum opportunities here, and they were pre-designed. I liked having the opportunity to design my own ideas. Working full-time and having a family, this was a perfect schedule fit for me.
Chantel: Great. Thank you for that. How did you go about funding your experience? I know you mentioned that, balancing family life and work life. I’m sure a lot of us are curious about that.
Kieshla: Yes it was a balance. I funded the trip myself. It was a balance, but it was absolutely worth it.
Chantel: I know you gave us a lot of details about the program that you designed and working with the camp. I’d love to hear a little bit more of your day-to-day work during the actual practicum.
Kieshla: Of course. We would start, I would say, about 7 in the morning. Most sites were an hour or more away. The bus would pick us up and we would ride out to the location. Most times the tents or whatever we were going to use were set up or we would get assigned our particular area. We’d have the opening session where we handed out the handouts and then we were split into groups. We would start teaching morning session. On average, I believe we taught 6 to 8 sessions before we broke for lunch.
Lunch was prepared generally by local women in the community, and it was normally local food, which is a little bit hard to explain. I would say a lot of potatoes and mostly potatoes, rice, beans, kinds of food I guess, is what we ate. Then we’d have interaction time where we danced and played and talked with children before we started teaching the afternoon session. Again, we’d do another 6 to 8 sessions. Then we would wrap up for the day. We would take the bus back. Most times, small groups of us would break out.
We’d have dinner at different restaurants, and then we would come back and do prep for the next day, which is packing the bags and getting ready for the next morning. That was the entire week for the first camp session. The second week was a little bit more flexible, but we had a pretty busy schedule in all the different sites that we would go into each day.
Chantel: Wonderful. It sounds like you were really busy but definitely still had some time to enjoy the area and connect with some other people there. Seeing that you did this towards the end of your program at USC, I’m curious how you felt you were able to integrate some of the core classroom learning that you had already learned over the past year and a half into your practicum.
Kieshla: Great question. I’d have to say that I had to do quite a bit of classroom learning during my project. There were times when even before I started drafting the assessment I literally went back to find my notes from some of the very first classes that I took. I had to go back and read through the material to just get a better understanding on how to start it. I remember that that was a huge trouble for me because it wasn’t one of my stronger points. Being in epibio, I didn’t have a really strong understanding on the tie between assessments and data collection.
Or drafting and having a responsibility of putting together the assessments and how much it would drive my data at the end. Rest assured, by the time we were in-country and I was administering those assessments, I had a very clear understanding. I’d say the overall experience was a very real-world example of almost everything I learned during my time in the program.
Chantel: As a current student, that’s really great to hear that there are definitely applications from what we’re learning in classroom to the real world. Thank you for that. I’d like to next ask about what you felt your experience was as far as faculty support during the practicum and your experience with the program coordinator in general.
Kieshla: As far as faculty support, I’d say not just … from the practicum itself, Dr. Wipfli was great. She gave me just enough support and direction to stay on target. She also gave me the autonomy to really own the work and the outcomes of my work, which taught me a great deal. She was there if I had questions or if I needed help. It gave me a huge learning opportunity to really get out of my comfort zone and apply the things that I learned throughout the program. We touched bases to talk about plan throughout the entire program. It was really my work.
As far as other faculty, I talked to lots of different faculties when it came to even designing my program. They all gave me a better idea to help me shape what I was looking for and what I wanted and the possibility of being able to design something on my own. That was an amazing opportunity. As far as my practicum coordinator, Keisha was amazing. She set me on the path that really helped me define my personal objective. She encouraged me to look at it as an opportunity to gain experience for the position I wanted, which has been the most absolutely invaluable advice that I could have ever received.
I don’t think I would have achieved as much out of my practicum had I not focused on looking to gain experience for my position.
Chantel: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Wonderful. Do you have any key takeaways from your experience and advice for potential students who might be interested in pursuing an international practicum?
Kieshla: My practicum really expanded my interest in areas that I hadn’t previously considered. When I started this program, I was very interested in health care administration and health care management. After participating in this particular practicum, I really found that I developed an interest in fieldwork. Had I not been willing to challenge myself and to do something that was a little bit different than what I was going for, I would have never found that. I’d say that I learned a great deal about another country, about another culture.
I gained an amazing understanding about field research and data collection and the connection between the two. I know for sure it will make me a better epidemiologist because of it. I also learned that change and impact comes in ways that we don’t necessarily expect. Before doing this program, I really couldn’t see how individually I could impact an entire community. During this work and working in this community and reaching so many students in such a small amount of time, I can see how my even small contribution can have such a great reach.
Not just from the perspective of the students that I worked with, but also it changed me. I have a different interest now, and I didn’t consider that before. I would say if you’re interested … Go ahead.
Kieshla: For someone who wants to do this kind of work, my advice would be start early. Define what you want to accomplish and stick to it. Look for something that’s a good fit but you have to be flexible. Things change all the time. They change sometimes in country. They change when you’re in the middle of working. Also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and think outside of your box, because that’s where I really learned the most through my practicum and being willing to challenge myself and to do something I didn’t think that I was necessarily as interested in as I turned out to be.
Chantel: Wonderful, Kieshla. Thank you so much for your time.
Kieshla: No problem.
Ligia: With that, I’m going to turn it over to Steven, who will walk through some of the admissions requirements for the program.
Steven: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us today. I’m going to run through the general admissions requirements here. To be eligible for this program, students very much need the following qualifications as to what they’re looked for. It is required that you hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. They’re looking for an undergraduate GPA of a 3.0 or better. We do accept a GRE, GMAT or MCAD in terms of standardized testing. For the GRE, we’re looking for a 153 or higher on the verbal reasoning and a 144 or higher on the quantitative.
A 600 or a higher on the GMAT and about a 68th percentile for the MCAD. There’s a minimum of three letters of recommendation required. If you have attended school in the last five years, they’d want to see at least one of those being academic. There’s a personal statement of purpose required, as well as a current professional resume or Curriculum Vitae along with completing the online application. Additional materials may be required for international applicants. I would also encourage you to speak with an admissions advisor here, as there may be specific requirements to an individual.
At the end of this, you will see admissions advisor’s contact information. For the important upcoming dates and deadlines, you’ll see the next semester is we do have starting for spring 2017, starts Jan. 11. The application deadline for that is Nov. 21 this summer. Semester starts May 10 with the application deadline of March 26. The fall semester of 2017 starts Sept. 6 with the application deadline being July 28. Now we’ll try to go through some of the questions here that can post in the Q-and-A section. To submit a question — please type into the Q-and-A box.
If we don’t get to your question today, one of us will follow up with you directly. With our first questions we have here. Kieshla, what did you find is the most challenging part of the program?
Kieshla: Time management. It’s a tough program. It’s not a typical online program. It’s a tough curriculum. You have to be focused. It’s definitely doable.
Steven: Thank you. Next question. Dr. Kumar, if you could help, can you talk more about the public health policy track?
Dr. Kumar: Sure. The public health policy is a new track that we’re offering online. It is in combination with the school of public affairs here at USC. Students take their core courses and the MPH program. Then for their track courses, they take two which are in the MPH program and two that are housed at the School of Public Health Policy really looking at the economics and policy analysis. It’s a new collaboration that’s been offered online because here at USC we have the luxury to be able to do so given the partners that we are working with.
The track is directed by Professor Michael Cousineau, who’s a real expert in U.S. health policy. We also have several global health experts in policy who are faculty in the program and available for those who are interested in focusing on international health policy.
Steven: Okay. Thank you. The next question, again for Kieshla. This goes back off of what you had mentioned previously: How did you balance time and family and school? About how many hours did you dedicate to school per week?
Kieshla: That’s interesting. Let me think. A lot. I didn’t sleep a lot during this program. Normally I studied, I would say … During the week, I would study from 11 until about 1 or 2. On the weekends I would study one full day. It’s just a matter of I wanted to make the commitment to get it done. There were times when I had to cut my class load down to part-time to be able to manage it. Sometimes it was a lot of work, so it took me a little bit longer, but it’s manageable. You can definitely do it.
Steven: Thank you. Dr. Kumar, do all 300 hours need to be completed with one organization?
Dr. Kumar: Yes, that is the goal. Again, like how Kieshla set it up where she did some pre-work in advance of actually being physically present at the organization and then some post-work after returning back to the U.S. You don’t necessarily have to be on-site for all 300 hours, but you should be working at one agency. To really be able to hone your mastery of those skills, you want to spend time at one place, also to be able to develop a network. Ideally, you use the practicum opportunity to land your next job.
A lot of students do that wherever they work for their practicum. They end up working there for their job if that’s what they’re interested in pursuing. You want to spend some quality time at one place.
Steven: Thank you. Relatable to that: Are they able to use their current work site as the practicum site?
Dr. Kumar: Yes, absolutely. Many of our online students do that. The only thing that we require is then if you’re going to use your current work site as your place to do the practicum, you have to make sure that your practicum project is something different than what you’re doing for your typical work duties. We wouldn’t give somebody credit for just doing their job. You really have to be taking on an extra project. Maybe even in a different division. Or, depending on what your particular circumstances are, to make sure that it’s something apart from your regular job. Honestly it’s quite a good idea to do that.
If you’re looking to make a move within your organization to maybe move to a different division or to get promoted, it helps to show this extra initiative and doing some extra project at your place of work. You might get to work with new people in that context. It can really help you stand out at your current work site.
Steven: Thank you. For Kieshla, entering that MBA program with a mindset to go into health care administration, what made you choose the USC MPH program?
Kieshla: I’m sorry, can you repeat the question? The first part about the MBA?
Steven: Would entering the MBA program with a mindset to go into health care administration what made you choose the USC MPH program?
Kieshla: My MBA is actually in dispute resolution, which is tied to the work that I currently do. Since I already had an MBA, an MHA wasn’t a good fit for me for a number of reasons. One, because it is closer related to an MBA than MPH. Then also I have just a strong personal affinity for more the science side of things. An MPH worked better for me more from a personal interest standpoint than just going to get a master’s in health care administration.
Steven: Thank you. Dr. Kumar, are there components of the program that would require to be online at a specific day or time, or is everything done on your own schedules?
Dr. Kumar: The majority of work is done on your own time. However, in all of our classes, we have what we call live sessions, which are typically an hour a week. Usually in the evening on a Monday to Thursday or sometimes on a Saturday morning. We schedule them after work hours so folks can attend. That’s the time that you really get to interact with your faculty as well as your classmates in a live setting. That’s not the same time that lectures … Although lecture are prerecorded, you can access those on your own time. The live session is the time when you really get to interact with your faculty, to ask questions.
Maybe it’s a health policy class you’re doing a debate. You’re working with your classmates on a group presentation. We really value that component of our program. Students get a lot out of being at the live session. It’s a way of really getting what you’re paying for. In this program you have access to faculty who are world-renowned. To really interact with them in a live setting and develop a relationship, be able to ask questions, that’s the benefit you’re getting. That one hour a week for each class is a standard time, like I said, usually in the evening. Other than that, everything else is on your own time.
Steven: Thank you. Next question. Chantel, if you could help us with this: Does the online platform allow either of you to connect with other students, to have some sort of cohort or connection?
Chantel: Yes, definitely. I can just speak from personal experience that I have multiple group chats going on my phone every day for different classes. I have kept in contact and made some actually very great friendships with these people. You’d be surprised at how your cohort, especially once you get into your track specific courses, that you come to know these people more than just by their names. The class sizes for these programs are relatively small compared with my undergraduate. I have, like I said, built some great friendships and hopefully will be able to work with these people once the program has finished.
Steven: Thank you. A little bit of a difficult question, Dr. Kumar, it’s probably an extensive answer, but if you could just help with a few maybe examples. What will be the job opportunities for an MPH graduate?
Dr. Kumar: There are loads of opportunities. Public health is one of the most growing fields in terms of demand. We have a shortage of public health professionals globally as well as domestically. Job opportunities are vast. The beauty of public health, like I said earlier, is it’s a really broad field. If you’re quantitatively and research-oriented, you can work as a data analyst or a researcher specifically with the stats background. If you’re more into working with communities directly, you can work in a community-based organization or a community clinic or an NGO.
If you want to work in policy, there’s opportunities to work at local or federal government or international agencies like the World Health Organization. In geohealth, for instance, students who graduate out of that track would really be typically working for government agencies where you’re applying special analysis skills to public health issues. Let’s say, for example, we have the Ebola outbreak, and somebody with the geohealth background could map where the disease is occurring relative to where the clinics are, where the outbreaks are happening.
To really figure out where services need to be located, where emergency camps may need to be set up. The field is so broad that there is lots of opportunity in any setting. Whether you want to work in a rural setting, an urban setting, locally, internationally, et cetera. I would highly encourage you just to Google. There’s so much opportunity that it’s hard to answer in a couple of minutes, but trust me: There’s a lot.
Steven: Thank you. Based with that, Kieshla, you talked a little bit about it before. Where is your career taking you next? What are you working on now?
Kieshla: I’m currently defining exactly what the position I am looking for looks like. As I said, I did not expect to enjoy fieldwork as much as I do. I expected that I would instantly go into an organization where I worked in an office. It was an easier transition from the work I currently do, to working for another organization and leveraging my experience. Knowing that I like working in the field, I’m going to be looking for something that is more fieldwork, which is I have to be … I’m going to have to take my time to look for a position. I do have a family with small children. I don’t want to spend endless hours and stay in the field continuously.
I’m defining that at present and hoping to find a position that will allow me a little bit of both.
Steven: Thank you. Dr. Kumar, with your experience, besides not being able to have face-to-face time with professors and classmates, what other advantages would an on campus student have over an online student?
Dr. Kumar: Good question. On campus, particularly on MPH program, we do have a couple of extra tracks and electives that are available that aren’t available online. Although vice versa, we have certain tracks online that aren’t available on campus, like GeoHealth, for instance. Sometimes the course offerings may be slightly different. There are obviously events happening on campus constantly. We do try to record and livestream a lot of the events in terms of lectures or career events that obviously come into campus. You get to network with people in person.
If you’re around the local LA area or ever interested in coming out to visit USC, online students are very welcome to do so, to go to football games, tailgating, a lot of students’ events that are coordinated by Public Health Student Association, which Chantel is the online representative on behalf of the online students. You have access to the same faculty teaching the courses whether you’re online or on campus. You do get to network with your classmates online. It’s just a slightly different format. Classes are same, admissions requirements are the same, degree is the same.
Steven: One final question. Dr. Kumar, based on placement purposes for the practicum and career thereafter as well, we have talked a little bit about the practicum coordinator, but could you talk a little bit about career placement?
Dr. Kumar: Sure. We have a dedicated career counselor for our MPH program in addition to the USC Career Center. We have some pretty strong resources available to students, which I’m happy to say is one of few online programs to really have a dedicated career counselor available. Her expertise is in public health. She’s been working in public health for about 15 years. She really knows the field well. We have a career counselor available.
We have the USC Career Center available, which has online appointments and workshops about how to craft your resume, how to do interviews, how to network, how to use social media. We have a career fair once a year and several career panels that happen. There’s quite a few resources. I think that’s one of, frankly, the hallmarks of our program. I say this very genuinely because we offer a lot of student support, whether it’s the career counselor, the practicum advisor, Keisha. We have Jessica, who supports students with registration and all our admissions team. We really have a lot of personal interaction with students here.
We really believe in the value of student services. Particularly in an online program, we want to make sure to support you as much as possible.
Steven: Thank you, Dr. Kumar. I notice as well that we’re running short on time here. There were a few questions in regards to admissions requirements. I do encourage you to reach out to the enrollment advisors that you see listed here with any specific questions that we can help you directly with. I do thank everyone for participating, and a big thank you to our panelists, and thanks to everyone who participated today. This concludes today’s webinar. Thank you again, and have a great day.