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public health

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

As director of the Westbrook Health Department in Connecticut, Sonia Marino, '09, M.P.H. '14, oversees public health for more than 6,900 residents.

As the first full-time health director in Westbrook, Conn., in more than a decade, Sonia Marino, ’09, M.P.H. ’14, is working to develop a community health plan that could touch on everything from opiate dependency and emergency preparedness to outdoor activities for children.

“Public health is my passion,” says Marino, who took the job in January 2015, replacing a part-time director. “It’s not just about wells and septic and food. It’s so much more.”

Marino envisions a forward-looking health department for her town, with public education and prevention programs, and social media campaigns tailored to the community’s needs.

She credits Southern, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health, for shaping her comprehensive approach and for providing the broad background she needs to deal with the numerous issues that come across her desk, from landlord-tenant conflicts to restaurant inspections.

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

“The professors are great,” says Marino. “I had a wonderful relationship with all of them.”

Marino is one of about 20 Southern alumni now serving as health directors across Connecticut’s 74 local health agencies. Many more hold jobs as deputy directors and sanitarians — the latter, a public health worker with knowledge of environmental and public health issues such as food protection, water quality, product safety, and more.

Peggy Gallup, professor of public health and coordinator of the undergraduate program, says she was contacting Connecticut health directors for a project recently and was struck by how many she recognized as former students.

Professor of Public Health William Faraclas says producing graduates who would lead local health efforts in the state was a dream of founders who launched the program in 1980.

“We dreamed big and our dream came true,” says Faraclas, who chaired the department for 33 years.

Southern’s was one of the first undergraduate public health programs in the United States when it began, Faraclas says, and it continues to serve as a national model. The Master of Public Health program — state law requires local health directors to have the degree — was added at Southern in 1990.

While many graduates work in hospitals or nongovernmental organizations, Southern graduates are particularly suited for jobs in local health departments because of the program’s strong focus on community-based aspects of public health.

Meanwhile, hands-on programs, such as the popular two-week field study trip to Guatemala, foster the resilience and “roll- up-your-sleeves” attitude needed for jobs in public service.

Students must also complete an internship that takes them to the front lines of public health practice, says Faraclas.

It was an internship during his senior year at Southern that launched Robert Rubbo’s career with the Torrington Area Health District in 1996. Two decades later, he is running the place.

After graduation, Rubbo, ’96, M.P.H. ’02, was offered a position as a sanitarian trainee and worked his way up, becoming a sanitarian, deputy director and, in 2013, the director.

Comparing notes with colleagues who attended other schools, Rubbo says he realizes how much Southern stands out in terms of quality.

“I really feel like they have one of the more challenging M.P.H. programs out there,” Rubbo says.

Gallup notes Southern’s relationship with local health departments is reciprocal. Health directors often email her if they are looking for interns or resources for projects.

One graduate student worked with a health department to survey pediatricians about their lead-screening practices for young children; another created a brochure on healthy homes and household environmental hazards. In Westbrook, Marino says Southern students have helped her conduct a community health assessment in town.

Maura Esposito, ’90, M.P.H. ’11, director of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers the towns of Cheshire, Prospect, and Wolcott, says she recently had several Southern students working for her as interns, and would love to work with more.

“I take Southern interns all the time because I know the program, and I know the quality of work that is expected,” Esposito says. In return, she gives them plenty of opportunities to work in the trenches.

“Anybody who comes through my department should be able to get a really good job,” she says. ■

CARE, New Haven

Above, left to right: Yan Searcy, associate dean of the School of Health and Human Services; Sandra Bulmer, dean of the School of Health and Human Services; Alycia Santilli, CARE director; and Jeannette Ickovics, CARE founder

The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) is partnering with Southern Connecticut State University to enhance its ongoing efforts to improve the health of residents in New Haven’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

Since its founding in 2007 at the Yale School of Public Health, CARE has worked to identify solutions to health challenges such as diabetes, asthma, and heart and lung diseases through community-based research and projects focusing on social, environmental, and behavioral risk factors. During the next three years, CARE will transition from Yale to SCSU’s campus, with SCSU becoming responsible for CARE’s community engagement work. Yale will continue to manage and finance CARE’s research agenda while gradually shifting that work to SCSU.

“This partnership with SCSU represents a powerful next step in the evolution of CARE by engaging with a local state university to drive deeper change into our neighborhoods,” said CARE founder Jeannette Ickovics. “This is an opportunity of mutual benefit:  a way to extend CARE’s work in New Haven, provide continuity and new energy to the work, and provide a platform to launch a center at Southern. “

The new SCSU Center for Community Engagement will help foster student service learning, advance community-engaged scholarship, and benefit CARE’s community partners, said Sandra Bulmer, dean of SCSU’s School of Health and Human Services (HHS). With Alycia Santilli as director, and Ickovics serving in an advisory capacity, CARE is beginning its transition to SCSU this month, Bulmer said.

Southern’s School of Health and Human Services is unique in Connecticut in combining seven disciplines under a single umbrella –  communication disorders, exercise science, marriage and family therapy, nursing, public health, social work, and recreation, tourism, and sport management. As a result, academic opportunities are highly interdisciplinary, while the school’s wide range of internships means that students participate in the community while earning their degrees.

“SCSU’s students and faculty are tremendous assets that will bring CARE expanded opportunities in community-based research, programming, and policy change, leading to further improvement in the health of New Haven residents,” Bulmer said.

During the transitional period, YSPH will remain as the central hub of CARE’s research activities, with a focus on data analysis from its New Haven Public Schools and neighborhood health surveys, said Santilli, who began her employment with SCSU Sept. 23 as a special appointment faculty member in the Department of Public Health.

“The potential of student, faculty, and staff power, combined with the legacy of work initiated over the past decade at the Yale School of Public Health, will be leveraged in a new way that I hope will have a lasting impact for another decade to come,” Santilli said.

“I am excited about the capacity and resources that this expanded partnership can bring to the SCSU campus community and the Greater New Haven area. As I become familiar with SCSU, two things stand out: the drive to best serve students and the commitment to social justice. These are simultaneously familiar and fresh perspectives from which CARE can begin to refine our focus on improving health in the New Haven community.”

Santilli, who has been with CARE since 2007, will spend the coming months transitioning CARE’s operations to Southern’s campus, developing CARE’s new strategic plan, and launching its new community engagement activities. She will split her time between offices at Lang House and Southern on the Green in downtown New Haven.

More information about CARE, including its accomplishments and publications, can be found on the CARE website.

Mark McRiley, SCSU student studying at Liverpool John Moores University

Mark McRiley, M.P.H. ’12, was intrigued by the bumper sticker. So instead of rushing inside to place his order, the Southern alumnus stood outside of the Connecticut Dunkin’ Donuts and waited for the car’s driver to explain why the phrase, “I Administered Narcan to an Honor Student,” was plastered on his car.

Narcan — a drug generically known as Naloxone — is an opioid antagonist, meaning it counters the effects of opiates, including heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. It is used when an overdose is known or suspected, potentially saving lives in the process. “I explained that I was a nurse and that I wanted the story,” says McRiley. “He told me that he worked at a high school and had given Narcan to one of the students who had overdosed.”

Many, including McRiley, would argue that such firsthand accounts are highly illuminating, providing important insights about the issues affecting a community — in this case, everything from the increased use of opiates in the U.S. to available treatments for those who are addicted.  In January — armed with a full scholarship — he began a doctoral program in public health at England’s Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), which recently launched a trans-Atlantic partnership with Southern.

“Liverpool John Moores University’s Public Health Department is so strongly focused on social services — homelessness, opiate addiction, alcohol addiction, violence against women . . . It is incredible for me to have the opportunity to work with them,” says McRiley.

His research will cut across the Atlantic, focusing on long-term opiate addiction among people living in both New Haven and Liverpool, England. He will use photovoice, a participatory research technique that employs cameras and other photographic techniques to explore issues through the eyes of community members — in this case, those addicted to opiates. “We’ll be able to compare the two [populations] to see what the major hurdles are,” he says. “What are the influences? What are the risks for a relapse? What are the difficulties related to methadone use over time? How are people being treated by the community?”

McRiley will be supported by faculty at both institutions — Gordon Hay (his lead advisor) and Conan Leavey, both from LJMU’s Centre for Public Health, as well as Jean Breny, chair of the Department of Public Health at Southern. Four undergraduates from Southern also have been studying at LJMU this spring. Countless more ultimately will benefit from the initiative, which will offer courses taught by faculty members at both universities, in addition to more opportunities for students from SCSU and LJMU to travel abroad for study, research, and field work.

“I’m receiving a 100 percent scholarship — which is three years of tuition and essentially enough money to pay for my housing,” says McRiley. “I feel unbelievably lucky and extremely honored . . . to have the opportunity to work so intently on my own research. Who gets to do that?”

IMG_0578[4]smallThe experience promises to be life-changing personally and professionally, building on McRiley’s diverse resume, which includes experience in the film and television industry, nursing, international aid, teaching, and public health. “I grew up in LA, where everybody is supposed to be in the entertainment industry,” says McRiley, who took photography courses at City College. He found work in the industry, first in craft services and later as an emergency medical technician (EMT).  He worked on more than 30 Hollywood films and television shows, including “Van Helsing,” “Rush Hour” (I and II), “Roseanne,” and “The Family Man.” But while the projects were high profile, McRiley came to find the work unsatisfying.

“I realized I wasn’t using my brain. . . . I needed to go back to school,” he says. McRiley moved to New York City, and enrolled at the College of New Rochelle to study nursing. One of only a few men in the nursing program, he earned his B.S. in 2005 and soon become a critical care nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, McRiley traveled to New Orleans with a group of doctors who set up a makeshift clinic at the Cajundome where about 7,000 displaced people were living. “I learned so much,” says McRiley, “but I came back totally changed. As a nurse dedicated to giving aid . . . this is where you want to be.”

With thoughts of working in international aid, McRiley enrolled in Southern’s graduate program in public health. For his master’s thesis, he researched the relationship between post-earthquake housing and health in Léogâne, Haiti. The city, located near the epicenter of the quake, had been devastated and many residents were still living in tents provided as emergency shelter. McRiley traveled to Haiti four times for his research. Using photovoice methodology, he gave 23 Haitian nursing students cameras to explore the issue. They then met as a community to discuss their images. “I would record their responses in Creole,” he explains, “asking them to tell me what I was looking at and why the photo was taken.”

Their issues included pollution, roaming livestock, garbage, lack of water, poor sanitation, and more. Armed with about 500 photos and their accompanying narratives, McRiley wrote his thesis. He met a few others working on similar projects, and together they connected with local city stakeholders. “Low and behold, one year later the trash was gone, the center of town was clean . . . water and electric infrastructure came through. . . .  It was terrific,” says McRiley, whose work was recognized with the 2012 Scholarship and Service Award from Southern’s Department of Public Health.

“The advantage of the photovoice methodology is that you are not just handing somebody a 50-page report. You are handing them 50 photographs that are taken by the people [most affected],” he says.  The researcher notes that today’s “selfie” culture is a tremendous boon for his upcoming research on opiate addiction. “I can collect through Instagram, Facebook, direct text, email. . . . My intention is to gather significantly more information than I have ever gathered before,” he says.

He and his doctoral advisors fully understand the potential power of such testimony. McRiley’s goals include creating a documentary on addiction. Looking further ahead, he envisions returning to Haiti — and again standing at the front of a college classroom. “I love everything about teaching,” says McRiley, who was an instructor in Southern’s Department of Public Health. Having resigned from that position and his 10-year post with Yale-New Haven Hospital  —“two terrific jobs,” he says — he notes with awe the trajectory his life has taken. “When I left Los Angeles before I went to nursing school, I was a roller-blading bartender,” he says. “Fifteen years later, I am entering a Ph.D. program.”

Dr. Sandra Minor Bulmer, professor of public health, has been named as the university’s new dean of the School of Health and Human Services, effective immediately.

Bulmer has served as a faculty member in Southern’s Department of Public Health since 1999, as a full professor since 2009 and interim dean of HHS since 2014. A specialist in college student health issues and women’s exercise and health, she has excelled as a teacher/scholar, demonstrated a strong commitment to mentoring students, and provided a high level of service to her department and the university.

Bulmer has been active in campus leadership activities, including a six-year term on the Faculty Senate, chairing the Honors Thesis Committee since 2010 and chairing searches for the Vice President of Student Affairs and, most recently, the new Director of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Since fall 2014, in her role as interim dean, Bulmer has focused on building a community environment within the School, expanding inter-professional collaboration among faculty and students, increasing resources for high-demand degree programs, and developing new programs that address workforce needs in the state of Connecticut.

Under her leadership the Department of Nursing initiated reforms to their admissions process, the Exercise Science Department created and launched a new degree program in respiratory therapy, and the Social Work Department is creating a new doctoral degree program.

She also led a team of 20 faculty through the development of an initial building program for the School, worked with her associate dean to expand collaborations and build relationships in the New Haven community, and supported faculty with the launch of academic partnerships with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture (BUCEA).

In addition to her work at Southern, Bulmer is the current president for the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), volunteers with the Institutional Review Board and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program at Yale University, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts Division of the American Heart Association.

Bulmer has been the recipient of several notable honors, including the J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award in 2003 and the Society for Public Health Education’s Outstanding Service Award in 2011. During her tenure as Director of Fitness Operations with Western Athletic Clubs in San Francisco, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) selected her as their first ever Fitness Director of the Year in 1991.  Under her guidance, Western Athletic Clubs was one of the first major employers in the fitness industry to require college degrees and relevant certifications for personal trainers and other fitness professionals.

In 1997, Bulmer left her position at Western Athletic Clubs to obtain her Ph.D. in health education at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Tex.  She also holds a B.S. in physical education from California State University Hayward and an M.S. in physical education with a focus on exercise physiology from the University of Oregon.