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Health Science Students Attend APHA Meeting and Expositon in Boston

February 11, 2014

It’s rare that undergraduate health science students get an opportunity to not only learn about the most current and emerging trends in their field, but also to meet and interact with some of its most prominent people.

But that didn’t stop several Keene State College students from jumping at the chance to attend the annual American Public Health Association (APHA) Meeting and Exposition that took place in early November in Boston.

“Everyone was impressed that we were there,” said senior Taylor Loughman of Chelmsford, Mass., a health science major with a concentration in community health. “They kept asking us if we worked there. We just said, No, we’re students.” “It is unusual. We don’t typically see undergrads at our annual meeting,” said David Fouse, APHA’s director of communications. “Perhaps it’s a reflection of the growth of undergraduate public health in education.”

The Keene State students had plenty of company at the conference. Attended by over 12,500 people, this year’s APHA meeting at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center attracted more than 13,000 national and international physicians, administrators, nurses, educators, researchers, epidemiologists, and related health specialists, addressing current and emerging health science policy and practice issues in an effort to prevent disease and promote health.

“Health science is one of those fields where there are multiple areas you can dive into,” said Meg Henning, an assistant professor of health science at KSC, who accompanied the students to Boston. “It can be very daunting to know what direction you want to take. We provide the foundational pieces here, but then students have to go on and specialize from there.”

The nine KSC students, all members of the campus club Advocates for Healthy Communities, began planning their trip last summer. Attending a conference of this magnitude, even if it’s down the road in Boston, is costly. Led by club president Shelby Love, a senior from North Conway, N.H., who is interested in community health, the students were able to offset their costs by writing a grant as well as receiving contributions from their club and a student conference fund.

Like the Health Science program at Keene State, which offers courses in health promotion, nutrition, addictions, physical activity, biology, chemistry, and psychology, the conference presented students with a healthy dose of options.

“I wanted to see all the different opportunities because my parents ask me, What you are going to do with your major?” said senior Shaelyn Cole, a health promotion and fitness major from Manchester, N.H. “It was overwhelming to see all the things going on at all the booths.”

“Going down there, I was able to take what I learned as an undergrad and see practical work that has been done and ask questions about it,” said Kelsey Bumsted, a senior from Exeter, N.H. who is focusing on community health. “I really liked that because I’ve been a student for the last 20 years, so to be put into a situation where I was treated as a professional and able to talk with professionals was really inspiring and motivating. It made me more excited to get out and go into the real world after graduation.”

Many of the students, including Love, spent time attending presentations about master’s programs. “I hadn’t looked into it, so that was my entrance to the master’s world and it really opened up more opportunities for me,” she said.

There was something for everyone. While Bumsted and Loughman were interested in global health, Cole went to several talks related to midwifery. “I really want to do something with children, so it was interesting to see that I can go to a school for that instead of taking grad classes,” she said. “I’m really focused on that right now.”

Professor Henning had an opportunity to talk about her own work, giving a presentation entitled “Translating Community-Based Breastfeeding Research into Action.” The presentation focused on an aspect of a project that she is working on with other Health Science faculty members. The presentation, with Drs. Rudolph Fedrizzi and Heidi Rinehart, both on staff at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, impressed her students.

“It gave me some inspiration seeing her present in front of an audience of professional individuals that were only there to hear about her research,” said Love.

Equipped with programs, brochures, and notes, as well as a grocery list of new contacts acquired through hours of networking, the students made their way back to Keene. “I think the students that went really gained an insight into what options are out there and what they can do,” said Henning. “Hopefully they’re energized by that.”

“I’ve been to a few conferences since my freshman year, and I think it’s one of the best parts of my college career,” said Bumsted. “In high school it’s all about academics, but in college you start to narrow down your interests and hopefully start seeing yourself in the future, working in your field. Without the conferences, I don’t think I could see myself in that way.”