Healthy Community Outreach Program
In 2019, the OSU MFC Healthy Community Outreach Program created a summer fellowship program for students in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. Offered in partnership with OSU Extension offices, these paid positions provide funding and career training opportunities for students to work in communities across Oregon to improve health, nutrition and the food environment. This competitive fellowship program provides CPHHS students with direct experiences in public health, serving as “boots on the ground,” gathering information and collaborating with existing community agencies to better the health and nutrition of local people.
Hailing from St. Helens, OR, Angela Wilson is a senior year at OSU, where she is studying dietetics with a minor in psychology. Angela is passionate about nutrition and works during the school year with University Housing and Dining Services’ Registered Dietitian, Tara Sanders. This work has been enlightening for the future dietitian, and has ranged from leading cooking classes to working one-on-one with students needing dietary accommodations in the dining halls.
Angela’s fellowship through the MFC is about more than just dietetics. She has long been a supporter of OSU Extension and is thrilled to get the opportunity to work with Extension faculty. “In high school, I shadowed an OSU Extension employee doing nutrition outreach in my hometown elementary school. I’ve always admired the efforts of OSU Extension Services and the accessibility of Food Hero materials.”
Asked why she applied for this fellowship, Angela says, “I thought it would be a great chance for me to gain more experience in community nutrition.”
Working in the community can be a powerful experience for students. Angela says the most surprising thing she learned in her fellowship was “to see that people truly do want to learn about nutrition and enjoy eating fruits and vegetables.”
Angela’s fellowship project included investigating current connections that the OSU Extension Service has made within the community, assessing which educational needs are being met and which have room for improvement, building a collection of primary and secondary research, interviewing community partners, and ultimately creating a community health report.
Angela uses a public health approach when working with people and building her own philosophy for health. She has learned that positive messaging about food is powerful. “Eating healthy is a lot more rewarding when you think of it as adding more good stuff such as whole, plant-based foods, rather than restricting the bad. It’s easy to get caught up in what the best diet and have an all-or-nothing mindset, but in reality it comes down to what makes the most sense for your lifestyle and preferences. If you don’t enjoy kale, choose a different vegetable!”
While implementing her assessment, Angela got to see many healthy actions taking shape right in front of her. “People will stand in line at The Produce Connection for nearly 45 minutes just to walk away with a free bag of fruits and vegetables. That’s incredibly exciting to see.”
This fellowship provided hands-on experiences that will help Angela in her future career choices. She hopes to complete her dietetics degree and possibly move on to research and the pursuit of a PhD. Her open-minded attitude and thirst for experience is well placed, and she recognizes that she will continue to learn and grow, while figuring out her own strengths and passions.
“I feel confident that my future is flexible,” she says, “and I’d like to explore my career options to see which best suits me by doing hands-on work.”
Originally from the small coastal town of Warrenton, OR, Cristian Martinez is an Oregon State University senior whose commitment to and enthusiasm for public health is palpable. His fellowship site was just south of his hometown in Tillamook County. A 2019 graduate in public health with an option of health promotion and health behavior, he has long been a believer in community health and has volunteered with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club. Such experiences demonstrated that health is a deeply multifaceted subject where issues of housing, childcare and mental health play important roles in the big picture of overall well-being.
Cristian applied for the MFC fellowship position to gain valuable experience working in the field and implementing health promotion activities. “Not only would I get to learn about the process of promoting community health within real settings,” he says, “I would also participate directly and engage in some of the bigger public health initiatives of Tillamook County. Really exciting stuff!”
Cristian’s primary focus in Tillamook County was promoting healthy eating to children and families. He spent a lot of his time at the Food Hero booth at the local farmer's market, which aimed to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables among low-income Oregon families. In addition to providing community members with samples of Food Hero recipes (www.foodhero.org), the Extension staff and fellows engaged children in educational activities such as the blender bike, grain mill demonstration, and Food Adventurer Passports. These hands-on experiences helped create a fun and food-positive environment for kids, while also sparking discussion among parents and kids about healthier eating habits. Cristian’s own health philosophy revolves around these basic principles. “Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables means you’ll never get bored with what you eat,” he says. “Staying active will prepare your body for what the future brings. Find a balance, and life will remain prosperous.”
In addition to working with youth, Cristian is interested in type 2 diabetes in senior populations. “My favorite and most memorable fellowship moment was on the first day when I got to share my ideas on helping with the process of type 2 diabetes prevention in Tillamook County. I briefly discussed how a referral system between local health care providers and the county Diabetes Prevention Program would help bring awareness to this local resource. Even though it was all theoretical and I was really nervous, everyone showed support for me and my efforts, which made me feel really good.”
Asked why he is passionate about this subject, he says, “I feel that it is important to reach out to older adults on type 2 diabetes because they are at much greater risk for developing it over time. Bringing awareness and educating them on ways to prevent it is the best way of preserving their health long-term, which is exactly what I hope to promote in the future.” In fact, Cristian’s career goals include getting involved with primary prevention initiatives for type 2 diabetes within community-based settings and becoming a health and wellness coordinator in a recreation center for seniors.
In the field of public health, a mindset of education, prevention and empowerment is key for both policy development and community change. Jennifer Pinard has these bases covered. Born and raised in Corvallis, OR, Jennifer is a nutrition and health sciences major at OSU with a focus in research. She plans to graduate in winter 2020. Her fellowship project was with the Wellness Education for Cancer Nutrition (WE CAN) research study in Coos County. The project aims to bridge the gaps in nutrition information between cancer patients and their health care providers. This project was a natural fit for Jennifer, given her career goals, education and experience.
She is no stranger to this kind of work, as she has spent many hours volunteering at farmers markets, the Boys and Girls Club and the Girl Scouts educating others about eating healthier and being more environmentally conscious when purchasing foods. When asked why she chooses these kinds of volunteer and work experiences, she says, “I love volunteering, especially when it involves working with people in the community and providing them with tools they can use to lead healthier lifestyles.”
She brings the right attitude to the table when it comes to wellness education and empowering people to make healthy choices. Jennifer’s personal philosophy for a healthy life is to “Get creative!” She endorses the idea that “Eating healthier doesn’t mean giving up on flavor. Using exotic spices and different kinds of vegetables can make a dish more exciting and healthier.”
Jennifer’s goal for the fellowship was to get hands-on experience in public health research. She also wanted to learn more about the different kinds of nutrition outreach programs and careers available in this realm of public health. “I love interacting with the community and sharing the science behind nutrition in a way people can understand and adopt into their lifestyles,” she says. In addition, she understands that making connections in the field and working with the public is key to understanding how to build better community health.
After graduating, Jennifer plans to join the Peace Corps and hopes to explore the greater world abroad using her knowledge of nutrition and public health to aid other communities. After the Peace Corps, she hopes to continue on a path of equity, prevention and education. In five years, she sees herself teaching about nutrition and lifestyle as preventive medicine to help improve the quality of life for people living with chronic diseases in low-income and rural communities.