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Healthy Schools Act in DC Gives Grad Students Hands-On Training

In some communities, 100 percent of a grad student’s research is done online. But in a metro area—especially Washington, DC—much of that research can be gathered, observed, and analyzed in the field, where firsthand experience with the “real world” can teach us valuable lessons.

For five years, students in American University’s MS in health promotion management program have helped measure fruit and vegetable consumption for the local Healthy Schools Act, a 2010 directive requiring the availability of healthier foods in DC school cafeterias.

The program also features courses that empower students to visit Capitol Hill and chat with congressional leaders about vital health issues. “Health policy is so important and totally interesting, and it’s happening right here,” said Hannah Hutton, a master’s student in the program.

Watch the video to learn more about how hands-on work in the field of health promotion management is helping master’s students create generational change.

To learn more about what students and professionals are saying about the MS in health promotion management program at American University, click here.

Woman Notebook Working Girl

Master’s Class Focuses on Connections Between Health Equity and Social Justice

It was during her graduate studies at American University that Jessica Young discovered the depth of her interest in the different ways that populations experience health.

“I knew that I wanted to use my career to improve the public’s health and that working with policy would be a way to impact the health of thousands to millions of people at a time,” she said.

It’s quite fitting to welcome Young back to AU as she strives to help others unlock their own unique passions and goals for making lasting improvements in health and well-being. With a master’s degree in health promotion management from AU, Young will lead the HPRM 480/680 class, Health Policy and Behavior Change, this fall.

She has a few key goals for this course, including to help students understand:

  • How policy can be leveraged to achieve population health behavior changes
  • The roles politics and advocacy play in health policymaking
  • How to navigate the policymaking process at the local, state and federal levels

The underlying goal in any class setting is to instill intellectual habits that help students become lifelong learners.

Good Questions Lead to Great Careers

“My experiences have been shaped by the power of inquiry,” said Young, who noted that her class lessons will be centered on a few essential questions to spark in-depth conversations.

Curiosity has been a key component of her lifelong passion for health. Even as a young soccer player, Young committed herself to researching and learning as much as she could about nutrition and strength training. Her journey of health discovery continued as she became a personal trainer and went through AU’s health promotion management MS program.

Like many students, it was during her graduate studies that Young’s interests evolved into what was poised to become her life’s work: health equity.

“At AU, I learned about the incredible role social policies such as housing, education, transportation, food, and employment policies play in shaping health — also known as the social determinants of health,” Young said.

Health Equity vs. Health Access

Ideal health equity would be if everyone had the opportunity to attain their highest level of health, according to the American Public Health Association. Much of Young’s work has centered on the impact of social policies on health equity, which she says continues to lag as many Americans languish without quality care.

Young’s background in the research of social justice’s relationship to health equity will provide unique context in the course she will teach at AU. Multi-layered subjects, such as the effects of racial and ethnic segregation on health and well-being, undoubtedly will arise as part of the curriculum.

“Segregation was a way of isolating people of color from opportunities that shape health, such as social services and quality education, housing, and jobs,” Young said. “We continue to see the health impacts of segregation today through disparities in infant mortality rates, life expectancy rates, and mortality, just to name a few.”

‘Embedding Equity’ Throughout Systems

After nearly completing her master’s degree and a PhD from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as well as two years of work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Young looks forward to bringing her unique set of skills, ideas, and real-world examples to the table as the instructor for Health Policy and Behavior Change. One of the most important things she will focus on is the Race, Equity, and Inclusion (REI) frame.

“The REI frame helps organizations understand how to embed equity throughout their approach to systemic change,” Young said. Components of REI include:

  • Identifying the root causes of racial and ethnic inequities
  • Creating a shared language around equity
  • Tracking and assessing performance and progress toward equity

The REI frame is shaping everything from Young’s research agenda at AU to how she will prepare students to embed equity in their work now and for decades to come.

 

If you are passionate about creating lasting change in health polices and behaviors, learn more about American University’s Health Promotion Management Program.

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AhealthyU: How Health and Wellness Programs Make a Positive Impact on Campus

AhealthyU, American University’s faculty and staff wellness program, is celebrating its 10th year. While its scope and goals have grown, the program’s inception was driven by both necessity and a deep desire to see its team flourish.

“We discovered that many of our faculty and staff were being treated for health conditions that could lead to heart disease and other serious illnesses,” said Andie Rowe, director of employee wellness and work-life at AU.

The university implemented AhealthyU to improve employee medical conditions and better manage ballooning healthcare costs. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, which is consistent with the trend toward proactive health that is gaining ground in offices, campuses, and schools throughout the world.

For organizations, the effects include happier, healthier, more productive faculty and staff and reduced healthcare expenditures. For individuals, it simply means a better life.

“Programs like AhealthyU are important because they provide opportunities for faculty and staff to engage in healthy activities, learn about important health issues, and understand that their employer is interested in their overall well-being,” Rowe said.

What makes a good wellness program?

Much of AhealthyU’s success—about 500 people are participating—revolves around convenience. By offering many types of activities appealing to a wide variety of interests at convenient times and locations, AU makes it simple to get plugged in. The most popular opportunities include:

  • Fitness classes (on and off site)
  • Brown bag wellness workshops
  • Cooking demonstrations
  • Pedometer and weight challenges.

What makes the program such a success?

As is the case in most successful wellness programs, buy-in for AhealthyU is consistent throughout the organization, said Leah Tasman, wellness program manager at AU. Leaders from HR, administration, and a wellness council composed of faculty and staff provide support and feedback, which helps drive future decisions about AhealthyU.

Incentives are a driving factor, too. Motivators for AhealthyU activities include:

  • A $50 incentive for participating in a health assessment survey
  • A monetary reward for winning a team challenge
  • Cool fitness-related items such as wicking T-shirts or yoga mats, earned by achieving predetermined goals.

Do students have a role?

For students working toward an MS in Health Promotion Management (HPM), AhealthyU is a valuable asset. The program employs a part-time graduate assistant and draws support from many other HPM students through class projects. In fact, Tasman herself served as a graduate assistant with AhealthyU while earning her own HPM master’s degree.

“It’s important to get HPM students involved because it exposes them to real-world worksite health promotion and helps to re-enforce what they’re learning in class,” she said.

 

To learn more about AhealthyU and the MS in Health Promotion Management at American University, visit the program webpage or follow along in Facebook.