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UIC SPH Alumni Educate Youth About Risky Behavior

UIC SPH Alumni Educate Youth About Risky Behavior

E Duggan w L Chirinos and students

When a student obtains his or her public health degree, it is the goal of UIC SPH that its alumni take what they've learned and make the world a better place.  This is exactly what two alumni are doing in their roles as health educators at the March of Dimes.

Anna Blankenberger (MPH CHS, ’11) and Madiha Qureshi (MPH CHS/MCHP, ’09), stepped into a 9th grade health sciences classroom at UIC College Prep High School (UICCP).  They sat among 28 high school students, waiting for the students to begin their health sciences presentations. “We’re really excited to see how the students present what they've learned,” said Blankenberger, Program Coordinator of Health Education at the March of Dimes.  The presentations were the final project of a course designed to teach teens about how their health behaviors today can impact their futures.  By participating in risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or being sexually active at a young age, high school students increase their risk for poor health outcomes in the future.  Blankenberger and Qureshi, together with MPH candidate Erin Duggan, played various roles in the development of the course that reached 228 freshmen.

Due in large part to Qureshi's efforts, the March of Dimes has been partnering with UIC College Prep for the past two years and has brought on multiple community partners from the Chicago area to directly work with students on topics related to preconception health, teen pregnancy, STI/HIV prevention, and healthy relationships and communication skills. Qureshi assisted in teaching the course and recruiting seven other partner organizations whose mission involved preconception health and adolescent health. “While pursuing my MPH at UIC, I learned about UIC College Prep and its partnership with the School of Public Health. My position at the March of Dimes has a special focus on preconception health and folic acid education, so UICCP seemed like the perfect setting to pilot an educational intervention for adolescents,” Qureshi said.

According to Duggan, who is pursuing her MPH because of her lifelong interest in health behavior and health promotion, "I think the mission of the March of Dimes is an example of how the health behaviors we choose have a direct impact on others. I am interested in how the connection between the health decisions women make prior to becoming pregnant influence the health of their babies. In order to prevent prematurity, birth defects, and infant mortality, it is so important that women take care of themselves prior to, during, and after pregnancy." Duggan and Blankenberger participated in the final student presentation where they offered assistance and answered students’ questions about risk factors and successful interventions.

UIC College Prep has a health science focus and provides its students with frequent opportunities to take rotations in the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, of which the School of Public Health is a member.  One of the 9th grade students that participated in the course said “the health sciences class has been really helpful to me because it gave me the information I needed to avoid behaviors that will get me into trouble.” The student worked with a group of his peers to develop a comic strip that would educate teens about the dangers of peer pressure and smoking.  "I am always impressed with the thoughtful questions students ask, the amount of time they invest in their projects, and the creativity of the health interventions they design.  Working on and developing the UICCP collaborative project has made me realize how often we underestimate the potential of youth and their unique ability to communicate health information to their peers," said Qureshi.

As she prepares to complete her graduate degree in public health, Duggan looks forward to being able to put her knowledge to work.  "I think it’s so important that students are educated in the health sciences, as public health affects everything. UIC SPH and the college prep high school both do a wonderful job of giving students exposure to the breadth of public health issues and priorities," says Duggan.

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