As part of a “Public Health and Law” class, guest speakers such as Connecticut’s governor and attorney general have shared their stories, experiences, and wisdom with students, inspiring the next generation of public health leaders.
March 5, 2021
Magda Wysocki ’22 MPH and her classmates have had the chance recently to interact with state leaders, including
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, during many of their recent virtual classes. These prominent guest speakers have shared their real-world leadership experiences during the coronavirus global pandemic.
In his recent talk, Tong discussed the state’s response to COVID-19 and, specifically, his role, offering Wysocki and her classmates an opportunity to learn what it has been like to be an elected official on the frontline of the pandemic.
“Attorney General Tong provided an interesting viewpoint on how public health needs to be creative, flexible, and constantly reassessing what works and what does not,” said Wysocki. “It helped me understand the importance of being an effective leader with strong communication skills and the ability to think outside of the box.”
‘Be a part of the solution as public health professionals’
Tong was one of many lawmakers and state leaders – including Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Congressman Jim Himes, and Governor Ned Lamont – who have spoken recently to a “Law and Public Health” class taught by Audrey Blondin, J.D., MPH, as well as to MPH students in a course taught by Karl Minges, Ph.D., MPH.
The state’s first Asian American attorney general, Tong described his work representing the state in all legal matters. He discussed his own career path, describing one of his “great” professors in law school, “a man by the name of Barack Obama.” He also told students about his role in addressing the pandemic, which included organizing a large shipment of personal protective equipment last year, and the state government’s efforts to keep everyone safe.
“Any matter or decision of consequence is never made in a vacuum,” he said. “It’s all done in the intersection of law and public health, and it involves the input of a lot of decision makers.”
To help them maintain perspective, Tong encouraged the students to reflect on how difficult the pandemic has been in other parts of the world. Acknowledging that making decisions during a public health crisis has not been easy, he challenged students to step up to be tomorrow’s leaders.
“We’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I expect all of you to go on and be a part of the solution as public health professionals. You will make mistakes, but you will also make a lot of judgment calls that are right.”
‘Exemplifies the American dream’
Prof. Blondin, who has worked with Tong on many statewide initiatives in the years she has known him, wanted to help her students broaden their understanding of leadership during a public health crisis. An attorney with years of political experience, including a decade as a selectman for the town of Litchfield, Conn., Prof. Blondin serves as secretary of the Connecticut Democratic Party.
“He shared his belief in the importance of service above self in order to achieve great things,” Prof. Blondin continued. “He truly serves as an inspiration, not only with his commitment to preserving and protecting justice in our state and our nation, but in his willingness to take time from his busy schedule to speak with our students and encourage them to succeed and give back some of what they have been given.”
‘I really appreciate his lesson’
Guest speakers have been interacting with students who are candidates in the University’s Master of Healthcare Administration and Master of Public Health programs in class discussions via Zoom. Dr. Minges says this has been a wonderful opportunity for students to learn from leaders with meaningful real-world experience.
“In the midst of a pandemic, it is an auspicious time to engage students in discussion about law and public health,” said Dr. Minges. “Our students have been so fortunate to learn from the elected leaders of our state about the response to COVID-19 and how public health law is formulated and tested. Speaker series opportunities, such as this one, helps our students to apply what they learn in class or in their readings to the real world.”
Yanice Mendez-Fernandez '21 MPH, who also listened to Tong’s talk, says she is grateful for the opportunities that she and her classmates have had to learn about managing public health and law during the pandemic.
“To hear about how federal and state laws guide a public health response from the state attorney general was an invaluable learning experience,” said Mendez-Fernandez, who is also a biology instructor at the University. “Attorney General Tong explained that we are under a civil preparedness emergency due to the pandemic, and that the state governor has powers protected under the constitution to enforce mandates to protect public health. As someone who still has much to learn about law, I really appreciate his lesson on how the system works in a public health emergency.”