As part of the University of New Haven’s first Youth and Public Health Conference, high school students from across Connecticut learned about career paths in health sciences as well as what to expect when applying to and, ultimately, attending college.
May 26, 2021
Mabintou Darboe ’22 MPH says that, as a first-generation undergraduate student, she sometimes felt lost and she wasn’t always sure where to turn when she needed advice. She is now helping to ensure that high school students have the support and guidance they need as they prepare for college.
Darboe recently helped plan the University’s inaugural Youth and Public Health Conference, a virtual event that enabled first-generation students and those from underrepresented groups to learn more about the many possible career paths in the field of health sciences.
“I hope that, after this conference, students will reach out to their teachers, guidance counselors, and admissions officers at their schools of interest,” said Darboe, a member of the University’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) student ambassadors program. “Most importantly, I hope they learned about the endless career opportunities in the health sciences and that they got a glimpse of what college is about and what to expect.”
As part of the conference, students from across Connecticut heard from several University of New Haven professors who are experts in their fields, including Summer McGee, Ph.D., dean of the University’s school of Health Sciences, and Michele Smallidge, Ed.D., RD., director of the University’s exercise science program. They discussed the myriad opportunities students would have in the field in areas such as research and networking.
Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH and Renee Garcia-Prajer R.D.H., M.S., – both first-generation students – also shared their own stories and their experiences as the first members of their families to go to college. Garcia-Prajer said that she was so inspired by one of her professors that she decided to continue her education.
“You might meet someone who’s completely inspiring and that changes things,” said Garcia-Prajer, associate dean of the School for Health Sciences. “Education is never ending. I continue to learn. You may think you know where you want to go and what path you want to take, and that might change.
‘I was overwhelmed with joy’
Dr. Tran told students about how he helped organize a similar youth and public health conference when he was a student. He encouraged them to keep an open mind as they took advantage of this learning opportunity.
“This conference was another successful initiative led by the JEDI Ambassadors,” said Dr. Tran, an assistant professor of public health and the University’s assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion. “My students and I wanted to provide helpful resources and information to help high schoolers know how to apply to college and learn about the many careers they can pursue in the health care field."
“I strongly believe the University has a role in building and maintaining a positive relationship with our surrounding community,” Dr. Tran continued. “That's why I was overwhelmed with joy to see so many high school students across Connecticut attend this year's inaugural Youth and Public Health Conference.”
‘The guidance that I wish I had’
The high school students also heard from University of New Haven students as part of a panel discussion. They talked about their majors as well as their experiences in college. Caitlin Locke, a senior associate director of undergraduate admissions at the University, also guided students through the process of getting into college.
In their post-conference evaluations, the participants cited the discussion about applying to college and adjusting to college life as well as the perspectives from current college students as especially helpful.
“The University has opened the gateway to community connection and health in all aspects, keeping the focus on connecting youths through social-emotional learning and giving,” wrote a teacher from Bulkeley High School in Hartford in a post-conference evaluation.
Darboe, too, enjoyed taking part in the student panel discussion. She says it was a wonderful opportunity for high school students to get a taste of what college will be like. The hope is that next year’s student participants will be able to visit the University in person when they attend the conference.
“I loved the panel discussion because of how engaged the high school students were,” she said. “It gave them an idea of what to expect in college and how to manage stress as a college student. This was a highlight because it was rewarding that our attendees, the majority of whom were first-generation and people of color, were getting the guidance that I wish I had when I was going into college.”