Chargers Call Participation in Public Health Conference A ‘Truly Transforming Experience’
Two candidates in the University’s Master of Public Health program recently earned scholarships from the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) that enabled them to attend a leading public health conference in Washington, D.C.
November 14, 2023
By Vijayavalli Thangaraj Panneerselvam ’24 MPH and Priyanka Srirangam ’24 MPH
Vijayavalli Thangaraj Panneerselvam ’24 MPH and Priyanka Srirangam ’24 MPH recently earned 21st Century Student Scholarships from the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), which enabled them to attend the organization’s advocacy summit in Washington, D.C. It was an exciting opportunity for them to explore advocacy and critical public health topics while networking with leaders in the field.
This is the third consecutive year that University of New Haven MPH candidates have received scholarships from SOPHE. The students are also fellows in the University’s WeEmbody Lab.
Below, the students reflect on their experiences at the conference.
Vijayavalli Thangaraj Panneerselvam ’24 MPH
As a recipient of the 21st Century Student Scholarship, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Society of Public Health Education’s 2023 Advocacy Summit in the heart of American democracy, Washington, D.C. I listened to experts in the field and engaged with the legislative correspondents of the senators and the representatives, advocating for critical issues in public health, especially within the state of Connecticut.
I was honored to be among a small number of students from all over the country who were awarded the scholarship and to attend the advocacy summit that served as a meeting and networking place for advocates, professionals, and students from across the nation.
The theme for this year’s annual advocacy summit was “Vote for Health! Advancing Health Through Community and Civic Engagement.” It emphasized the importance of voting and community engagement in ensuring the health of the public. All the sessions were enlightening and insightful, and covered a wide range of public health topics, from community and civic engagement initiatives to building advocacy skills.
As a fellow of the WeEmbody Lab at the University of New Haven, I not only had the opportunity to learn about survey research but also learned about advocacy that focuses on promoting health equity and I developed an interest in advocacy for health equity. This summit allowed me to further advance my advocacy skills and practice those skills in a real situation. Undoubtedly, the visit to Capitol Hill, a place of immense power and history, was the highlight of the Summit.
We were trained by the experts in the field to meet the U.S. senators and representatives, and their legislative correspondents, representing the state of Connecticut, and advocate for the health of our state by making appropriate asks and advocating for the acts, policies, and resources that would promote the health of communities. Stepping onto Capitol Hill was both humbling and awe-inspiring and we were reminded of the significance of our visit by the bustling energy of this political hub and the echoes of the past.
Overall, attending the advocacy summit and visiting Capitol Hill was a truly transforming experience that reinforced my belief in the power of advocacy and civic engagement. I learned that even as a student, my voice matters, and I have a role to play in shaping the policies that affect the health of my community and my state. I want to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Alvin Tran for his invaluable guidance and support, and for enlightening me about and encouraging me toward this great opportunity.
The scholarship not only granted me the opportunity to participate in this summit, but it also instilled in me a sense of responsibility. I strongly encourage all students to actively engage in advocacy and to utilize their voices to make a positive impact on the health of their communities and the country. Together, we can create a healthier and more equitable future for everyone in the world.
Priyanka Srirangam ’24 MPH
I had the privilege to attend the Society for Public Health Education’s 2023 Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., as a recipient of the 21st Century Student Scholarship. The conference was engaging, innovative, and motivating in giving the platform to advocate for public health issues.
Every year, SOPHE organizes advocacy summits and identifies priority issues allowing students to advocate on these public health issues. This year’s theme for SOPHE was “Vote for Health: Advancing Health through Community and Civic Engagement.” This year SOPHE had two agenda items for the advocacy summit: First, to ask the senators to support the John Lewis Advancement Act, and, second, to seek support for appropriation asks.
We were divided into groups based on state of residence and I had the opportunity to advocate for these agendas on behalf of SOPHE to the aide of one of Connecticut’s senators. I and other members of my team requested the Senator’s support for the John Lewis Advancement Act, which will revitalize and modernize the Voting Rights Act to strengthen the protection against discriminatory voting policies and practices. This would lead us closer to ending discrimination in voting and giving equal access to the ballot.
We also asked for support for appropriations, which included asking the senator to sustain the funds for chronic diseases and health promotion and to increase the funding for Mental Health America. Not only did I have the opportunity to advocate for the State of Connecticut, but I was also able to attend the other state's meetings concerning the same agendas.
Overall, it was an excellent experience. I got to visit Capitol Hill and the Senator’s office. The advocacy skill-building sessions were rewarding and something that I can utilize as a future public health professional. I would like to thank Dr. Alvin Tran for his guidance and support and also for encouraging me to apply for this scholarship and helping throughout the process.
I encourage other students to attend SOPHE conferences and to make use of this opportunity to grow professionally and to contribute to the field of public health. I would also like to thank the School of Health Sciences for sharing information about these conferences, which are very beneficial for students who are trying to learn before stepping into the world as a public health professional.
Vijayavalli Thangaraj Panneerselvam ’24 MPH and Priyanka Srirangam ’24 MPH are candidates in the University’s Master of Public Health program.