Complex health issues are easy to determine, but finding solutions can be challenging. The Milken Institute Lynda and Stewart Resnick Center of Public Health, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank, has launched the first Future Health Leaders Pilot Program, dedicated to finding solutions to complex public health challenges using the latest ideas and insights from the next generation.
Three University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health students – Ashley Simenson (EPI '19), Jessica Salerno (IDM '20) and Kaitlyn Saal-Ridpath (HPM '20) are among the dozen students nationwide selected to participate in the inaugural class of this program. “Student interest in this program was overwhelmingly positive and I’m thrilled that our three Future Health Leaders come from diverse departments with unique perspectives and have this amazing opportunity to learn from each other, students at other schools of public health, the mentors at the Milken Institute and local and national stakeholders engaged in promoting public health and well-being,” according to BCHS professor Jessica Burke, Pitt Public Health’s Associate Dean for Education who led the selection process and is working closely with the three students during the program
The Future Health Leaders Pilot Program’s mission is to uncover and develop the skill sets students need to successfully tackle public health issues and to provide practical, hands-on experience to broaden their cross-functional abilities. All three Pitt Public Health students share the goal of finding solutions for complex health challenges and are collaborating on two community impact projects:
- one with the Drug Enforcement Administration's DEA 360 program to combat heroin/opioid use through law enforcement, diversion and community outreach, and
- the other with Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation to create kinder environments and foster mental health among adolescents.
Pitt students also network with, and learn from, health and business leaders around the world, and share exciting research, grants, and projects with fellow Future Health Leaders from West Virginia University, Brown University, and George Washington University. Through the program, the Milken Institute hopes to learn more about what the next generation finds to be the most pressing public health challenges and to tap into their creative energies and ideas to generate innovative solutions and interventions.
On their way to becoming the world’s future health leaders, these Pitt students presented their ideas at the Milken Institute's Future of Health Summit 2018 in Washington, DC on October 23. "The students were amazing," said Burke. "I was blown away by how well the students present their ideas, themselves, and our school." Representatives of both client organizations (including notably Lady Gaga's mother) also responded well to the thoughtful work of the Pitt students.
Ashley Simenson is in her second year at Pitt Public Health pursuing an MPH in Epidemiology. She earned her BS in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Oklahoma State University. Simenson’s interest in public health stemmed from studies that touched on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which piqued her curiosity as to how epidemics originate. She also became interested in the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, developing a passion for gender-affirming care. Since coming to Pittsburgh, Simenson has been volunteering with Epi Gives Back, the Pitt Public Health student group that volunteers on various health-related projects including Cribs for Kids, packing safe sex kits, and conducting opioid use surveys. After graduation Simenson plans to attend medical school and pursue research in LGBT health.
Jessica Salerno enrolled in Pitt Public Health to pursue an MPH in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology after earning her BA in Anthropology at Pitt. She first became concerned about public health at age 8, when she learned about yellow fever, a painful vaccine-preventable disease that is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. In addition to completing her second year of coursework and working full time as a research specialist in the School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Salerno conducts research for Pitt Public Health’s Project Tycho, a program that aims to improve standards, machine readability and availability of global health data. She hopes to continue her education by pursusing a DrPH in Epidemiology to gain the skills necessary to work for the Centers for Disease Control or similar organizations in the future.
Kaitlyn Saal-Ridpath is pursuing a JD/MPH at Pitt Law and Pitt Public Health in Health Policy and Management, concentrating in health law, and specifically food law and policy. She earned her BA in Public Health from Elon University in North Carolina. Using food as medicine and later, an interest in food justice, led to her passion in public health. While completing a health policy internship during undergrad, she understood the most effective way to generate change was at a systemic level, resulting in her enrollment at Pitt. She believes law and policy are the best avenues to create real, positive and lasting change in public health. Though she still has some time left in her joint degree program, Saal-Ridpath is already making plans to work locally (or even nationally!) to create a healthier, sustainable, and more accessible food system for Americans when she finishes.