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Community Impact Lab Brings Students and Community Workers Together to Improve Public Health

Yale Public Health Magazine, Yale Public Health: Fall 2022
by Susan Nappi


The YSPH Office of Public Health Practice (OPHP) is launching a new Community Impact Lab later this year as part of its mission to educate and train an inclusive public health workforce that is equipped to address today’s complex public health challenges and oppression in all its forms in partnership with the community.

The CI Lab will support YSPH students and community partners by providing public health practice placements and training. The lab will assist students with their Applied Practice Experience while helping them develop innovative practice solutions that are human-centered and co-designed. The initial year of the program will be used to plan activities and training in collaboration with community partners, students, and faculty. 

The CI Lab leadership team includes Faculty Director Kathleen O’Connor Duffany, PhD ’15, MEd, director of research and evaluation for the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement; OPHP Faculty Director Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, PhD, professor of public health (social and behavioral sciences); OPHP Executive Director Susan Nappi, MPH ’01; and the inaugural CI Lab director, Jason Martinez, MS.

Martinez has a long career in community impact work in New Haven and New Haven County. While serving as the director of community impact at United Way of Greater New Haven and vice president of community impact at United Way of Greater Waterbury, Martinez focused his work on basic needs, ensuring those in the region had access to housing and food. Leading the Greater New Haven Coordinated Access Network, he managed an organized and coordinated approach to homeless and housing services by collaborating with numerous agencies within a 19-town catchment area. In addition, as a founding member of the Coordinated Food Assistance Network, Martinez worked to build a unified system that ensures equitable, dignified, and culturally appropriate access to nutritious food for all residents of Greater New Haven. 

Martinez also managed the AmeriCorps VISTA initiative at United Way of Greater New Haven, mentoring and supporting VISTA members during their community placements. Most recently, he had the opportunity to join the team at United Way of Greater Waterbury, where he was named vice president of community impact in August 2020. Martinez has an MS in urban education, and he spent five years teaching elementary special education in the poorest county in New York state. He is excited to extend his expertise in equitable partnership at YSPH and to continue supporting the work of historically marginalized communities. 

CI Lab activities will include training in equity, evaluation, public health leadership skills, and practice utilizing systems thinking and collective impact frameworks. Immersive practice experiences, mentoring with local community leaders, and targeted placements will all act as conduits for students to engage with the community they live in while seeing collective impact in action. The YSPH CI Lab will also create metrics in key areas, such as food insecurity, to assess the collective impact of local efforts while developing a tracking tool to capture these metrics. 

The lab will help manage, coordinate, and expand public health practice opportunities and experiential learning to support YSPH students and the community through increased internships, volunteer opportunities, and service. Community service through the CI Lab will be streamlined and supported to address community-identified needs. Students will have the opportunity to engage with organizations through planned visits, allowing them to gain a broader picture of what New Haven is really like. 

For more information on the CI Lab, contact Susan Nappi.

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