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New Haven students learn about public health at Yale science fair

April 18, 2023
by Colin Poitras

Shreya Viswanathan got a chance to learn more about a potential career in public health when she attended a special science fair at Harkness Auditorium on April 11.

Shreya, a 14-year-old student from Amity Middle School in Bethany, was one of about 40 local students who attended the day-long event.

“It was really informational,” she said. “I was able to learn a lot of things not just about public health in general but also about causes related to public health and the need for the field of public health.”

The theme of the day was focused on One Health, the collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to health that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.

In a unique ‘twist’ to the day, the visiting students were asked to judge 44 poster presentations by first-year MPH students from the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH). By listening to and engaging with the public health students, the younger students learned about One Health and other important issues in public health.

“The posters were very intricate and very detailed,” said Isabella Criscio, 15, of West Haven High School. “I learned about climate change and a water crisis where the water is infected.” Isabella said she hopes to be a lawyer or forensic toxicologist someday.

I was able to learn a lot of things not just about public health in general but also about causes related to public health and the need for the field of public health.

Shreya Viswanathan, 14, Amity Middle School

More than 250 YSPH students took part in the science fair. As part of their preparations for the event, the Yale students were divided into groups and asked to choose a public health topic that encompasses the One Health concept. They then had to create two models for their poster. The first model described the public health problem and the second proposed a solution to the problem. Poster topics covered a wide variety of topics ranging from food security and antimicrobial resistance to climate change and malaria.

As part of their group projects, the YSPH students had to choose a profession to represent and bring that profession’s interest into discussions about the model’s design. Some of the proposed professions included an agronomist, public health official, community health worker, environmental engineer, Food and Drug Agency official, and health equity specialist.

By having various interests represented on their projects, students had an opportunity to practice teamwork, communication, and negotiation in creating their posters, said Laura Bothwell, one of the organizers of the fair and an assistant professor of Clinical Public Health in the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases.

Every student group also had to have at least one person focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Bothwell said this was intended to make sure the groups’ presentations were inclusive and representative. The same message was incorporated into the overview students were given in preparation for the fair.

“Ethical public health communication is a delicate challenge that must at once be honest, inclusive, culturally sensitive, accessible, and non-stigmatizing,” the students’ assignment sheets said. “Ideally, [your] messaging both informs and empowers communities.”

Dr. Abigail McDonald, AP ’24, said she enjoyed having the opportunity to engage with the New Haven students.

“This is awesome,” said McDonald, as she stood near a poster about Lyme disease that she helped create. “I think this is a good way for students to get introduced to the concept of public health in a way that isn’t already in their high school curriculum.”

As the DEIB representative on her team, McDonald said she learned how Lyme disease’s impacts on communities can differ in terms of people’s access to care, cost, diagnosis, and other factors.

Charlie Minnicucci, EHS ’24, who was on the same team as McDonald, said Lyme disease is a classic example of One Health.

“It is both an environmental pathogen and a human pathogen,” Minnicucci said.

Several students mentioned Mohammed Isa’s poster presentation as being very interesting and memorable. Isa’s poster dealt with the impact of climate change on Lake Chad. In talking about how well water in the region has been impacted, Isa was able to share personal stories. “Some of my family members live in Yobe, a state in northeastern Nigeria near the Lake Chad basin,” he said.

Like Shreya, Sarah Nakhi found the fair an interesting opportunity to learn more about public health and health care. Sarah, a 14-year-old student from Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School, is an aspiring doctor.

“The fair was good,” Sarah said. “I learned about microbial resistance and Lyme disease and stuff like that.”

Sophie Huang, 12, said the fair taught her how people’s health and the health of the environment are interconnected.

“It was pretty interesting,” Sophie said. “I got to learn about climate change, and I got to learn how different aspects of the environment can affect our health. It’s all affiliated.”

Planning for the science fair was done in collaboration with Yale’s Pathways to Science program.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on April 17, 2023