Emily Skalla is a first-year Community Health Promotion MPH student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Learn more about why Emily chose her program and her role in improving the lives of children with juvenile arthritis in Minnesota by reading her responses to the questions below.
First, I’d like to know a little bit about you as a person. Where did you grow up? Where did you attend undergrad and what was your degree/area of study? [Emily] I grew up in a small town west of the Twin Cities and I went to the U of MN for undergrad. I attended the U of MN College of Biological Sciences as a biology major and also pursued a minor in public health. During undergrad, I had been doing a lot of advocacy work for students through various groups, and it got to a point where I didn’t want that to end and that made me interested in public health.
What was that moment in your life when you decided you wanted to study public health?
[Emily] My advisor in undergrad asked me what I liked about healthcare and when I described to her what I was interested in, it became much more apparent that public health would be a better fit for me than medical school because it was centered on research and advocacy for populations. As part of my public health minor, I took a class on public health and incarceration with Rebecca Shlafer (HSEM 2719H) and that class honestly changed my entire trajectory. Her perspective of taking insights from research and applying them into program development made me want to do that and when I met with her a lightbulb went off that was like, “This is what I want to do.”
What specific issue, problem, or area of research in public health do you care most about and why? [Emily] Right now, I’m kind of all over the place with what area I want to focus on. I really like Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and I’ve done some work with pediatric research. Currently, I’m employed by the University of Minnesota as part of the Department of Pediatrics Clinical Research team but I recruit out of the M Health Fairview Pediatric Rheumatology team. Our team explores the factors that cause juvenile arthritis in kids in Minnesota. I think that pediatric populations are a good start for a lot of public health prevention measures and that’s something I really appreciate. What’s really important to me right now is making sure that, in addition to serving our public health mission, that I enjoy the day to day.
Tell me more about your work studying juvenile arthritis.
[Emily] I currently work as a Clinical Research Coordinator for the Juvenile Arthritis in Minnesota cohort study. Right now, I’m working on building the registry and we have about 350 kids enrolled in the study. It’s estimated that there are only about 800 kids in MN that suffer from juvenile arthritis. This work is really important to me because I’m from rural MN and we get to help patients who don’t always have access to this type of care. It’s been fun to learn how to communicate with people with kids who may have just been diagnosed that day and empowering them to take ownership of their role in the research process and how they can help other people.
Why did you choose to come to the U of M School of Public Health? [Emily] I was lucky in undergrad to have already connected with some School of Public health faculty through my Public Health Minor courses, and I really enjoyed those interactions. It was great to work with them and I knew that they were great professors. I also knew that their syllabi were built out to better teach students, such as having a lot of lower risk assignments. I knew that they were taking a mindful approach to my education and success as a student. The research SPH does is also what brought me here. The support that research has on campus and the way that people talk about it here was important to me.
What are the reasons why you chose your program? What do you like about it?
[Emily] I’m doing Community Health Promotion (CHP) because I really like doing the full sphere of research. As I mentioned before, what I like about Rebecca Shlafer’s work is that she did the research, implemented the programming, and then does the ongoing analysis of that programming to keep refining it. CHP also gives me a lot of elective courses for me to explore other areas of public health.
What has been your favorite class so far?
[Emily] Definitely Community Health Promotions 1 (PUBH 6050). I really like that I’m able to have one class to touch base with my other Community Health Promotion classmates. My program is really diverse so I’ve really enjoyed hearing from all the different people in class about their experiences. So, I think so far that’s my favorite class.