By DAVID J. HILL
Published August 8, 2023
Twenty rising Western New York high school juniors and seniors are attending the Pathways Academy, a two-week program hosted by UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP) that aims to increase diversity in public health.
It’s one of the largest classes in the Pathways Academy has had. Students earn one college credit for successfully completing the program. The program began Monday (July 31) and runs through Aug. 11.
Students have to apply to attend the Pathways Academy, which is free thanks to tuition scholarships supported by donors and community partners including Erie Niagara Area Education Center, HOPE Buffalo, Independent Health, Wegmans and the School of Public Health and Health Professions. And, to make attendance easier, all participants receive a free two-week Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus and MetroRail pass.
The program is now in its seventh year. Over that time, numerous faculty members from the School of Public Health and Health Professions have played a role in its success.
“The goal of this program is to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds, many of whom also come from low-income families, to apply to public health and health professions programs and help them see that this could be a viable career path for them,” says Adam Graczyk, PhD, current Pathways Academy director and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.
“Having a more diverse public health workforce benefits everybody. In order to generate new ideas and solve the health problems of the U.S. population, you need to have people from all backgrounds at the table because everybody brings their own unique perspective and way of thinking about things,” Graczyk says.
Over the course of two weeks, students participate in hands-on sessions covering a broad range of public health and health profession disciplines, as well as learning how public health differs from, but works in tandem with, medicine.
For example, on Aug. 2, students learned about the importance of nutrition by taking part in a cooking demonstration with Danielle Meyer, clinical director of the dietetic internship program in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, who also talked about different nutrition careers and available programs in the school.
On. Aug. 4, Ryan Krzyzanowicz, program director of SPHHP’s athletic training program, and current athletic training students from UB guided Pathways Academy participants as they diagnosed and treated a sports injury as part of an athletic training simulation. In addition, campers learned about working with athletes in a variety of environments, including on the field during game time, and participated in a hands-only CPR training.
Other sessions will focus on:
Community partners that will also be giving presentations include the Erie County Department of Health, People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) and Evergreen Health.
All of the sessions involve hands-on activities designed to engage the students in the material being covered, Graczyk notes. “We want the students to feel like it’s more fun than your typical college course,” he says.
Toward that end, Graczyk draws from another area of his expertise — improv comedy — to add a little fun to the program with icebreakers and other activities inspired by his involvement with ComedySportz Buffalo.
“I started incorporating improv into some of the exercises we do because it’s silly and that silliness can break down barriers,” Graczyk says. “It helps students feel more comfortable with each other. It also helps establish a sense of community in the classroom.”
The program concludes with a graduation ceremony scheduled from 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in Farber Hall on UB’s South Campus. The evening will include a “Public Health Heroes Art Walk” that will highlight “amazing humans that have worked tirelessly to improve their community’s health,” Graczyk says.
Academy graduates will also present the 60-second Flipgrid videos they create in which they highlight a health concern in their community and present research on how to address it. The school has partnered with the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center, which has assisted in recruiting participants in the program.
Graczyk thanked SPHHP Dean Jean Wactawski-Wende and the dean’s office for their continued support of the Pathways Academy.
“The success of this program rests on a massive collaboration between the dean’s office and all of SPHHP’s departments, as well as the SPHHP Office for Academic and Student Affairs, the Registrar’s office, University Admissions, SPHHP Communications, the SPHHP office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, University Advancement, UB Parking and Transportation, as well as many community organizations,” Graczyk says.
Sponsorship opportunities are still available for the program. For more information, email Erin Uppington from University Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org.