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Public Health interns make connections during COVID-19

November 23, 2020

From the comfort of her couch, Katy Newton works to promote good nutrition in the congregation of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church.

Katy Newton is on a mission to help others lead a healthy life, and she is not letting COVID-19 get in the way. The NIU public health major is one of several student interns working – albeit virtually – to make a difference in the community.

“I am working to promote good nutrition in the congregation of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church (in Naperville),” Newton said. “I’ve been creating and editing videos on how to read and understand nutrition labels what will allow members to be more aware of the food they are consuming and how nutrition labels of the same food can differ completely.”

Beth Squires, NIU public health program coordinator, said the internship program is a result of a “Lead a Healthy Life” survey that was conducted at the church in 2019.

“As a certified health educator, I saw an opportunity to work with the faith community nurse, Kim Runge, to assess the health of the adult members and to develop and offer health programming in needed areas,” Squires said. “The interns are helping with the creation, implementation, and evaluation of health promotion programming in order to improve the congregations’ health in priority areas.”

Momina Hussain is using her public health skills during a virtual internship program.

After gathering the results of the survey, Squires said they identified three health priorities: healthy lifestyle, mental wellness, and adult immunizations. Interns were selected to implement an action plan to improve health outcomes of adult congregation members in each of the three areas.

When COVID-19 hit, they made adjustments to their plans.

“I adapted the internship so that students could work from home when the church stopped offering in-person activities due to the pandemic,” Squires said. “We meet virtually via online conferencing software once a week in order to receive updates and check in on each intern’s progress.”

For student Ronald Tiglao, that meant working on strategies that members can use to cope with COVID-19.

“I am working on a webinar to make sure we educate, provide valuable information and spread awareness on coping with COVID-19 during these tough times,” Tiglao said. “It’s important to stay safe and reduce the chance of contracting the virus.”

Squires said internships are important for today’s students, and it’s an important to provide them with real-world public health experience.

“Students need to develop and add skills to their resumes before they graduate in order to be more competitive in the job market,” Squires said. “Internships allow students to do this. In addition, it is important for students to begin building their professional network before they graduate in order to find mentors in the field and help expedite their job search after graduation.”

Go to Public Health to learn more about the various programs available at NIU.