Public Health Career Night Panelists’ Perspectives on Career Direction and Job Search

Written by Howlader Nashara, Student Assistant to the CAS Career Advising Team.

On February 11th, The Career Center and the Public Health Program co-hosted a career panel that featured five professionals working in various aspects of the public health field from health promotion, to policy and advocacy, to program development and more:

• Brian Bowden: Associative Legislative Director at the National Association of Counties (NACo)
• Evelyn Kelly: CAS ’01, Senior Program Manager at the Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI)
• Andy Melendez-Salgado: Senior Advisor for Program Integration and Health at the American Red Cross
• Kim Smith: CAS ’14, Communication Associate at CommunicateHealth Inc.
• Alyia Smith-Parker: Senior Associate for Health and Wellness at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families

All brought to the table diverse academic backgrounds, varying career paths, and wisdom and insights on working in the public health sector. Jody Gan, an instructor in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Public Health, was the moderator for the night.

The panelists were asked about their career paths post-graduation, and then asked to describe what kind of academic paths they saw themselves on prior to graduation. Melendez-Salgado, a graduate of Florida State, talked about his experiences working with migrant farm workers during school, and how seeing their health issues sparked his interest in public health. That interest guided him to change his major, and led to an internship at the Department of Health. Bowden, a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, was not aware of public health as a field of work, and thus ended double majoring in medical sociology and biology, with the intent of going to a medical school. However, upon discovering that his interests lay elsewhere, Bowden received a Rotary Scholarship to attend University of Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine and pursue a master’s degree in Humanitarian Studies. Bowden advised that students should “Feel free to create your own path if it’s not there for you.” Important advice, considering how a common theme among the career paths of many of the panelists reflected change that occurred upon taking initiative in their lives.

Kelly discussed the importance of taking initiative as well; she received her current position after hearing about the organization at a work conference, and then requesting an information interview with president of the company. Although no positions were open at the time, a few weeks after the interview, Kelly found out that the organization liked her enough to create a position specifically for her. Similarly, Smith-Parker received her current job through her supervisor by communicating openly about her professional interests. Her supervisor was able to point her to a job in the parent organization. The importance of networking and utilizing connections in order to gain employment or explore interests was emphasized by everyone on the panel. Smith, the most recent graduate, talked about how she used her connections at American University and in the D.C. area, including the Career Center, her professors, and contacts from previous internships, to procure her current position directly after graduating.

The panelists who handle hiring processes at their respective organizations gave the audience advice on what they like to see in candidates. Among those qualities are critical thinking skills, knowledge about the organization the applicant is interviewing with, and the ability to transfer skills from other experiences. Collectively, they also advised applicants to really research organizations and target every cover letter and resume to specific employers. Melendez-Salgado added that students should start volunteering with organizations they are interested in, because even that tiniest bit of experience can turn into an internship or job. At the end of the night, the panelists were asked if they would do anything differently in their lives and offered some thoughts on their personal professional development. Melendez-Saldago expressed that although he speaks two languages, given that he works with an international aid organization, he wished he had learned more languages. Kelly wishes that she had studied abroad. Smith-Parker stated that she wished she had not been so linear in her path, and had taken time to pursue other non-public health related interests in order to be a more well-rounded individual. Bowden, his path was certainly atypical, advised students to follow their passions, be aware of natural talents, and use all of that to strengthen the skill set that they put forth in the professional world.

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