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Master of Public Health capstone projects showcase One Health research

MPH graduating students Shelby Borowski, Travis Oishi, Kayla Septer, and Dylan Allanson
MPH graduating students (from left) Shelby Borowski, Travis Oishi, Kayla Septer, and Dylan Allanson were selected to present their capstone projects.

Each year for their final assignment, graduating Master of Public Health (MPH) students in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine prepare a capstone project that addresses a public health problem and approximates professional health practices, pulling together expertise they’ve been exposed to both within and outside the program.

The students also submit a 250-word abstract for a chance to present their research to an audience of fellow students, faculty, staff, family, and friends.

Of the 26 graduating MPH students who submitted capstone abstracts, degree candidates Dylan Allanson, Shelby Borowski, Travis Oishi, and Kayla Septer were chosen by a faculty committee to share their work at the spring 2019 MPH Capstone Presentations on May 15 at the veterinary college.

Not only did the selected projects demonstrate the students’ fluency in the college’s transdisciplinary One Health approach, they also aligned with the MPH program’s mission to train public health leaders who undertake work that promotes, protects, and ultimately improves the health of humans, animals, and the environment — in Appalachia, the commonwealth, and the nation, and around the globe.

In her comments at the event, Laura Hungerford, head of the Department of Population Health Sciences, admitted that it was “a really hard decision” to select only four student speakers. Pointing presentation attendees to the proceeding poster sessions, she said, “You’ll see out there and wonder how the faculty ever decided; they’re all such amazing students.”

Dylan Allanson

“Clinician and Participant Perceptions of a Rural Health District Implemented FVRx Program”

Dylan Allanson, who received an M.P.H in the public health education track, as well as fulfilled the dietetics requirement in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, discussed a capstone project that covers his interests in Appalachia, rural health disparity, and food security.

The purpose of Allanson’s project was to evaluate engagement in the Farmacy Garden Rx (FVRx) program and to offer recommendations for program improvement. Implemented through the Virginia Department of Health and the New River Health Department, FVRx identifies people who will benefit from working in and accessing produce in a community garden.

In light of Allanson’s concern that Southwest Virginia is a medically underserved region, he sought to provide suggestions for improvements to the program, including scheduled hours, transportation, promotion, and integrating a mental-health focus, a program benefit that proved especially significant in Allanson’s findings.

Shelby Borowski

“An Evaluation of the Community Recovery Program: A Case-Management Approach to Support the Recovery of Individuals with a History of Incarceration or Substance Abuse”

Completing both an MPH in the public health education concentration and a Ph.D. in human development and family science, Shelby Borowski combined her interests in mental health, healthy behaviors, and work-life balance to examine the process of assisting individuals in recovery by guiding their successful reintegration into their communities. Borowski’s research evaluated the Community Recovery Program, which uses a case-management approach to support individuals with a history of incarceration or substance abuse in their recovery and their journey to autonomy and optimal wellness. In her evaluation, Borowski sought both to discover what areas of recovery produced significant change for participants and to understand stakeholders’ and participants’ suggestions for improving the program.

Travis Oishi

“Evaluating the Effectiveness of N95 Respirators in the Context of Emergency Preparedness in Hawaii”

Upon setting off for Hawaii, Travis Oishi had plans to conduct research related to his infectious disease concentration in the MPH program. With the 2018 eruption of Kilauea, however, those plans were altered, and Oishi applied his experience assisting with emergency response as means for studying relief efforts. The aftermath of the eruption allowed him to observe the effectiveness and limitations of respirator distribution and to discuss preparation for future scenarios. Oishi’s suggestions included educating the public through emergency-preparedness programs, creating a statewide and local county stockpile of masks, keeping downwind sites open for multiple days, and establishing an additional site to ensure more adequate coverage.

Kayla Septer

“Antimicrobial Resistance in Shigella Isolates”

Kayla Septer, who pursued an infectious disease concentration in the MPH program and also earned a certificate in international development and global planning, presented a project that melded her interests in antimicrobial resistance, public health, and laboratory work. In her study addressing the increasing resistance to important antimicrobials, Septer worked with the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa to sequence bacterial isolates, identify the presence of resistance genes in their genomes, and determine whether isolates with resistance genes were phenotypically expressing resistance.

2019 MPH Capstone poster presentations
Graduating MPH students presented their research during the capstone poster session.