Students and global health experts share their experiences working with communities.

Category: Bridger

Barreling Towards The End

My last practicum blog post, I expressed the slow-build experience making connections and forming relationships with the collaborators and community we were bringing together to support my practicum agency, Pitkin County Public Health, in executing deliverables for a grant addressing health inequities for the Latinx population of Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado exacerbated by COVID-19. Since that last post, I feel like the summer’s flown by, as our team of collaborators and stakeholders has barreled forwards towards the grant deadline next week. The experience has been both exhilarating and thought provoking, providing me many experiential lessons I will take forward into my second year of my MPH program and beyond.

First, I gained a greater appreciation for the challenge of balancing community-driven approaches that prioritize human relationships and creating shared spaces, with the logistical pressures and timelines of working within the institutional norms of grant-based financial infrastructure. For example, to support the Spanish Mental Health Media Campaign funded by the grant, we formed a Strategic Planning and Marketing Committee comprised of various community leaders interested and passionate to address the burden of mental wellbeing challenges in the area. While my preceptor and I prioritized ensuring that all members of the group were properly compensated for their time, as the grant deadline drew nearer, I felt the implicit pressure to increase the number of weekly meetings, and expectation for deliverables for the group to complete all campaign materials by the end of the grant period. I feel it can be so easy working within groups seeking to make a positive impact, and united by common values, to take advantage of these positive qualities. My practicum experience has left me reflecting on how easy it can be in the field of public health to succumb to prioritizing white supremacist norms, such as perfectionism, timeliness, and a sense of urgency, in the pursuit to fulfill the requirements of entrenched institutional standards.

However, my practicum experience also helped me gain a greater appreciation for how the field of public health can (and likely should) intersect with a broad range of other disciplines in its application. While I had the opportunity to participate in perhaps more traditional elements of public health work, such as delivering presentations to the state Board of Health, and developing monitoring and evaluation plans, I also was forced to step out of my comfort zone into other disciplines to properly support the efforts I was involved in. For example, I gained a crash course in budgeting and contract development for media campaigns, working with a county marketing specialist to solicit media purchase estimates from radio stations, public bus lines, and Internet spaces. Once our marketing committee had selected its primary forms of delivering the Mental Wellbeing Media Campaign, I coordinated directly with radio management and talent, and local social media influencers, to draft Scope of Work contracts; process media buys, and manage limited grant funds. There were several hiccups in this process, especially learning to navigate county rules around payment structures for contracted work, to be able to properly reimburse the media talent and campaign designers. I feel like I gained a lot of practical knowledge from these experiences, and I was reminded that in the gap between conceptual public health knowledge and the implementation of health promotion interventions and activities, there’s a variety of practical skills and leadership capacities that can be highly relevant. The varied experiences and skills I’ll take from my practicum have reinforced three lessons for me for my future public health practice: 1) to stay creative about the way public health can be combined with other disciplines 2) to continue developing varied skillsets not immediately incorporated in academic training 3) to seek out and value the knowledge and input of “expertise” from non-traditional sources and community leaders.

Also, I feel inspired to continue bringing my guiding value of creativity into my global health practice. I had the chance to bring my visual eye to my practicum in several respects, by creating logos and visuals for the campaign messaging that had been created by the Marketing Committee, and by building the formatting for resource guide for Immigrants and other Latinx families in the area.

It was a joy to help foster a creative space within the Marketing Committee meetings, cultivating an environment where everyone was sharing ideas and building messaging and campaign materials relevant to their own community. This Marketing Team developed a vision for a three-armed campaign, focusing on a local radio station, a local interview show, and social media pages on Facebook created during the pandemic, to direct limited campaign funding to the mediums with greatest reach and impact for the intended audience. I can confidently say these would not have been the mediums chosen by Pitkin County if left to their own devices, and are another example of the power of tapping into the expertise of community knowledge. I was very inspired to see the demographic-specific messaging the group devised for women, men, the older aged, and adolescents, as well as the compelling radio ads they drafted and moving video testimonials they produced. The unifying feature of the campaign the group devised utilized the imagery of a stoplight to encourage destigmatization, preventative action, and seeking help around mental wellness challenges. I honestly think this idea is super clever, and I can’t look at a stoplight now without being reminded to stop and check-in on my own mental wellbeing.

I also met with a myriad of community leaders, service providers, and other stakeholders, to conceptualize and produce a format for a community resource guide that would be inviting, useful, and accessible. Based on this input I devised a system using visual icons to aid in navigation of the guide and decrease the extent to which literacy is a barrier to access, also highlighting key potential barriers to accessing the services in the guide such as cost and documentation status.


Most of all though, the biggest thing I’ll be taking with me from my practicum experience are the positive memories, connections, and relationships I was able to form (albeit remotely) with so many wonderful individuals. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and become friends with the incredibly talented individuals in the Marketing Committee we formed, and I’m so excited to see all the positive work they produce in coming years.  It was difficult to say goodbye, it was a both a valuable reminder of the importance of the human element of public health work, and refreshing validation of my interest in pursuing a career in global health.


Global is Local (and on Zoom).

Bridger making a peace sign in front of some large dinosaurs

A positive side-effect of doing a practicum remotely practicum: getting to visit your parent’s new home in Utah (and making some new friends).

In some ways my 2021 practicum summer, like many things in a school year defined by the pandemic, is a lot different what I would have expected before enrolling. Having been unceremoniously removed from my life in Panama at the onset of the pandemic, I had always envisioned my practicum as a chance to dive back into working overseas, forming and learning from international partnerships in community settings. Instead, I’m conducting a practicum entirely via Zoom, working remotely with a public health organization based in Colorado.

However, in other ways, my position has been providing me the exact kind of experiences and challenges I was always hoped for in a practicum. My interest in Public Health and global practice began during four years of service with the Peace Corps in Panama. This form of grassroots development and health education has shaped the way I view and engage in Global Health work, learning and working alongside community-driven programs. However, in partnering with the United Nations Development Programme in the Darien gap, I became interested in developing the skills to identify ways to leverage large-scale resources to support community-driven efforts. My practicum so far has placed me at this nexus of community outreach and institutional power.

I’m interning with Pitkin County Public Health in Colorado, filling a position through a Preventative Health Block Grant seeking to address significant health inequities in their health and community infrastructure exposed by the pandemic. Specifically, the grant and the team I’ve joined of members of three neighboring public health departments and community stakeholders, is intended to improve health equity, especially for the Latinx and immigrant population in the area. As an intern I’ve taken on facilitating the development of deliverables such as a mental health awareness and promotion campaign, resource guides, and internal trainings for county organizations to apply an equity lens towards their services.

There’s a clear equity gap in Pitkin County and the surrounding area. Aspen, the largest town in the area, is a well-known resort community with high cost of living, and a population that more than doubles during the winter ski season. However, there’s a significant population of service and industry workers who support this resort lifestyle, including a large Latinx and immigrant population. Many locals struggle with high cost of living and services in the greater Aspen area, and many live in neighboring counties of Garfield and Eagle—however, the pandemic has helped illuminate the level of existing inequity in many regards, including access to health services and information.

It’s been an interesting challenge gaining contextual knowledge around the Pitkin County area and going through the process of making connections and building relationships all remotely. The virtual format has pushed me well out of my comfort zone, cold-joining lots of Zoom meetings with different agency partners, sending out emails to make connections with individuals, and not ever visiting the spaces I’m attempting to serve. It has struck me as an odd sensation to be discussing programs for a community I haven’t visited since I was 3 years old, but strangely enough, Global Health organizations do that all the time—as such, I’ve taken this challenge as a way to practice combining a community-centered approach to program development within the types of higher up, NGOs and Government agencies I could find myself working in someday after my degree, far removed from the field.  While many of the mediums I’ve been using have been out of my comfort zone, when in doubt I’ve relied on some practices learned the hard way during my time with Peace Corps: 1) ask an endless stream of questions, 2) prioritize relationships over producing results, 3) defer all expertise to my local partners.

Applying these approaches has definitely come into conflict with larger realities of my practicum position at times. For one, there’s simply limited time to share and learn in the punctual and itemized Zoom meetings of a government agency. Secondly, the grant I’m working under has very real deadlines around deliverables and progress. With June about to be over, time limitations have forced relationship building and production to be a simultaneous process. The organizational practices fueled by fiscal infrastructure are something I’ll need to be able to navigate effectively, and I think this practicum is giving me great preparation in that regard.

Running from a T-rex

(Note all of them play nice).

It’s exciting after a year of school to be facilitating the development of materials with the potential for real world impact again. Even though just on Zoom, I’ve enjoyed the early relationships with work and community partners in this position. I’ve also appreciated the opportunity to apply skills acquired in Peace Corps to work with international populations in a domestic space. While so much is different than I would have expected a year ago, an early takeaway for me from my practicum is that core elements of learning exchange and collaborative partnership are universal with work addressing gaps in health equity, regardless of miles traveled or hours zoomed.