Inaugural fellowsThe Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion strives to make a difference, to contribute positively to the health of individuals and communities, from the local to the national level.

That’s a big, bold mission.

But it is one we are confident we can achieve, in part because we have the privilege of selecting three Lerner Fellows each year. The fellows work for the Center 20 hours a week, and in return receive a scholarship covering the full cost of their graduate education, along with a generous stipend and invaluable hands-on experience in the ever-growing field of public health promotion.

This is what we call a win-win: The Center can leverage the talents of Syracuse University’s best students to help it achieve its mission, while also supporting those students in the pursuit of their own goals.

We asked the three inaugural Lerner Fellows – all of whom graduated from the joint SUNY Upstate Medical University-Syracuse University Master of Public Health Program in 2013 – to share some of their experiences as Lerner Fellows. Here’s some of what they had to say (pictured above: Inaugural Lerner Fellows from 2011 to 2013: Ian Grant, Matt MacDougall, Leah Moser).

Do your best at your current job, an old saying goes, to get the job you really want.

This seems to have been Leah Moser’s strategy from the day she became a Lerner Fellow, and it has paid off big time: Moser is the Center’s Assistant Program Director, overseeing Healthy Monday Syracuse, a position that requires her to manage a multi-faceted public health promotion campaign both on campus and in the broader community.

Moser, a Certified Health Education Specialist, hails from Columbia, Missouri, and received her undergraduate training from Truman State University. She came to the Center with a lot of polish, but it has truly been a pleasure watching her grow in confidence and become an even larger part of the Center’s efforts. Apparently, the feeling is mutual.

“The most rewarding part of my work with the Lerner Center has been having the opportunity to watch the Center grow,” Moser said. “When I started in August 2011, our team hit the ground running, getting the word out about who we are, what we do and reinvigorating the Monday Campaigns to offer more programs and support to the community.”

Getting the word about Healthy Monday and the Lerner Center was indeed the Center’s top priority when it first opened in 2011. Now, it’s about impact.

“What has been meaningful to me is hearing stories from people who participate in Healthy Monday programs who find that making small changes has a big impact on their health,” Moser said. “The approach the campaign presents is one that makes being healthy lighthearted and fun. Managing your health is not an easy task for many people, so seeing someone be receptive to trying Meatless Monday or the Monday Mile, and having fun in the process is rewarding to me.”

Moser said that the Lerner Fellow experience added both depth and breadth to her MPH.

“The opportunity to work with the Lerner Center as I completed my course work in the MPH program gave me hands-on, practical experience in public health,” she said. “I was able to take the concepts that I learned in the classroom and apply them to the work that I was doing. … At the same time, my real-world experiences were things that I could draw upon as I was learning and understanding new concepts in class. There was some great synergy going on!”

Moser also thinks it made her more marketable, and not just to the Center itself.

“What I find beneficial about the fellowship is that it conveys to employers that you can handle a busy job with a great amount of responsibility while also managing a full-time graduate course load,” she said. “Fellows gain a portfolio of work during their time with the Lerner Center and can demonstrate to a future employer that they have experience working in public health.”

Fellow Ian Grant agrees.

“My work at the Lerner Center, along with the mentorship of Rebecca Bostwick and Dr. Thomas Dennison, refined my career focus and gave me extremely marketable job skills,” said Grant, a native of Montego Bay, Jamaica. “The fellowship helped to hone my skills in research, program planning, evaluation and partnership building, skills that have all been directly transferred to my job as Population Health Program Manager for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization.

One of the things that made the Lerner Fellowship unique, Grant said, was the willingness of Center staff to engage the Fellows in every aspect of the Center’s work.

“The Lerner Fellowship allows students to be involved in the full spectrum of public health promotion,” he said. “From brainstorming, researching and developing a program/policy all the way through to promoting, evaluating and sustaining the initiative. The experience is completely hands-on, interactive and rewarding.”

Clearly, a Master of Public Health degree combined with a Lerner Fellowship paves a smooth road for graduates entering the job market. But some folks just refuse to make things easy on themselves. Take, for instance, Matthew MacDougall, the third member of the inaugural class of Lerner Fellows. Instead of leveraging his fellowship into a job, MacDougall used it to help him gain entry into SUNY Upstate Medical University.

By 2017, we’ll be calling Matt “Dr. MacDougall!”

Although MacDougall is becoming a full-fledged medical doctor, he is determined to maintain the public health ethos he learned through the CNY MPH program and the Lerner Center.

“I am interested in increasing access to both medical and preventive care for people living in underserved communities,” the East Syracuse native said. “The feeling that the work I did while at the Lerner Center had a positive impact in an underserved neighborhood was definitely the most rewarding part of working as a fellow.”

MacDougall said that working alongside of Dennison and Bostwick proved to be a key part of his education. “The ability to work for such experienced and knowledgeable public health practitioners was invaluable,” he said.

But does he think that the Fellowship actually helped him get into medical school?

“I believe it did,” MacDougall said. “Applying to medical school is an incredibly competitive process and I am positive that the actual public health experience I gained at the Lerner Center gave me an advantage. In addition to the actual work experience in the field of public health, my work at the Lerner Center gave me experience conducting research, experience working with underserved populations, and an opportunity to make key connections with public health practitioners in the community, all of which I believe made me a more desirable applicant.”

By Greg Munno

Lerner Fellows 2013 to 2014

(Lerner Fellows 2013 to 2014: Sadie Conrad, Roberto Martinez, Katie Oja, Brianna Cameron)

Lerner Fellows 2014 to 2015

(Lerner Center Fellow 2014 to 2015: Maidel De La Cruz, Roberto Martinez, Bridget Lenkiewicz, Tim Smilnak)

Lerner Center 2015 to 2016

(Lerner Fellows 2015 to 2016: Malcolm Philogene, Anna Swanson, Katie Wood, Billy Reed)