Katie Wood headshotBy Katie Wood, 2015-2017 Lerner Fellow Alumna

As we celebrate the five-year anniversary of the Lerner Center, I have reflected what being a Lerner Fellow has meant to me. Working with the Lerner Center has challenged and provided me with the knowledge to become a dedicated public health professional, which I will carry with me for many years to come. Furthermore, it has empowered me to do my part in improving the health and well-being of others.

When I asked other Lerner Fellows to share their thoughts about what the fellowship has meant to them, I heard a wide range of how their experiences with the Center shaped their careers. For example, Bridget Lenkiewicz, Lerner Fellow from 2014-2015, stated “I gained so much from the experience, but what was most meaningful to me was learning how to work cohesively as a group towards a shared objective and recognizing that each team member’s diverse experiences and perspective enhance what the group can achieve together.” Working effectively as a group is something we all learn about, whether it is working with the other fellows, the Center’s professional staff or community partners. Teamwork is a skill that is essential in public health.

Being a Fellow also means having an opportunity to work with the community, which allows us to explore our interests.  Malcolm Philogene, Lerner Fellow from 2015-2016, explained, “The Lerner Center represented to me a place of opportunity and growth. During my time there, we had many opportunities to work with the students at SU and residents in the Near Westside community. These projects allowed us to grow as professionals and individuals. Even though we were all busy with our various tasks, there was always time for some fun to keep us laughing in the process. I’m truly grateful for the experience.”

I feel that one of the most valuable experiences I have had is building relationships with community partners and learning more about health inequities through these relationships. I have had countless opportunities to work with the Near Westside Initiative, Nojaim Brothers Supermarket, and the Madison County Rural Health Council on a number of different projects primarily focused on improving nutrition, physical activity and community engagement. Being right in the heart of where health inequalities exist in Central New York has enriched my understanding of the many factors that contribute to these health inequities. Furthermore, being in the field right away and working on all these projects in the community has given me more confidence. What were once unfamiliar settings are now places that I have gotten to know well, places in which I now feel comfortable.

Like my colleagues, I will be able to apply many of the lessons, skills, and experiences I have had as a Lerner Fellow to my professional career. The Center provides future public health professionals the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and achieve more every single day. This fellowship has shaped me into the type of person who doesn’t just go into a community thinking that I know what is best for them, but rather the person who listens to and learns from the community ways that we can work together to empower community members to make healthful changes in their lives.

Read more about the Lerner Center’s work over the past five years: