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Students presented their ideas to administrators across various university services.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

On Tuesday evening, students in Foundations of Public Health (HSOC 251) gathered to share their research and recommended solutions for Penn students’ health concerns at Penn’s first Public Health Undergraduate Symposium.

After conducting interviews with 150 Penn students, the class analyzed their findings to identify the top eight health concerns of Penn students, which included healthy eating, sleep hygiene, safety and violence and drug awareness among others.

Groups of students researched their assigned issue in depth and created policy proposals. At the symposium, the students presented their work to an audience of their classmates and Penn administrators, including Student Health Service Executive Director Giang Nguyen, Counseling and Psychological Services Director Bill Alexander and Division of Public Safety Director of Operations and External Affairs Kathleen Shields Anderson.

“I wanted to come up with an assignment that would give [the students] a chance to take ideas … and share them with people who can act on them,”  said Rosemary Frasso, the professor who teaches Foundations of Public Health and organized the symposium.

Students were proud to share their findings with campus administrators at the Symposium. 

“I think a lot of the problems that [we] are working on will lead to actual change on campus,” College sophomore Zoe Weissberg said.

Two of the student groups focused on mental health, reflecting increased campus awareness. The students suggested changes such as online CAPS appointment scheduling, a mental health text hotline, more group therapy sessions and a more positive school environment.

Both mental health groups discussed their ideas with  Alexander, the CAPS director, after their presentations.

“[The students’ recommendations] are varied and innovative and come straight from the heart of the student body,” Alexander said. “They did their homework.”

Alexander added that CAPS agrees with and has considered all of the ideas the students proposed. CAPS is working on the technology necessary to make online booking possible and hopes to have it available in the future.

“It’s great for students to get the sense that they are heard … it would be silly in a class like this, about public health and keeping people healthy, to ignore some of the challenges we face here on campus,” Frasso said.

Other groups that focused on physical health emphasized the advantages of increased marketing and education campaigns, along with the need for increased use of technology. The students who focused on increasing access to SHS, for example, recommended increased SHS marketing to make students more aware of the available services along with a larger web presence through the use of apps like Penn Mobile.

Other recommendations included “nap spots” on campus to help improve sleep hygiene, improved outdoor lighting at night to alleviate safety and violence concerns and setting aside time in the weight room of the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center for beginners to make the gym feel less intimidating.

“Something all the groups emphasized was a need for an increased dialogue and awareness of these health issues and the services Penn provides,” College junior Alison Elliott said. “Getting that dialogue started … was really important.”

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