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Rising Stars: Counseling Students for International Public Health

By Hannah Waight

As an education officer at the Harvard Initiative for Global Health, Catherine's work in helping students to find jobs and internships in global health as well as raising awareness of global health issues through on-campus events is, according to her, "the perfect blend of my international background and academic interest in public health."

Name: Catherine Rosseel
School: Colgate
Major: Latin American Studies
Years Out of College: 10+
Title: Education Officer
Company: Harvard Initiative for Global Health?
First Steps

Catherine attended Colgate University, where she majored in Latin American Studies. During her college years, she studied abroad twice-once in Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala, where she focused on social justice issues, and another time in Santa Fe, concentrating in Native American studies. It was during these experiences that Catherine's interest in health began to develop.

Catherine says: "My love for Latin America was solidified by my study abroad experience, and since it was a social justice-oriented program, there was no way that I could not make the link between social determinates like poverty and gender inequities and how [they] relate to health outcomes."

From Then to Now

Catherine's study abroad experiences led to a career in international education and, eventually, global health. After several jobs at different schools, she has found her home in Harvard's global health community, where she spends each day collaborating with other departments on new global health programs, meeting with enthusiastic students, and planning exciting campus events.

Challenges Faced

With interest in global health so high, Catherine says it's a (good) challenge to help every student who comes to her. However, despite presenting her with her biggest challenge, the students also provide Catherine with her biggest reward.

Catherine has this to say about her passionate students: "I'm energized from my work with them. The way they dive head first into problem solving, the entrepreneurial spirit they possess when they start their own NGO, their determination to make a difference in global health-they inspire me-period."

My Experience

About a typical day in her job, Catherine says, "I collaborate with other Harvard departments on new global health programs, I meet with students one-on-one about summer internships and research opportunities, and I plan campus events such as global health seminars and career fairs to energize and engage the student community."

Next Steps

Catherine says that if she were to go to grad school, it would be to get a master's in health communications. She has always been interested in how popular culture and TV influence people's behavior, especially with regard to their health. She says, "Years ago, I read about a research project at the Harvard School of Public Health where they had launched a social marketing campaign to reduce the mortality rates from drunk driving."

"They imported the concept of a 'designated driver' from Sweden. I thought their marketing strategy was brilliant-introducing the concept into the story lines of popular TV shows, running PSA ads with famous sports players and musicians and working with groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to change policy. I contacted [the head of the program] and had an inspiring conversation with him. I eventually took a public health course called 'Mass Communications and Public Health,' which was looking at these types of campaigns, with a particular focus on tobacco. I also took another graduate course on 'The Art and Skill of Persuasion' which was looking at what factors influence change."

Advice for Others

Catherine is emphatic in her assertion that global health is a hot topic right now: "I think in large part due to the public face of AIDS, global health is an area that is exploding all around the nation's campuses. Many universities, such as Yale, John Hopkins, and others, have global health institutes and are starting new joint degree programs where undergrads can graduate in five years with a BA and a master's in global health. Beyond formal training programs, there are endless opportunities to get involved with NGOs and gain an international perspective."

She encourages young people to watch Rx for Survival, a PBS special series on global health: "It's a great series that shows the many different ways one can make a difference in global health. Whether you're a physician, engineer, film maker, business person, there is a place at the table for you."

As an education officer, Catherine recommends that students get real-life experience before grad school, as experience in the field will make their studies more interesting. A year of world travel and volunteering can make all the difference: a first-hand experience in South Africa, for example, might make studying the AIDS virus more relevant.

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