How do Future Public Health Leaders Think About Today’s Challenges?

PHX Perspectives | September 25th, 2019

Over the past few years we’ve seen more and more young people engaging in social and health related conversations on the local, national, and global level. Not only does youth engagement positively impact the community, but it helps young people develop leadership skills and self-esteem (HHS). The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health’s Framing the Future Initiative has prioritized teaching public health in K-12 because they believe “connect[ing] the many factors that impact health and wellness could assist efforts in developing an educated citizenry and attracting students to careers in public health,” (ASPPH). As population health education continues to evolve, the Population Health Exchange also evolves to provide resources for young people to explore current public health issues and future careers.

The PopHealthExperience was designed to introduce 7th-10th graders to the many ways public health impacts their lives. During the week-long program, BUSPH faculty discussed topics such as noise pollution and obesity and students practiced analyzing and presenting health data. Nick, a 9th grade student at Lexington High School, said that he enjoyed the PopHealthExperience because he “made a lot of friends and learned a lot about public health and epidemiology”. Divya, a 7th grade student at E W Thurston Middle School, also mentioned that from the program she learned about the different aspects of public health. However, the biggest take away was not what they learned in one week, but that they wanted to learn more. This begs the question, what do our future public health leaders think about current health challenges?

We explored this question by tasking PopHealthExperience students to present on a public health issue of their choice for faculty, peers, and family members. The project challenged students to really think about what is important to them and brainstorm what can be done about it. As is common in the field of public health, students worked in teams to put together thought-out and researched presentations. In order to do this, students were taught how to find information from reputable sources such as the Boston Public Health Commission, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. Our students went above and beyond by creating their own graphs on both Microsoft Excel and SAS JMP® using the data they found. Divya mentioned that learning to use JMP was one of the most useful skills she learned “because it helps see a lot of data in a simple graph or chart”. By the end of the week, students put together a presentation demonstrating their findings and unique solutions in the form of a public health program or policy.

During the two sessions, students selected topics for this project that included: vaping, antimicrobial resistance, mental health in unhoused populations, mental health in incarcerated populations, binge drinking and liquor store density, vaccinations, and air quality in China. Divya said she really enjoyed being able to pick her project topic, “to reflect what problems in the world [she] would like to solve”. Her group decided to research air pollution in China by comparing two cities with large differences in air quality and health outcomes. They proposed using hydroelectric power to reduce emissions from coal burning with the goal of improving air quality. Alternatively, Nick’s group looked at vaping in teenagers. While researching this topic, his group got to discuss the advertisement of vaping products to teens. His group recommended stricter policies to reduce the number of teenagers that can buy vaping products. It was fascinating to see what topics the students chose, especially considering that a majority of students knew very little about public health before the program.

As we got to know the students, we were able to understand what issues they are passionate about and their goals for the future. The first day of each session we asked each student what they wanted to be when they grow up. Their answers ranged from Congresswoman to medical doctor. Although their career goals vary, both Divya, Nick and many other students expressed a desire help people in need—an essential for public health professionals.


Teach & Research. (2019, August). Retrieved from

Framing the Future. (2019, August). Retrieved from

Principles for Youth Engagement. (2019, February). Retrieved from

The PHX Perspectives blog is a platform that creates an opportunity to share public health stories and viewpoints. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be 600-800 words long, should contact Population Health Exchange reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Population Health Exchange or Boston University School of Public Health.