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Spotlight On Students
Dr. Dena Simmons received her Doctorate in Health Education from the Program in Health Education within the Department of Health and Behavior Studies in May 2014. Dr. Simmons was selected as the Outstanding Year 2014 Doctoral Graduate of the Program in Health Education, Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Simmons was honored for her brilliance, compassion, commitment, professionalism and global service to the health education profession.
Reflecting her first career as a middle school teacher in her native Bronx, New York, Dr. Simmons’ doctoral dissertation research focused on the topic of teacher preparedness to handle Reflecting her regional, national and global impact, Dr. Simmons has an impressive record of early career accomplishments, including invited talks, teaching on the graduate level, leading workshops, and publications, as well as the following: 2013 Phillips Exeter Academy Dissertation Fellow; April 2013 TEDx talk; September 2012 TEDx talk; 2012 profile and in-depth interview focusing on her teaching and research in the AOL/PBS project called MAKERS: Women Who Make America; 2010 Education Pioneer Fellow; 2010 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow; 2009 profile focusing on her teaching and activism in a Beacon Press Book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists; 2007 collaborator with the Directorate of Gender Affairs in Antigua, working to provide better health services for Dominican sex workers; 2006-2005 Fulbright Fellow studying the collaboration between schools and health agencies to prevent teen pregnancy in the Dominican Republic; and, a 2004 Harry S. Truman Scholar.
Finally, suggestive of the great things Dr. Dena Simmons is as yet destined to accomplish in life, she is now the Associate Director of RULER (i.e. an approach to social and emotional learning) at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
OUTSTANDING M.S. STUDENT FOR THE YEAR 2016
Stephane Labossiere aspires to become a public health professional in the areas of chronic disease prevention, global health and aging. He was selected in the summer of 2014 from among 1,300 applicants to be one of the 47 Columbia Public Health Scholars funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He aspires to achieve the following long term goals: (1) build a Community Health Center in Haiti; (2) build Haiti’s first school of public health; (3) advance the field of global health through research, practice, and promotion; and (4) start a scholarship fund for students in Haiti and in the United States—which would allow deserving students to study and serve in impoverished communities and countries in the areas of public health or medicine. As an undergraduate and graduate student, Stephane has won over 15 scholarships, including one from the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE). He has completed internships with the United Nations, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York University School of Medicine, The American Federation for Aging Research, and most recently, he worked as a Clinton Health Matters Initiative Intern at the Clinton Foundation. For the summer of 2016, Stephane will start his Pre-M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, where he hopes to aquire the essential business skills for his work as a future CEO of a community health center. Stephane will receive his M.S. degree in community health education from Teachers College, Columbia University in May 2016. At the completion of
his Pre-M.B.A., Stephane hopes to work for a healthcare center in New York City. Additionally, he is currently applying for the Fulbright Research Scholarship in order to conduct research in chronic diseases within older adults in the U.K. at the University of Oxford before applying for his Ph.D. studies to begin in the Fall of 2018.
OUTSTANDING M.S. STUDENT FOR THE YEAR 2016
Haley Nelson is an Atlanta native and film production graduate from the University of Southern California, Haley came to Teachers College in 2014, after completing a two-year fellowship with Teach For China. Once at Teachers College, Professor Charles Basch recruited Haley to join the Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative of the Children’s Health Fund, providing support to the Program Director and a team of three school health coordinators across three public elementary schools in New York City. With a full-time school health coordinator and mental health clinician in each school, the pilot program works with school staff and families to identify and address common health barriers (i.e., vision, dental, hearing, asthma, hunger, fatigue, and emotional/behavioral health) to learning and academic achievement.
Haley will receive her Master of Science degree in Community Heath Education in May 2016, and expects to receive her CHES (Certified Health Education Specialist) certification shortly thereafter. For post-graduation, Hale accepted a manager-level position with the New York City Department of Education to work in academic policy development, implementation, and guidance in all K-12 schools. Her new team was particularly interested in her background in school health, and her role will, in part, involve providing leadership on the wellness-oriented aspects of their school policy work, as well as with regard to coordinating activities with the Office of School Health. With plans to eventually pursue a doctoral degree in the intersection of public health, education, and public policy, Haley is excited to gain new perspectives on school wellness policies as they interact with other measures of success and accountability for school leadership. She envisions continuing to advocate for student health as a necessary precursor to student success in educational settings.
OUTSTANDING M.S. STUDENT FOR THE YEAR 2015
Choumika Simonis received her M.S. degree in Community Health Education from the Programs in Health Education and Community Health Education, Department of Health and Behavior Studies in May 2015. Thereafter, Choumika was selected as the Community School Director (CSD) for the Raising Educational Achievement Coalition of Harlem (REACH) Program at Teachers College. REACH seeks to improve students’ educational outcomes through a community school model. As a CSD, she works at an elementary school in Harlem, New York to provide leadership support and coordination for the development, implementation, monitoring, and refinement of data-driven programming in the areas of physical and mental health, expanded learning time, family engagement, and attendance enhancement. Also, Choumika collaborates with the mental health specialist, parent coordinator, school-based clinic staff, principal, assistant principal, school counselors, social workers, and teachers to help improve student performance and reduce chronic absenteeism among students, and to promote staff wellness. Before coming to Teachers College, Columbia University for her M.S. degree, Choumika earned a BS in Human Biology, Health & Society from Cornell University. Choumika will begin medical school at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in July 2016. She plans to specialize in primary care or infectious diseases.
Noreen Myers-Wright, EdD, CHES, RDH
OUTSTANDING DOCTORAL STUDENT FOR THE YEAR 2015
Dr. Noreen Myers-Wright is a health educator and dental hygienist who serves as program director for oral health at the College of Dental Medicine for Project STAY, a comprehensive medical care organization for young adults at risk for and living with HIV. She also holds a position as Program Coordinator, Department of Health Policy & Management, Mailman School of Public Health. Her work includes program development for the integration of oral health in health promotion information for populations living with diabetes. Her doctoral dissertation research examined the perceived barriers and facilitators to oral health care for young adults living with HIV. Dr. Myers-Wright has extensive experience in clinical dental hygiene and training dental and medical professionals in her own areas of expertise: i.e., brief tobacco cessation counseling, oral health education for older adults in long-term care nursing facilities, and oral health and nutrition for young adults living with HIV. Dr. Myers-Wright has been a board member of the Dental Hygienists’ Association of the State of New York since 2012, and serves on the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene’s Oral Health Task force, while also sharing her expertise to develop an oral health education and disease prevention program for use in New York City school based health centers.
Alexandra DeSorbo-Quinn, EdD
OUTSTANDING DOCTORAL STUDENT FOR THE YEAR 2016
Dr. Alexandra DeSorbo-Quinn is the Executive Director of Pilot Light, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that partners teachers and chefs to educate children about food and making healthier choices through everyday classroom subjects like math, science, and social studies. She is responsible for leading development of Pilot Light’s vision and strategic goals. Alex began her career at Harlem Hospital in New York City, where she was engaged in public health education for urban, underserved communities. Recognizing the power of the creative arts to reach people, she began to develop and implement public health programming that harnessed music to facilitate healthy behavior change among communities. Alex went on to help found Hip Hop Public Health, a New York City-based nonprofit that uses hip hop music and multimedia focused on health to educate and engage children and their families, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors. She has also served as a member of the faculty at Columbia University’s Neurological Institute, where she managed two federally-funded community-based studies. In 2014, she was recognized by the Society for Public Health Education as one of 30 Under 30 in Health Education and in 2015 she received the Society’s Oberteuffer Scholarship, which recognizes a doctoral student in health education whose work promises to advance the health of children and youth. Alex is a graduate of Bryn Mawr. Adding to her MPH with a concentration in epidemiology from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, she earned her doctorate in health education from Teachers College, Columbia University in May 2016. Her outstanding dissertation research developed and validated stroke literacy and action measures for pre-adolescent children.
TAKING ACTION FOR SCHOOL HEALTH
My master’s project was entitled: “My Plate: Making food choices for your family.” This school health project involved designing and hosting the first-ever Family Nutrition Education Event held at The School at Columbia University by the Parents Association. The planning involved over three months of careful planning and meaningful collaboration.
The event brought together Nutrition Educators and Health Educators from Teachers College, Columbia University’s Program in Health Education (i.e. see Alicia Chung and myself, Kara Siegel—the two at the far left in the above photo), as well as parents and middle school students from The School at Columbia University. The event provided active learning experiences for parents and children in the primary division at The School at Columbia University.
Designed as a parent-child activity, event participants visited food group stations, based on the USDA’s “My Plate,” learning about the variety of foods in each group as well as portion size. They also learned about the health benefits of selecting more fruit and vegetables, as well as strategies to build a balanced meal following “My Plate.”
Most importantly, event participants were required to try every sample food available for tasting. Food was prepared by parents at The School, as well as donated by a few local businesses and The School at Columbia University’s food service provider, FLIK.
After visiting the food group stations and using everything they learned about My Plate, event participants then created their own virtual meals with arts and crafts.
As the photographs suggest, the event was a big success. Moreover, my master’s project allowed me to put what I learned through my education at Teachers College in the Program in Health Education into action—in a real world setting! The comments of parents, teachers and students all affirmed the value of the school health project, as well.
My vision is for schools around the city and nation to follow the model we created, allowing “My Plate” and the goal of selecting more fruit and vegetables to become a real life, tangible experience; perhaps, one that transforms lives and results in ongoing behavior change, as well as healthier children, parents, families, and schools.