This year’s APHA conference shines a light on FIU’s silent heroes

Doctoral public health student Deidre Okeke presents her research at the Atlanta, Georgia's American Public Health Association conference. | Via Deidre Okeke

Alba Rosa | Assistant News Director

Several doctoral students under the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work represented their findings, demonstrating FIU’s excellence in the field at the annual American Public Health Association conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in early November, which received around 13,000 visitors.

Public health, according to the APHA, is the science-based practice that “promotes and protects the health of all people and their communities.” Not to be confused with the medical field, which treats illnesses rather than prevent them.

The doctoral students credit the field as a “silent hero,” especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when researchers scrambled to contain the virus. Even now, the threat continues to prey on humans and is responsible for the deaths of over one million people this year.

Among those students, Deidre Okeke presented her research on depressive symptomology in the Hispanic population and how they use social media and expressed her excitement to be able to share her findings with colleagues and the curious. 

“I love connecting with people,” she chirped. “We can’t keep our science to ourselves.”

The results yielded from this research dove into a person’s “locus of control,” which relates to the individual’s perception of their events, whether external or led by an outside influence, or internal, which is explained by their actions. Those with an external locus of control were more likely to be impacted by the negativity of social media and, in turn, became depressed.

Micaela Lembo, an epidemiology doctoral student and friend of Okeke, was not funded by the public health school and yet found herself inclined to attend the APHA conference, as it was a “great networking experience.” She encouraged students to attend more conferences to connect with experts in their field of choice and learn more about their opportunities.

“Attending the conference is just as meaningful,” said Lembo. 

Towards the last day of the conference, the newly-elected “untraditional” president of the APHA, Ella Greene-Moton, delivered a final speech about the importance of improving the public health sector to meet the needs of the 21st century. In the APHA’s 150-year history, she’s the first president to not own a degree. She gained experience in public health through the grassroots movement in Mississippi Delta, where she’s from.

Her goals for her presidency are to “strengthen the public health workforce, increase alignment, and continue to push for a deeper dive to unmask the institutional, structural, and systemic racism.”

And, instead of investors focusing on new and innovative ways to practice public health, Greene-Moton recommends a long-term funding process. 

“In many communities, we have programs that we initiate, and when the funding is gone, that program leaves, and, for us, the program is working,” she says.

Public health doctoral students like Okeke and Lembo accentuated the importance of these funds as well – their practice is attainable and helpful if they are financially supported to do their research. 

Okeke implied if student organizations can be considered valuable and culturally competent, they should be treated as such.

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