Faculty, staff, students and community members gathered in the Health Pavilion on Friday, April 5 to celebrate Public Health Week. According to the American Public Health Association, Public Health Week is observed across the United States on the first week of April. Communities come together in order to highlight public health issues that are important to the improvements of their environment. Public Health Week is also a time to recognize the efforts of public health professionals.

Indiana State Health Commissioner, Kristina Box and CDC Foundation CEO and President Judith Monroe exchanged dialogue during the event with students about the importance of public health on campus not only just in the southern Indianapolis community, but also on a global scale.

Box has been Indiana’s State Health Commissioner for almost two years and leads approximately 900 individuals in promoting and protecting Hoosier health. According to Box, she is involved in everything health related, from food safety to vaccinations.

“Public Health Week is about raising awareness for everyone’s public health,” Box said. “In a state where we are No. 8 for smoking, No. 12 for obesity and heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women. We need to be engaging and reaching out to more and more people, especially the excited younger population at places such as the University of Indianapolis.”

Monroe has overseen the CDC Foundation as President and CEO for over three years. Prior to this position, Monroe served as the State Health Commissioner of Indiana from 2005 to 2010, and CDC deputy on a state and national level between 2010 and 2016. According to Monroe, being attentive and supporting health officers has been constructive on both sides.

“It is always very hard to turn down an invitation to speak in Indiana, and even harder to turn down an Indiana State Health Officer [Box],” Monroe said. “UIndy is in a peculiar location and has strong partnerships with its community… I was curious to see the progress that has been made here in person, on the ground.”

According to Box, his role as the keynote speaker in the event was to set the tone for the day and to stress the fact that healthcare is only a small part of health. Box said that other components of health that she has spoken on include socioeconomic health, geographical health, opportunity and more.

Enrollment Counselor Michelle Ferguson runs a booth in the Health Pavillion during Public Health Week. Ferguson helps provide information on being involved in public health after college, such as Doctor of Health Science programs, and masters in public health. Photo by Shane Phillips

“Life is hard to enjoy without our health,” Box said. “Indiana’s biggest health challenges and emerging threats, like Hepatitis A, are at the forefront of public health, but it is much more than just disease and illness.”

According to Box, a college education is more than just a degree, it is about broadening horizons and learning about how the world works in order to develop a perspective. As public health week continued, Box said that it is important to think about how each of us can use our education to help improve the communities we are a part of in terms of its public health.

Both Monroe and Box expressed that inspiring students to volunteer time or to dedicate their lives to health related issues is not always easy. According to Monroe and Box, if just one student is inspired at each event they are able to speak at, then they have succeeded.

“I hope that each and every student is able to learn a little bit about public health along their journey of world discovery,” Box said. “I adore meeting with youth, and now has never been a better time to make an impact.”

Getting the opportunity to attend events like these where important and pressing topics are being discussed between college students who will go on to shape their field of study and workforce is a privilege, according to Box.

“I practiced as an obstetrician gynecologist for over 30 years on the Northeast side of Indianapolis,” Box said. “But it wasn’t until I decided that I was going to make a point of getting engaged in some of these socioeconomic things that were impacting my patients that I first got exposed to what public health was all about.”

Box encouraged students to look into health-related majors and courses because new careers in the public health field are constantly emerging. For students who have an interest in public health but may be on a different career path, UIndy also offers a Healthy Diploma distinction that students can apply for in order to get more involved in the public health community.

Monroe congratulated the students and staff attending the event for their enthusiastic question and answer session that proceeded after her remarks. According to Monroe, her main message to the students was to think big.

“There are a lot of big issues to tackle out in the world today,” Monroe said.  “So do something that is larger than yourself and you will be a much happier and, in turn, healthier person.”