Engaging public health beyond the classroom: Kofi Addo (EJB 2017)

August 17, 2016

Kofi Addo’s formative years growing up with extended family in Ghana helped shape his interest in how societal and environmental factors play fundamental roles in shaping the health outcomes of individuals.

A self-described bibliophile born in Morristown, NJ who finds solace in reading when life becomes hectic, Kofi spent the summer as an intern in the highly selective Project Imhotep internship program. Sponsored through a cooperative agreement between Morehouse College and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the program provides to training future public health leaders in epidemiology, bio-statistics, and occupational safety and health through knowledge enhancement and mentored research, while also helping students gain valuable experience in conducting public health research with key personnel from state, local, and federal government agencies as well as non-governmental agencies and academic institutions.

“There are so many things I’ve learned about myself and public health,” he said about the program. “In the first few weeks my mentors really made me feel like a part of the team.” Following an intensive two-week public health training at Morehouse College where the program is based, and a three-day CDC orientation which brought all the CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (CUPS) together, Kofi was placed at the Department of Health Promotion and Worksite Wellness at the Cincinnati Health Department. “Some internships just assign interns banal tasks. On a daily basis, I have been reviewing community health development plans to see what can be done to improve them. I converted survey responses we collect from the community from qualitative into quantitative data. In addition to working with data, I also explored social determinants of health and health indicators among minorities in some Cincinnati communities.”

He has also been a part of the department’s Creating Healthy Communities Coalition which aims to promote tobacco cessation, healthy eating, and encourage physical activity. At the end of his internship, he presented his work in Atlanta and submitted a report.

ado-posterReturning to New Jersey from Ghana at age 16 to attend high school, Kofi admits he initially turned up his nose at Rutgers, thinking it was too big and too close to home.  A guidance counselor convinced him to apply and he has since found his niche as an orientation leader with the university’s New Student Orientation and Family Programs, representing the university both on and off-campus as a Scarlet Ambassador, and coaching students as a writing tutor with the Livingston Writing Center.I have enjoyed the high and lows of being at Rutgers. Every year has brought new experiences and challenges,” he said.

“Being an orientation leader allowed me to hone my leadership, communication, and service skills, which have been instrumental to my success as a Scarlet Ambassador and Tutor. I take lessons from each position to shape how I fulfill the next role I occupy. This fall, I am going to be a Resident Assistant and a Peer Instructor with the First-year Interest Group Seminars (FIGS). I am looking forward to both because my they will be sort of be the icing on the cake of my Rutgers story.  In essence, finding meaning in these roles gives meaning to my experiences as a Rutgers student. They make me happy.”

Approximately 70 students were selected for this year’s Project Imhotep and the Public Health Leader Fellowship Programs (PHLFP), the latter is new program designed to prepare underrepresented minority students for entry into graduate programs at schools of public health, allied, and biomedical sciences.  “My Dad’s colleague suggested that I check out the Pathways to Science website when I began the process of finding an internship. A more detailed search led to the CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program. I applied because I saw it as a good opportunity to explore my independence while learning a lot about public health and the way the world works.”

He noted that growing up in Ghana taught him the importance of not taking anything for granted, as well as recognizing the value of education. He and his three sisters were raised by his single father, an associate professor of African Studies and Religious Studies at Drew University. His aunt has also been a consistent presence in his life.Although my Dad is a single parent I am surrounded by a village of people who have raised me to be the person I am today,” he said. “The adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is very much a reality in Ghana. That is what fuels my desire to succeed and make everyone proud.”

As part of their major requirements, students in Bloustein School complete a 6-credit internships; while he considered using the Project Imhotep experience toward that goal, he decided he could gain more professional experience from another internship opportunity during the school year. He will be completing that requirement in the spring of 2017.

Kofi plans to apply to graduate schools in the fall, working toward his MPH and eventually a PhD. Initially unsure of the path he wanted to take in public health, guidance from faculty members Dr. Mark Robson (Issues in Environmental Health) and Dr. Alexandra Lopez (Drugs, Culture, and Society) helped shape his direction. “I finally settled on Behavioral Science and Health Education because I am interested in how society and human behavior shapes outcomes. My minor is in health and society so it is a good fit. It will also help me hone my knowledge about the role the above mentioned factors play in health disparities.”

“I attribute my interest in health disparities to my experiences growing up in Ghana. I want to figure out what my place is in public health and how can I create a seat at the table for myself and other people of color,” he said. “I also want to be capable of developing thought provoking questions about how to push the envelope in healthcare, develop cultural competency, and exhibit cultural humility.”

His advice to students considering the public health major at the Bloustein School: “Try to engage with the material beyond the classroom. Public health is very broad. It permeates all areas of our lives. So even if you want to be a lawyer, doctor, or something you consider far removed from public health, you can find your way back to the field in some capacity.”


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