Meet the 2016-2017 NACCHO Health and Disability Fellows

2016-17 NACCHO Health & Disability Fellows,  Evelyn Arana and Tara Lutz

The NACCHO Health and Disability program is thrilled to introduce its 2016-17 fellows. NACCHO’s Health and Disability Fellowship is an invaluable opportunity for undergraduate and/or graduate students pursing degrees in public health to receive hands on experience in the health and disability field. The fellowship includes providing support to local health departments (LHDs) through NACCHO’s Health and Disability Technical Assistance Program; expanding written and oral communication skill; and participating in networking opportunities with leaders in the health and disability field.

This year’s fellows, Evelyn Arana and Tara Lutz, come with impressive public health backgrounds. NACCHO Health and Disability Program Analyst, Sara Lyons, took some time to interview both Evelyn and Tara to get their perspective on why they decided to become NACCHO fellows and what they hope to gain from the experience.

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Sara Lyons: Tell us a little about yourselves.

Evelyn Arana: I’m a DrPH candidate in Community Health & Prevention at Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health. I’ll be graduating in June 2017. I was born and raised in West New York, NJ. My main hobby is salsa dancing, mostly Cuban style. I used to perform in my mid 20’s at different venues in NYC, once internationally in Abu Dhabi, and several times domestically in the US. I don’t perform anymore, but I still dance as much as I can!

Tara Lutz: I am a Ph.D. candidate in public health at the University of Connecticut (UConn). I have my MPH and am CHES-certified. Currently, I am also a LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Disabilities Program) fellow with UConn LEND. I am on track to graduate with my Ph.D. in public health this May (2017). My hometown is Cromwell, CT. In my free time I love watching the Red Sox and New York Giants. I also love going to the beach because my favorite movie of all time is the Little Mermaid, and since I was a child I have firmly believed that I will be a mermaid someday.

SL:    How did you become interested in the health and disability field?

EA: After completing a summer internship at the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services in 2013, I developed a passion for health services research for people with disabilities. During the internship, I was exposed to disparities that existed in breast cancer screening among women with intellectual disabilities. It was this experience that led to my current research interests today.

TL: I have always been interested in health and disability, but it wasn’t until I started my MPH training that I gained the language to describe it. I expressed personal experiences with disability to a mentor in my program and they connected me with an opportunity at the UConn University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). The rest is history.

SL:  What are your specific areas of interest in the health and disability field?

EA: I am interested in working towards eliminating cancer disparities among people with disabilities. Currently for my dissertation, I am researching disparities in breast cancer screening among women with intellectual disabilities. I hope to leverage my dissertation experience to tackle cancer disparities at the screening, diagnosis, and treatment level for all people with disabilities.

TL: In general, I am very interested in overall health promotion and developmental disability. More specifically, I hope to focus my career on sexual health promotion and autism spectrum disorder.

SL: What are you most excited to learn about when it comes to local health departments and public health in general?

EA: I am eager to explore how LHDs prevent illnesses, promote health, and protect their communities. More specifically, I am interested in the partnerships that LHDs forge with local community based organizations or local agencies that aim to preserve the public’s health and welfare.

TL: I am very excited to learn about resources specifically designed for local health to empower the disability community. During my time with NACCHO, I also hope to get more familiar with the role of LHDs in planning and emergency preparedness. Finally, I am looking forward to engaging directly with local health officials to better understand what they need to make their programs and initiatives more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities

SL: What do you hope to accomplish during your time as a NACCHO fellow?

EA: I hope to get practical insight in health promotion as it relates to supporting the disability community. In particular, I want to become more aware of how LHDs are helping overcome barriers experienced by people with disabilities and addressing their day-to-day health needs.

TL: I want to gain concrete experience working with LHDs as I feel it is a critical piece of becoming an informed health practitioner in the future. Exposure to local public health is important to me since individuals in this field directly serve persons with disabilities and are therefore afforded the opportunity to make a profound impact in advancing their health outcomes and overall quality of life.

SL: What are your career goals upon completion of the fellowship?

EA: I plan to become an independent health services researcher to improve healthcare quality and health outcomes for people with disabilities. Ultimately, I want to collaborate with various stakeholders to create and expand community programs that aim to improve access to, and the quality of cancer screening for vulnerable populations.

TL: After this fellowship, I hope to graduate with my degree and go on to make a meaningful impact in the field of health and disability, particularly in the area of sexual health.

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Since joining the NACCHO Health and Disability program, Evelyn and Tara have already contributed in a number of ways. They have been an integral part of the technical assistance program by providing resources and strategies for LHDs to advance their disability inclusion efforts. They’re also helping to increase awareness and visibility for NACCHO’s Health and Disability program’s by writing blog posts and developing a fact sheet. Recruitment for the 2017-2018 fellowship cohort will start this June.To learn more about the fellowship, visit NACCHO’s Health and Disability program webpage or contact Sara Lyons at slyons@naccho.org.

The NACCHO Health and Disability Fellowship is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cooperative Agreement #5NU38OT000172-04-00 and the Disability and Health program.

About Anastasia Sonneman

Anastasia Sonneman serves as a Communications Specialist at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments’ best practices, as well as partner tools and resources, in environmental health, health and disability, and preparedness through NACCHO’s communications channels, storytelling, and outreach to various audiences.

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