By Katharine Webster
Suparlan Lingga ’17 earned his bachelor’s degree in public health in Indonesia and then spent several years working for nongovernmental organizations.
When he wanted more education, he applied for and won a PRESTASI Scholarship from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to earn a master's degree in public health in the United States.
USAID recommended four universities where Lingga should apply, and he was “very happy” when UMass Lowell accepted him. It was his first choice, because he knew of Massachusetts’ reputation as a center of excellence for health care and education.
Lingga began his studies in fall 2015 – only a year after the Zuckerberg College of Health Science
s launched its master’s in public health (MPH)
. For two years after graduating with a focus on health care management, he worked at the University of North Sumatra and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Now, he coordinates the Indonesian government’s work with UNICEF, implementing a five-year action plan aimed at improving child and maternal health, education and safety.
“I had a great experience at UMass Lowell, with all of the knowledge and experience among students, teachers and staff,” he says.
Since it launched in 2014 with five students, the university’s MPH program has grown steadily, drawing both international and U.S. students, says program coordinator and Assoc. Prof. Leland Ackerson
About one-third of the 92 students enrolled now, either part time or full time, come from overseas, although the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have slowed international applications a bit, Ackerson says.
That should boost international enrollment again by allowing overseas students to start their degrees online and then come to campus when travel restrictions have been lifted, or else complete their degrees at home, including the all-important practicum, Ackerson says.
The university has many partners that are happy to host MPH students for internships, and new partners are added all the time, mostly by students who find their own placements, including overseas, Ackerson says.
International and domestic students say that the hands-on experience they gain through their required, second-year practical experiences is a key part of their education – and prepares them for excellent jobs.
Lingga did his practicum at Lowell Community Health Center, where he learned how to deliver preventive and primary health care to children and families, including low-income families.
“I could see, practically, how U.S. health care services for children and mothers work, and I could bring some of that back to Indonesia,” he says.
Nowadays, many of those practical experiences involve the COVID-19 pandemic. Priyanka Mellacheruvu, a second-year MPH student who earned her medical and surgical degrees in India, hopes to become a doctor in the U.S. She’s studying health care management because she wants to understand how the U.S. health care system works before taking her medical licensing exams.
In her practicum at the Medford Department of Public Health, she helps to educate schools and businesses about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and she works with volunteers to ensure that seniors isolated by the pandemic get needed food, medication and companionship. She’s also helping to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
“This is a really great experience because I get to finish a lot of the projects I started,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to vaccine distribution: I’d like to see whether our planning was good.”
Two 2020 graduates from Karachi, Pakistan – Abdul Hameed
, a Fulbright Scholar who studied health care management, and Chandni Shahdev
, who focused on epidemiology – are already involved in trying to control the pandemic as U.S. government employees.
Hameed’s practicum at a hospital in Derry, N.H., prepared him for a job with the CDC as an infection prevention specialist. He’s based in Minnesota, where he does virtual visits to hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities to make sure they are implementing federal and state COVID-19 guidelines.
She says that experience, combined with her classes in epidemiology, helped her get a job with the CDC Foundation as an occupational epidemiologist. Now, she works as part of a team that contacts managers of businesses that are open to the public, such as retailers, bars, restaurants and fitness centers, to help them stem the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re all working on cases and finding clusters. And whenever we find a cluster, we reach out to the employer,” she says. “Working at the CDC is really great experience for me.”
Gina Bangrazi ’19, of Leominster, Massachusetts, did her undergraduate degree in public health at UML and is in the second year of the MPH health care management track.
Bangrazi says her first-year business classes, including Healthcare Finance, Applied Health Economics, and Operations Analysis and Quality Improvement, will help her become a health care project manager and ultimately a hospital administrator.
“I had never seen a balance sheet before, and if you’re going to work in management, you need to understand a budget,” she says.
For her practicum, she’s interning at the Global Smile Foundation, where she’s doing everything from writing grants to packing suitcases with surgical equipment, medicine and patient education information in three languages. The suitcases accompany doctors and dentists who volunteer for medical missions to El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru and Lebanon, where they repair cleft lips and palettes and provide follow-up care.
Kate Killion, of Westford, Massachusetts, came to UMass Lowell for her MPH because it’s the only university in New England that combines the MPH degree with advanced nutrition classes and 1,200 hours of supervised dietetics
practicums. The practical experiences qualify her to sit for the Registered Dietician Exam.
Killion is currently working with the Waltham School District to help plan, pack and distribute free breakfasts and lunches for students studying at home during the pandemic. She’s also providing individual, advanced nutrition counseling to the university’s ROTC cadets and sports teams.
Next semester, she will work in a health care facility, providing medical nutrition therapy for patients with conditions including diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. After she graduates and becomes a registered dietician, she hopes to work on community nutrition programs and research in a nonprofit, government or academic setting.
“The dietetics program here at UMass Lowell is unique because it emphasizes the public health influences on individual health,” she says. “Even if I’m working one-on-one with a patient, I need to understand food insecurity, housing, transportation and access to grocery stores.”