Faculty Spotlight, Dr. Titilola Balogun, Public Health Program
Dr. Titilola Balogun, MBBS, MPH, DrPH, is the Assistant Director of Public Health Practice for the Graduate Programs in Public Health in the College of Graduate and Professional Studies here at the University of New England. In this post, Dr. Balogun talks about her role in the program, how she supports our students, and what skills she feels are most important for a public health career.
Can you tell me a little about your background and what drew you to UNE Online?
I started my career as a medical doctor, practicing clinical medicine. While I was working in a hospital in Nigeria, I began to notice a trend in my patients, who were primarily children. I would treat the children, they would get well, go back home, and then come back a few months later with exactly the same ailments that they were admitted for the first time.
I began to realize that the problem had more to do with the community as a whole, not just isolated incidents with the child themselves. I began to think about what bigger picture things I could do to create interventions within the community.
Realizing that I could effect change on a larger scale through a public health intervention was what drew me to public health.
I chose to go to school in Houston, Texas to learn about public health. While I was there, I earned two degrees, first my MPH and then I went on to earn my DrPH. While I was in Houston, I happened to work with a practicum office at the University of Texas, Texas School of Public Health in Houston. That was my first exposure to coordinating practicums. I worked with students on six different campuses across the State of Texas, helping them coordinate their practicum placements and practical coursework. When I saw the opening for a Practicum Coordinator here at UNE Online, I felt that the opportunity aligned perfectly with my interests and career goals – so here I am!
What is your role in the Graduate Programs in Public Health at UNE Online?
Primarily, my role at UNE Online is to organize and facilitate the planning component of the practice experience (also known as the APE/Applied Practice Experience or the Practicum) in a student’s curriculum.
The practice experience is a requirement for graduation, so my role is multiple. First, I support the students by giving them guidance and creating a curriculum that aligns with the requirements of CEPH, the accrediting body for the public health program. Second, I support the preceptors in the field as they work with our students, and three, to provide feedback to UNE Online’s Graduate Programs in Public Health on how we can improve the entire practicum planning process.
How do you support students?
I provide students with guidance on what qualifies as a good practice experience site. I also give them guidance on how to select projects that will help them meet the requirements for either the Practicum or the Applied Practice Experience. If there is any legal affiliation between UNE and the site, I facilitate that relationship by working with the University of New England contract administrators to ensure that the proper legal processes are in place before a student starts their work. In addition, I also teach the Applied Practice Experience course, as well as some selected elective courses.
In your teaching, how do you foster a sense of community among your online students?
Any student that has taken any of my classes will tell you that I am very active in the discussion boards. Each week, students are required to post an initial discussion post and then an in-depth response to a co-learner’s discussion post. Once they have the chance to do that, I jump in and keep the discussion moving. I find that it makes the class more engaging, so I make sure that I am there and present in the discussion board, active with the students. I really enjoy seeing how the discussion is going, giving my two cents, and just making the experience come alive. I also provide prompt responses to their emails, which I believe makes students feel heard.
How do you feel that you prepare your students for life after graduation?
As much as possible, I try to connect the assignments and concepts for each assignment to real-life applications or situations. I make it a point to make the connection between the reason we are doing this assignment and the real-life application because when you put it in perspective like that, it’s easier to make academic connections, and students more readily understand why they have to put so much work into learning concepts.
Especially for courses that have a deliverable like a final report or product, I encourage students to do excellent work and keep a file or folder of all of the projects that they create in their classes. When they compile these projects into a portfolio that they can use, it serves multiple purposes.
First, building a professional portfolio builds confidence. There’s a sense of accomplishment that you get when you’re able to look over your projects and feel proud that you were able to do all of this. Having a portfolio is also a great tool to demonstrate the skills and the knowledge that they have acquired through their courses and practical experiences.
When students and graduates go to apply for jobs, it’s also something that they can use and present to their potential employers and show examples of projects they’d done, and some examples of some skill sets that they have gained. So that’s another way that I encourage them to take all of their assignments seriously, and not just do them to check the boxes.
What are the most useful, applicable, and fundamental skills to develop early on in a public health career?
I would say, number one, writing! There is a lot of communication involved in public health. You must be able to communicate to different audiences, so you need to be able to modify your approach to in a way that resonates with widely different audiences.
Let’s say, for example, you have a report on the measles outbreak. The language that you would use to communicate the contents of this report to the general public would be different from the technical language you would use to communicate to the public health community or the formal way you would deliver a report in an academic atmosphere. And if you need to communicate to legislators, let’s say you need some grant funding for a new public health intervention, there is a lingo that the policymakers and legislators understand. You need to learn to speak different languages to different audiences. It’s the same concept but communicated in different ways to different people.
In order to be successful in graduate school and the Graduate Programs in Public Health in particular, you need to be able to demonstrate that you understand the concepts. Scholarly writing at the graduate level is formal and requires correct grammar and context. It is important for you as a public health professional to be able to write for an advanced or professional audience, and scholarly writing helps prepare you for that eventuality.
The more you read scholarly writing, the better you will get at writing in that style. If you spend all of your time reading blogs and social media, that’s fine. But if you want to improve your writing, read material that is on the level of what you want your writing to look like and to sound like. If you read research papers or other scholarly articles, you are more likely to begin to think and write at that level.
What do you like best about working with UNE Online students?
I like the diversity among our students, and I love engaging with my students on the discussion boards. I find it so interesting to see the different perspectives that people bring from different parts of the country and the world. It is great to see everyone come at one question from different perspectives. Sometimes when I’m grading I come across a point of view that I’d never considered before. I find that so exciting – and so unique to an online class. It’s not like an in-person class where everyone lives in the same geographic area and everyone speaks in terms of what’s local and what we all know. Online, people bring in their perspectives from all over the place, all in one classroom.
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