Public health students recognized for making a world of difference

"As a global health practitioner focused on reducing inequalities, I can make an impact on entire communities and populations," explains Damon Monroe, master of public health student.

Nisa Drozdowski - 10 February 2017

The Alberta Council for Global Cooperation (ACGC) has included School of Public Health students Cerina Lee and Damon Monroe in its 2017 Top 30 Under 30 list.

ACGC is a coalition of volunteer organizations that are working towards local and global sustainable human development. Its annual Top 30 Under 30 magazine recognizes Alberta's young adults who are between the ages of 10 and 30, whose ideas and actions are making an impact on the global community.

Monroe and Lee, both master of public health students, were among 30 young adults honoured for their efforts towards achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of the 17 SDGs, Lee has primarily focused on working towards improving health and well-being, while Monroe has focused on reducing inequalities.

An active and influential voice

Cerina Lee believes that youth can play a vital role in achieving the SDGs. "Young people have the power to make change happen," says Lee. "They have strong voices and innovative ideas."

Personally, Lee is making progress towards improving health and well-being on both a local and a global scale.

Locally, Lee has participated in a number of projects to promote the health of Albertans. These include her capstone project with the Canadian Cancer Society and Action on Smoking and Health, advocating for the Government of Alberta to implement a hookah ban; co-leading a province-wide community school gardens project that promotes healthy eating in young children; and, engaging stakeholders with a campaign to fund programs for chronic disease prevention.

On the global stage, she has served as Canadian head delegate under the Young Diplomats of Canada at the International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings in Washington, D.C.; youth delegate at the World Federation of United Nations Associations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and represented Canada at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. "It's been an honour to represent Canada in discussions with other youth, sharing ideas about critical global issues and policies."

According to Lee, whose specialty is health promotion, many government and health-care systems are burdened by the high cost of being reactive. "If prevention becomes a priority, not only are dollars saved, but so are lives."

"If we can get youth on board to discuss global issues, to lobby governments for preventive policies, and be part of the decision-making process, we start moving towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals," she explains.

In encouraging young adults to speak up, she offers this: "Take opportunities that come to you. You never know what you'll learn, and the impact you can make."

He eats, sleeps and breaths global health

When Damon Monroe first enrolled at the University of Alberta, he thought he knew where he was going to make an impact.

"I was fascinated with the concept of improving extending life, so I wanted to be a doctor," says Monroe. "I planned to do an undergraduate degree in science and then apply to medical school."

After three years studying sciences, however, Monroe realized he wasn't enjoying it and he made a switch to the School of Business. How he came to be working on a master of public health degree is more a matter of passion than planning, though.

When Monroe started in the School of Business, he attended the Students' Union Clubs Fair and discovered Students Invested in Health Association (SIHA). "The volunteer representing SIHA was enthusiastic about the work the group was doing to put health-care philosophy into action locally and internationally," recalls Monroe. "That's when my passion for public health was sparked."

During his four years with SIHA, Monroe became vice-president of International Projects. He used his organizational and strategic thinking skills to help the organization take a more business oriented approach to its work. According to Monroe, SIHA was able to make a greater impact with the better-defined mandates and supportive partnerships with non-governmental organizations he helped to form.

SIHA also introduced Monroe to public health issues in developing countries where inequalities exist, particularly in Tanzania, where Monroe spent his summers. During his time there, he worked to establish strong partnerships both locally and with larger organizations such as Plan International, UNICEF and Population Services International to have the necessary support for SIHA's work on the ground.

More recently, as operations and research lead with Innovative Canadians for Change, Monroe has implemented a number of projects in Kenya. He's most excited about his current work implementing an electronic medical record keeping system that serves more than one million Kenyans living in slums. The project is addressing extreme poverty as it's related to health. "Working to stop the cycle of poverty that leads to poor health, and vice versa, could potentially improve access to necessary treatment and care," he explains.

Monroe recognizes the impact of his chosen work. "As a doctor, I would have treated patients and extended the life of individuals, but as a global health practitioner focused on reducing inequalities, I can make an impact on entire communities and populations."

"Public health is why people live longer."

The ACGC 2017 Top 30 Under 30 magazine launched at a gala event in Calgary on February 7. Print issues are sold across the province. You may also read it online.