by Mary Jonas, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

If you would have told me one year ago that I’d be an AmeriCorps Member, completing a 300-hour service internship in my first year of college, and working directly with my state’s public health association during a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed you.

My name is Mary Jonas. I am a Freshman at Drake University participating in the Engaged Citizen Corps. I am majoring in Biochemistry Cell, and Molecular Biology, minoring in Chinese, and planning to pursue a career in medicine. Through the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I was connected to the Iowa Public Health Association (IPHA). IPHA is a state affiliate of the American Public Health Association. IPHA has 3 main objectives:

  • The first is to serve their members through providing advocacy and educational resources.
  • The second is to connect public health leaders, professionals, and allies to form a powerful network of people with shared goals.
  • The third is to advance a public health agenda for Iowans through education and advocacy.

Throughout everything, IPHA’s primary focus is health equity. Health equity is ensuring that everyone has the resources and education they need to live long healthy lives. Health equity is affected by the social determinates of health, for example, education, access to health care, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, living environment, and public safety. IPHA works towards achieving health equity by taking action on the social determinants of health. Because public health is a huge field IPHA chose 4 subtopics to focus on, Vaccines, Health Equity, Public Health Infrastructure, and the Public Health Workforce.

My main role at IPHA is to increase student engagement with the organization. I’ve done this by planning and implementing several student engagement activities. Along the way I have also picked up several other responsibilities within the organization, for example, social media planning, website content creation and design, webinar video editing, media coverage tracking, and archiving past content. In general, my work has gone towards creating more awareness about IPHA, and therefore creating more awareness about public health issues.

Public health is complicated, especially during a global pandemic in a politically divided country. Public health by nature is interdisciplinary. Health equity is connected to almost all central social justice issues. There are many root causes of the issues IPHA is trying to alleviate. Health disparities stem from the systematic oppression of socially marginalized groups. Besides these causes, one of the main barriers to progress in public health is the lack of prioritization and funding from local government. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is beginning to change now that the health disparities and lack of public health infrastructure are being highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest change IPHA has experienced since the pandemic started was the increase in publicity. IPHA went from having no media coverage in 2019 to being quoted several times each month and featured on several news outlets like CNN in 2020.

My experience at IPHA has taught me a lot.

  • I’ve learned a lot about the field of public health and explored a potential career opportunity.
  • I’ve gained confidence communicating and working in a professional environment.
  • I’ve learned that change comes with commitment. If issues like health disparities could be solved overnight they would have been fixed already. I have a great appreciation for people like my site supervisor and other people working for non-profits who devote their careers to these issues. 
  • I’ve learned that I feel the most fulfilled when I am an actively engaged member of my community!

As an out-of-state student originating from Houston, Texas, I was worried about feeling “at home” in this community. Serving as an Engaged Citizen Corps member has allowed me to find a network of people who I feel connected to and a unique perspective on the state I’m now living in.

All of IPHA’s work is driven by their members. While not everyone is in every meeting or every discussion, just showing support by being a part of the community has allowed IPHA to grow and connect more people. You can support our cause by:

  • Going to IPHA’s website and becoming a member
  • Registering for our 2021 Public Health Conference of Iowa
  • Following us on Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn!