Creating a Diverse Workforce Pipeline to Public Health

How do you inspire youth to make a difference in their community through public service? Ngozi Oleru, Director of the Environmental Health Services Division (EHS), and Greg Wilson, an EHS Project Manager, addressed this question by exposing diverse students within target communities to new possible career paths and helping to empower new leaders in public health. The program is a step towards the recruitment of a future workforce that better reflects the community that Public Health – Seattle & King County serves.

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This partnership with Cleveland High School, a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)-oriented school, is in its fifth year. These students met with public health professionals to discuss various public health topics, explore new career paths and expand their opportunities for the future.

The students met with Matias Valenzuela, Director of King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice, and Jesse Chipps, Project Manager for the HIV/STD Program, to discuss what they are doing to integrate equity into the county’s policies. Public Health also arranged for the students to take certification classes, such as CPR certification training with an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) trainer and their Food Workers Card certification, which is necessary to work in a restaurant. With these certifications, the students can pursue more immediate opportunities during their academic growth.

The students involved in this program are mainly from minority communities that experience greater health inequity. Kiera Bush, a student from Cleveland High, like many of her classmates, told tales of social inequity she has witnessed. “In the north end of Seattle, compared to the south end of Seattle, there are many more food markets, or places where you can buy healthy food,” she recounted. “That plays out a big role in the healthiness of people. In the south end, they don’t really have the opportunity to be as healthy.”

An Inter-division Effort

This pilot program has been a benefit to more than just the students. It has led to the development of best practices in engaging with students by establishing effective collaboration and increasing communication among divisions within Public Health.

The Cleveland High School Project became the catalyst for the Public Health Opportunity Pipeline, a collaborative effort between different divisions within Public Health on education, outreach and other programs that help diversify King County’s workforce. People from across the County, including Emergency Medical Services, HIV/STD Prevention, Environmental Health Services, and the Office of Equity and Social Justice, have come together to cultivate talent and break down barriers in the workforce pipeline. However, due to projected budget cuts from the school district, this is expected to be the last installment of the Cleveland High Program. But the program will have a lasting legacy by highlighting how different divisions can come together to work on equity.

Originally posted on August 12, 2017

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I am a recent graduate from the University of Washington and my interests are in public health emergency management, climate change, and environmental health.