Drew Docter is a master of public health student studying epidemiology, who will graduate from Oregon State University on June 12. Originally from Madison, Wisc., he strives to be a community-serving, equity-first epidemiologist.
We asked Drew about his time in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and his plans for the future.
What inspired you to study epidemiology?
Before entering the MPH program here at Oregon State, I desired to learn the methodology and the types of data that keep communities healthy. I came into the program with several years of community service in the OHA AmeriCorps VISTA partnership program, where I worked at Deschutes County Public Health building youth health advocacy programs, supporting adolescent sexual health programming in the region, as well as working on an organizational health equity assessment. While I greatly enjoyed this community-centered work and direct-service type of role, I knew I wanted to explore how the collection, analysis and reporting of data can be central for public health’s funding, functionality and overall impact.
What are you most proud of from your time in the CPHHS?
I am very proud to have gotten to work with so many incredible student volunteers through the Wellness Agents program, a peer wellness promotion initiative that is part of Student Health Services. I think I have learned just as much from the Wellness Agents themselves as I hope they have from experiences the program may have facilitated for them. It’s an incredible group of human beings that has reshaped how I think about what a healthy community looks like. Additionally, I am proud of my internship with Benton County Health Department creating an interactive data dashboard that visualizes early childhood education and health data in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties. This dashboard will soon be available to the public, and I hope that this tool will transform access to this type of data moving forward.
Have you received any scholarships or assistance during your time here?
I was very fortunate to receive funding through my Graduate Teaching Assistantship with the Wellness Agents program in Student Health Services. Additionally, I received support through the Mabel A. Wood Scholarship during the 2020-21 school year.
What are the most memorable lessons you’ve learned as a student?
One of the most important lessons I have learned while at OSU is that health is more composed of community, education, collective action and belonging, as opposed to the more individual factors we have been conditioned to think of (diet, exercise, etc.).
A public health intervention (or any program, for that matter) cannot be truly effective or equitable unless it is actively anti-racist and sustainable and if those leading the program are centering community voice and community leadership every step of the way. I attribute these lessons to some of the mentors I had during my time at OSU, namely Sara Caldwell-Kan, my former supervisor and current director of the OSU Asian & Pacific Cultural Center, as well as my classmate and colleague Ashley Vaughn, who is also graduating this spring along with me!
What will you miss the most about the CPHHS, OSU or Corvallis?
I will miss the community that I have gained while attending Oregon State University. Even though the pandemic has disrupted just about every aspect of life, I will always feel grateful that I could interact with and form lifelong bonds with peers, colleagues and faculty within the CPHHS and OSU as a whole. Though I may be returning to the Corvallis area sometime in the future, I surely will miss the people I have befriended here more than anything!
What have you learned in the past year?
Above all, I think this pandemic has proved to me that we are very capable of being flexible, adaptive and resilient when we come together (while maintaining social distance, of course) and look out for fellow members of our community.
What’s next? What are your plans after graduation?
I can’t say what is next at this point, though I am actively searching for epidemiology positions in the Pacific Northwest. I am eager to have a short break following graduation, as I need some time to re-calibrate and re-center myself, and to visit my family in Wisconsin for the first time since the pandemic!
How will you create a healthier world?
My goal is to be in a position where I can be a community-serving, equity-first epidemiologist. I am still working to find my exact role in creating a healthier world, but I feel confident that this program has given me the tools to better translate community voices and experiences into data-driven decision-making. This program and my many experiences while at OSU have led me to question how we traditionally approach public health interventions and strive to create systems that uplift everyone.
What does health and well-being mean to you?
To me, health and well-being mean that everyone in the community has their needs met and their voices heard. It means that historically marginalized groups are uplifted and centered in decision-making and that resources are reallocated to these communities in a way that aligns with the goals and perceived needs of those given communities. Yes, health and well-being encompass things like nutrition and exercise, but these things become an afterthought if folks are facing housing insecurity, economic hardship, racial discrimination, and any combination of other factors.
Do you have any advice for incoming students?
I highly recommend working closely with Amanda Armington and Tonya Johnson for those entering the MPH program. They are incredible and go the extra mile for students in this university. They both have such an investment in facilitating opportunities for students within the program. Without Amanda’s guidance and support, I may not have attended OSU. Without Tonya’s help finding my internship with Benton County Health Department, I may have missed out on what has been a truly transformative, defining segment of my time here.
In addition, I’d add that it is vital to find time for yourself while in grad school. This work is important, and there is a reason we are all drawn to the field of public health! That being said, don’t lose sight of doing the things you love outside of school and work. For me, that was hiking in the Cascades, camping on the coast with classmates and taking walks through campus while the flowers were in bloom. I encourage you to find what works best for you.