Health promotion and health behavior alumna Marissa Lovell, MPH ’21, joined the College of Public Health and Human Sciences (CPHHS) for an Instagram live Q&A session in October. This was the first episode in a new series to learn about the work CPHHS alumni are doing to make the world a healthier place.
Marissa works as the school and community health promotion coordinator with Lane County Public Health’s Prevention Team. In this role, she coordinates school- and community-based programs across 18 different districts to improve the health and well-being of students and families.
Currently, the program and Marissa’s projects focus on healthy nutrition and physical activity opportunities, tobacco prevention, mental health promotion and STI prevention. Marissa is also highly motivated to ensure that these programs are sustainable, culturally responsive and equitable.
Enjoy this recap of our conversation with Marissa below and watch the full interview on the college’s Instagram page.
Tell us more about you and your background. How did you get started in the world of public health?
I received my undergraduate degrees in Spanish and social welfare. Following graduation, I worked as a social worker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Seeing the trauma, day in and day out, that’s so present in so many communities, as well as the systemic oppression that exists really wore on me. It also motivated me to seek out proactive solutions to those problems and to prevent conditions that are inequitable and really unhealthy for families and children.
I stayed in that position for a while, but decided I wanted to go back to school and gain more education in the world of public health — to learn how to design programs and strategies to be more upstream, and to create conditions that are beneficial for everyone and really address those inequities.
Can you share more about your work and the projects you’re involved with in your current role?
I oversee all of our K-12 school-based health promotion and prevention programs in Lane County. We have a lot of different priority areas that we work in.
One of our largest programs is a coordinated approach to child health. It is a school-wide physical activity and nutrition curriculum that teachers and physical education instructors implement from kindergarten through eighth-grade settings. It ensures that kids have an understanding of what they’re putting into their bodies and providing them with the opportunities for movement during the day. We have several different districts that are involved in the program, from Eugene to schools in rural areas.
We also work with the Oregon Health Authority on mental health promotion in youth. One of our biggest programs is called Sources of Strength, which is a suicide prevention program designed for high school youth. It has expanded to fit middle and elementary school children as well. We are working with consultants to train school staff who are implementing it, and then they work with peers at each high school to work on mental health promotion campaigns using a peer-to-peer model. We really love that program because it’s focused on identifying the strengths in the school community and building on them to help keep youth connected to each other and safe, trusted adults.
In what ways are you making these programs more culturally inclusive, and what should students know now?
You really have to be creative in your specific role about how you’re going to apply an equity lens in your everyday work. You have to think about what you’re willing to risk and if you’re willing to be uncomfortable, to keep conversations going and advocating for things that you know are right.
An example of how that shows up in my work with schools is something that has historically been done, and that’s is measuring students’ height and weight to look at the outcomes associated with our physical activity and nutrition programs. Using the BMI has been a primary indicator of the program’s successes in the past. To me, that didn’t sit right. The fact that we were using the BMI, which has a really sorted history in terms of it being rooted in racism and it also being created by insurance companies – it is not the best indicator of child health. I kept bringing it up and it felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I would get really discouraged and think, ‘Why am I even trying to get rid of this? There are people who’ve been here longer, who have more expertise and authority, and who want to keep it as a measure.’
I actually brought it up when talking to some of my mentors, who said, ‘You can’t let the system get to you and spit you out. You have to hold on to what you believe in. Keep pushing for it.’ And so, I kept bringing it up, even though it wasn’t the most comfortable position to be in, especially as a new graduate. But we came to a consensus that we would offer alternative measures to track how our programs are impacting students and families. I think it ended up being a much better indication of what was happening in the school environment.
Any advice for current students who want to pursue a similar career?
Take a look at what your passions are and align those with the roles that you’re applying for. Really focus in on that because everyone has such a unique set of skills and strengths to offer. If you’re able to, share that information in a genuine way with interviewers and search committees. That will really help you to stand out.
For me, it was really tough because I kept applying to different jobs and got rejection emails back. For some, I didn’t even get calls, and that can be really discouraging. There’s a lot of pressure to have a job lined up right after graduation. My biggest piece of advice would be to not give up when you get rejections. Don’t let the nos knock you down because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you. What’s meant for you will find you.
Are you a CPHHS alum interested in doing a live Q&A with us? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.