Meet Our Alums – Alexander Obeng – "Community is the Core of Public Health Work"
Published March 23, 2022
College of Health Sciences
What sparked your interest in the Master of Public Health program at UTEP? What do you believe are the unique strengths of this program that set it apart from others nationally?
After I completed my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science in Ghana, I made the decision to pursue a graduate degree and was very particular about the schools I applied to. My decision to apply for a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree stems from my special interest in the physical environment and its relationship to human health, specifically child health. What stood out to me about the UTEP MPH program during the application process is that the faculty members and staff were highly resourceful. In addition, it was relatively easy to find faculty members whose research aligned with mine, or with whatever research interest students may have had.
I would encourage students to apply to the UTEP MPH program because the curriculum is designed in a way that not only focuses on coursework, but also provides exposure to a variety of industries and endless opportunities for research experience and professional development.
Tell us about the most interesting experience you had while in the program.
I was fortunate to have some remarkable research experiences while completing this program. One of the major highlights for me was being a part of the Lead Research Team led by Dr. Christina Sobin. The Lead Research Team is an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the UTEP Department of Public Health, the UTEP Center for Environmental Resource Management (CERM), and the Department of Agronomy from Kansas State University who work collaboratively to address low-level lead exposure and child health outcomes in El Paso, TX. As part of our research activities, I was responsible for conducting investigations in the homes of children with a blood lead level of concern. The home assessments included a lead hazard risk assessment and lead-based paint inspection, as well as an X-ray fluorescence analysis of dust wipe samples, soil samples, and consumer products such as toys and cookware.
As part of this experience, I was given a unique opportunity to be involved in community-based participatory research, which I believe is the core of public health work. It helped me gain insight into the coordination and collaboration required by researchers and local communities in the community engagement process to ensure the public’s health and safety.
My diverse experiences from the Lead Research Team, other research opportunities and coursework gave me the background I needed to prepare for admission to the Texas A&M Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Program, with a concentration in Environmental Health.
What are your professional goals in the next five to ten years?
In the short term, following the completion of my doctoral studies, I will return to Ghana and work with organizations and research institutions that are committed to promoting awareness and eradicating the plethora of environmental health issues in the country. In the long term, I will teach and continue to conduct research at a four-year university so that I can impart the knowledge and skill set I acquired during my masters and doctoral studies to the next generation of public health professionals in Ghana.
What would you tell a prospective student who is interested in the UTEP Master of Public Health program?
I would encourage prospective students interested in the UTEP MPH program to research the interests of all the professors in the department, reach out to those you can, and discuss with them their current and future projects to find a possible mentor before you begin your studies. The best thing you can do for yourself as a new graduate student is to identify a faculty member whose research interests align with yours right from the beginning of your studies.
For prospective international students, please reach out to faculty members, despite how difficult and uncomfortable it might seem. They are very welcoming and are not only interested in your academic life, but in your overall success as a graduate student in the United States. No one will know what your needs are if you do not share them.
Another reason to choose the UTEP MPH program is the city of El Paso. The El Paso community is known for its diversity, and the level of acceptance is unmatched. The city is full of amazing people and has a great sense of community with kind and loving people who will treat you like family. The culture is amazing, and El Paso has the best food.
What is the most important piece of advice that you would give to yourself as an entering freshman if you could go back in time?
It is okay not to know where your path will ultimately lead when you start school, and it is totally okay to change paths midway. Discuss your academic and professional goals with peers, upper classmen, and faculty members, and I guarantee you will find your place and confidently move towards your career. It is always important to make time to celebrate your small achievements and enjoy your time in school.
For more information about the Master of Public Health program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/phs/academic-programs/graduate/master-in-public-health.html
Photo courtesy of UTEP Lead Research Team