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SOPHE Advocacy Summit – 2 Perspectives, 1 Amazing Experience

Health Promotion Graduate Student Perspective – Hannah Bourg

Not many students get the opportunity to travel to conferences, let alone one in Washington DC for the SOPHE Advocacy Summit! This experience was once in a lifetime. I am so thankful for this opportunity to learn from one of our very own faculty members, Dr. Ickes, and other health professionals. This trip would not have been complete without Dr. Ickes. She made me feel important and competent and helped challenge me during our time at the conference. She helped me step out of my comfort zone with hands on learning. During our time at the conference we learned about the opioid epidemic and all about advocacy and the role a health education specialist plays in advocacy. We had the opportunity to speak with a representative at Senator McConnell’s office about the CARE act to bring action to the opioid epidemic. How many people get to sit in the Senate Majority Leader’s office and share their expertise and passion about an issue? That’s pretty neat.

All in all, this experience allowed me to reflect on why health promotion is important to me. When I was asked my why, it really made me think. It’s easy to get caught up with going through the motions and just focusing on school. I think it’s important to remind yourself why you are going to school and doing what you’re doing. My why is youth. I love kids and I think they deserve to have the best health education to live a life full of wellness. Specifically, I am passionate about mental health education. It has affected my life personally and I feel that everyone should focus and be equipped with the skills to be mindful and have balance. The best way to equip people with these skills is to start with conversations and skill building at a young age.

While the topic for the Advocacy Summit was the opioid epidemic, it focused on advocacy as a whole. This experience reminded me that I have a voice and I’m allowed to use it. This conference allowed me to pull from the different presentations and apply it to my life and my skill set and my passion. I’m excited to further dip my toes into the advocacy world. I’m also excited to use this experience to better myself as a health education specialist.

Health Promotion Faculty Perspective – Dr. Melinda Ickes

It isn’t often you catch me up at 4am, especially on a Saturday (which just so happened to also be fall break). However, the opportunity to travel to Washington DC for the SOPHE Advocacy Summit with one of our health promotion graduate students was more than worth it! Wrapping up three jam-packed days on Capitol Hill, we can now reflect on all that we learned, the opportunities we experienced, and the relationships we built. The focus this year was on the opioid epidemic and learning more about the CARE Act, which aims to strengthen national and state level infrastructure to support recovery and encourage prevention.

There were more than a few memorable moments and lessons learned that stand out. To say that this was a life changing experience for me (in so many ways) is an understatement. During one of the opening sessions, I shared a message with friends, ‘sometimes you just know you are where you are supposed to be.’ It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and forget about the big picture and ultimately why you do what you do. They asked that question a lot throughout the sessions, which really got me thinking. As an advocate, you are reminded that your voice, your passion, and your desire for change matters. One of the most rewarding things about our health promotion profession is we actually get to make a difference in people’s lives and in the world! Surrounded by over 150 others who feel the exact same way is inspiring and refreshing. They are not reading or talking about doing something…they are doing it! It was a great reminder that we need to continue to ask ourselves why we do what we do and what is important to us. For me, it is making the healthier choice the easier choice, empowering youth and young adults to want to make a difference, and making connections with like-minded people.

I have always valued experiential learning. It is a way to give students real world experience and go beyond content knowledge. The importance of this approach was reinforced during the Advocacy Summit. Not only did we learn a lot about opioids, the importance of hearing from those most affected, current programs and policies, and proposed legislation, but we were also given the opportunity to put all of that into practice on The Hill. The third day everyone had scheduled visits to talk with their Senators and/or Representatives about the issue. This was an invaluable opportunity to talk with stakeholders and elected officials, see the inner workings of our government, and effectively communicate our message as health education specialists and health promotion professionals.

However, the most rewarding experience for me was spending quality time with one of our graduate students, talking through ideas and strategies with her as health promotion professionals, and seeing several aha moments as the importance of our profession and her growing skill set was reinforced. We also laughed a lot and got to know each other as people. It is important that our students feel valued and we connect with them beyond our typical classroom interaction. In health promotion, our students are going to be the ones who make a difference in this world, and I for one want to be there supporting them and cheering them on every step of the way.