Expand your skills

Gillings students are harnessing their entrepreneurial and innovative spirit and gaining real-world experiences in public health.

Student Experiences.

Interviews with students who completed a 2020 innovation-focused practicum.

Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes, Seal the Seasons

Tell us about your practicum placement and experience at a public health focused startup?  

Seal the Seasons has been committed to the environment and has made conscious business decisions to decrease the environmental impact of their products. Through this practicum experience, the company has their first opportunity to quantify the environmental impact of their products. The final goal of this project is to develop a detailed greenhouse gas emissions database for Seal the Seasons products and create a defensible carbon footprint report. Not only is the company passionate about supporting local farmers and increasing accessibility to local produce, but each employee I have worked with has been passionate about the company’s environmental impact.

Why did you want to do your practicum at a startup? 

Seal the Seasons also works to encourage consumers to be conscious of their purchasing power. The company’s products allow consumers to support the local economy throughout the year and minimize the environmental impact of frozen fruits.

What are the key lessons that you will take away from this experience? 

This experience has taught me how important it is to work with a company whose passions and commitments align with my own. Beyond my own content feelings, every customer and stakeholder I have spoken to feels inspired by the company’s commitment to local produce accessibility and their environmental impact. I have loved working for a company that is dedicated to leaving a positive impact on the world and supporting the local economy.

What was most fun or surprising about this experience? 

I have been pleasantly surprised by the relationships this company has with their partnerships. This enthusiasm and support is more than I could have asked for and has been crucial in the development of our project.


Caroline Mann

Caroline Mann, Frame Fertility

Tell us about your practicum placement and experience at a public health focused startup?

I have been working at Frame Fertility which is a FemTech and women’s health focused startup. I found the opportunity at Frame Fertility from the weekly practicum email listserv and it caught my eye because it called for both statistical and technical skills with the opportunity to try out different business areas as well.

Why did you want to do your practicum at a startup?

Before starting the MPH program, I worked at a large CRO which operated oppositely of a startup in most instances. While the stability and security of a large corporation has its advantages, I was excited to be involved in a health product from the very beginning and gain exposure to all of the work that goes into making a health startup successful.

What knowledge gained, results produced, or enriching experience are you most proud of?

I was able to learn new skills in digital product management (specifically for health products) that I would have never thought of pursuing before. I also learned so much about fertility, reproductive health, and the overarching need for women’s health advancement. This new knowledge has piqued my interest in the area and is something I am hoping to pursue in the future.

What are the key lessons that you will take away from this experience?

Through this experience I definitely learned the immense value of consulting with an inter-professional team. Everyone is able to bring different knowledge and skills to the table which enhances the product and the experience for everyone.

What are you plans post-graduation (it’s ok if you don’t know!) and has this experience influenced you to pursue your own social innovation or entrepreneurial endeavors? If so, tell us what you are passionate about innovating?

There are so many exciting new ventures in the FemTech world and the digital health area and I am eager to see what opportunities arise!


Cason Whitcomb

Cason Whitcomb

Cason Whitcomb, Real Talk

Tell us about your practicum placement and experience at a public health-focused startup?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Real Talk: Stories by Teens, which is a mobile story-sharing platform providing teens with a tool to share authentic, engaging stories and be connected to high-quality online resources on sexual health, mental health, and LGBTQ+ topics. My practicum was centered around strategic marketing and partnership development – I researched and employed health behavior theory and social marketing principles to promote Real Talk to our industry peers and partners in order to develop lasting relationships and partnerships across many different sectors.

In short, this experience was fast-paced and fluid and offered me valuable experience in applying my public health skills in a setting very different from traditional academic research.

Why did you want to do your practicum at a startup?

I don’t see myself working in a traditional academic research setting, at least not in the near future, and really wanted to explore mHealth and innovative public health practice! I’m also very interested in sexual health, mental health, and supporting LGBTQ youth – which are all areas at the core of Real Talk’s mission.

What knowledge gained, results produced, or enriching experience are you most proud of?

I feel as if I’ve gained valuable insight into how health communications can play out in a less traditional public health setting. I’ve really enjoyed getting to run targeted advertisements and ad experiments; these are great ways to test message framing to better inform health campaigns! I also feel as if my practicum work has produced a solid foundation to further develop Real Talk’s community partnerships and increase awareness of the app.

What are the key lessons that you will take away from this experience?

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that my timeline had to be flexible. With so many moving parts, and so much for me to learn, it’s not surprising that my supervisor and I revisited my timeline on a few different occasions. But it’s still an important takeaway!

What was most fun or surprising about this experience?

I really enjoyed learning more about design-thinking and its applications in public health! I look forward to taking the course offered in Spring 2020.


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