HPM undergraduate team recognized by Clinton Global Initiative University

February 3, 2015

A team of health policy and management undergraduate students from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health was recognized recently by the Clinton Global Initiative University for providing an innovative solution to a pressing public health challenge.

HPM undergraduates (l-r) Randi towns, Yasamin Sanii, Ashley Jones and Emily Cerciello

HPM undergraduates (left to right) Randi Towns, Yasamin Sanii, Ashley Jones and Emily Cerciello will attend Clinton Global Initiative University in March to talk about their work with North Carolina’s Community Empowerment Fund.

In fall 2014, the team – Randi Towns, Ashley Jones, Yasamin Sanii and Emily Cerciello – served as consultants for Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) through a health leadership course instructed by Karl Umble, PhD, clinical assistant professor of health policy and management. CEF is a nonprofit organization that serves low-income individuals and individuals experiencing homelessness in Orange and Durham (N.C.) counties by providing opportunities for asset building, greater employment and independent housing.

As smoking and inability to quit smoking disproportionately affects this population, the students developed a pilot smoking-cessation program to expand the scope of CEF to provide health resources. The pilot incorporated cessation tools specific to the population and a unique matched-savings program to link financial savings to improved health. The matched-savings program, “Quit to Save,” was the innovation recognized by Clinton Global Initiative University.

Jon Young, operations coordinator at CEF, oversaw the student project.

“CEF started as a student group in 2009, aspiring to bring principles of microfinance to local communities of homelessness,” Young said. “We’ve seen that students can have an impact when they come together and work towards positive change. Working with this team of students, we’ve been able to expand our services and build an approach to smoking cessation that integrates into CEF’s core services, and that is grounded in both academic research and in the community that we serve.”

To complete the project, the team worked closely with CEF and other community organizations. The process included:

  • A literature review of other organizations that have addressed smoking cessation in the low-income population;
  • One-on-one interviews to gain insight into how to best develop a smoking cessation program to meet the specific needs of the population and fit within the current CEF framework; and
  • Meetings with key stakeholders to analyze and partner with current smoking cessation services available locally.

The team used a systems approach to determine key community partners, including the Orange County Health Department and the UNC Nicotine Dependence Program, and link them to CEF so as to coordinate their services. In the end, the team developed a step-by-step cessation program for members and resources for CEF leadership, including an end-of-program assessment and grant funding information.

The Gillings School’s Bachelor of Science in Public Health program in health policy and management emphasizes experiential learning and exposes students to public health practitioners and organizations. The health leadership class, a UNC APPLES service-learning course, places each student in a service-learning team.

Yasamin Sanii, senior health policy and management major, was excited to have taken part in the project.

“This course allowed us to experience public health in practice and develop skills in connecting community partners working toward similar goals,” Sanii said. “Our opportunity with CEF was a unique experience for an undergraduate team because we were able to create a comprehensive program for a cause that we are all passionate about.”

“I am so proud of this team’s deep interest in serving people who are homeless, their ingenuity in seeking out partners and their work to help CEF make the plans a reality,” Umble said. “The team has applied for a $5,000 social venture grant from The Resolution Project as part of their acceptance to Clinton Global Initiative University, which they will attend March 6-8 in Miami.”


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.

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