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LHU students, faculty, present at annual public health conference

Several Lock Haven University students, along with faculty and staff members, were among the presenters at the PA Community Public Health Annual Conference held recently at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center in State College. This year’s conference theme was “Sustaining Public Health in Pennsylvania Through Best Practices and Community-based Initiatives.” The group presented on LHU’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts and research.

The conference, the largest public health conference in the state, was offered by the Pennsylvania Public Health Association, Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, the Penn State College of Medicine’s Public Health Program, the Society for Public Health Education-Pennsylvania Chapter and the Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network.

The LHU students were among the few undergraduates to present at the conference, as the majority of presenters were directors of government health agencies, universities and/or community organizations.

“As an undergrad, it was a great experience to be able to present to professors and leaders in community organizations and governments,” Christina McMahon said. “It gave our team an opportunity to highlight Lock Haven University’s approach in fighting COVID and learned about others’ research. A major benefit for me was

being able to meet and network with people all over the country.”

The abstract, “Community-based Mitigation Strategies of COVID-19 on a University Campus,” was chosen as an oral presentation and written by Jessica Abernathy, LHU COVID-19 Institutional Response Team (IRT) coordinator; Christina McMahon, criminal justice major; Megan Wein, health science major; Billie Jo Bollinger, health science major; and Beth McMahon, professor emerita and FDA commissioned officer. Additionally, all authors are members of LHU’s COVID-19 Institutional Response Team and have earned Johns Hopkins Case Investigation and Contact Tracer certificates.

The presenters detailed how LHU implemented a creative and robust population-driven strategy of behavior-based prevention, including the development of the COVID-19 IRT to execute mitigation strategies. This strategy also included educational campaigns, vaccine challenges, faculty and student community based participatory action research, institution of low-density student housing, COVID-19 universal testing, rapid detection, case investigation, isolation, contact tracing and quarantine strategies. These efforts also awarded LHU the 2021 Pennsylvania Rural Health Program of the Year award by the PA Office of Rural Health.

“Watching our students present LHU’s COVID-19 mitigation plan at the conference was the highlight of my year,” Abernathy said. “Christina, Megan and Billie Jo collaborated to create and deliver an amazing presentation that left no question as to why LHU’s COVID team was named the 2021 PA Rural Health Program of the Year. The experience of working with our students during the past 18 months has solidified my already firmly held belief that the future of public education in Pennsylvania is incredibly bright.”

Bollinger said that the conference opened a new door for her passion for lifelong education. “This was my first-ever educational conference I attended and now with hindsight, the hours of work me and my peers put into this project, the lessons we learned, and the knowledge I get to walk away with has brought a whole new appreciation for what each person there has done and presented,” Bollinger said.

The abstract, “Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviors Regarding Masks in a Rural Collegiate Setting,” was chosen as a poster presentation for the conference and authored by Jennifer Rudella, associate professor of health science; Leah Reed, health science major; and Sara Rowles, health and physical education major.

The project presented an understanding of students’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors (KAB) about masks during the spring 2021 semester.

“The conference was a great opportunity to connect with familiar and new faces as well as learn more about our profession,” Rudella said. “The LHU undergraduate students positively represented our university. This was their first time presenting at a professional conference for some of them and they did a great job!”

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