public health spotlight

UB RISE Shines a Spotlight on Public Health

This year, in conjunction with National Public Health Week, University of Bridgeport’s annual day of Research, Innovation, Scholarship, and Entrepreneurship (UB RISE) illuminated the problems facing — and potential solutions for — global public health. At the event, more than 350 university students, faculty, and concurrent enrollment students shared their intellectual and entrepreneurial pursuits and scholarly activities, displaying over 130 posters throughout UB’s Mandeville Hall. Speakers and roundtables informed and entertained throughout the day, explicitly chosen during National Public Health Week to discuss current public health challenges and address how we can improve our country’s health.

“We kicked off public health week with a panel and had speakers all week long,” said the master’s in Public Health program director Meredith Gaffney. “We concluded the week with UB RISE. Then, in May, 67 students graduated from the MPH degree program.”

Gaffney herself presented on the recent $1.5 million grant that the program recently received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant will help UB empower the next generation of public health professionals. “The need for public health professionals after the pandemic is serious because approximately 50% of the public health workforce have said they will be retiring within the next five years,” said Gaffney. “At UB, we have three strategic initiatives: to provide financial support, to focus on recruiting and diversify the workforce, and to sponsor workshops where we read, listen, and act.”

Physician Assistant student Marisa Erazo’s poster, “Effects of Delayed Cancer Screening Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” detailed her review of the data about those effects. “What I saw when I was doing background research was that there was a huge delay in cancer screening during the pandemic for a variety of reasons,” she said. “At the time, delaying was considered okay, but now years out we are seeing the effects.”

The review showed that people with all cancer types, of all ages, and of all genders experienced a decline in screenings with projected effects of an increase in cancer-related fatalities. It was not all bad news, though. “Some of the papers did include some solutions — like telemedicine and at-home screenings that will help to make up this deficit,” she said. The paper was not only presented at UB RISE, but Erazo also presented it to other Connecticut PA students two weeks earlier at the Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants (CONNAPA). “Giving students the opportunity to have more than a paper in the classroom and to get the information out there is really important,” Erazo concluded.

One of the day’s winners, Psychology major Vivien Ruettgers, presented a poster on “Happiness” with a reworking of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, compiling the current research and updating the model into a new framework for defining happiness. “This is our first survey and correlational study testing this model,” she said. “There needs to be more research done, with larger, more randomized groups.” She plans to keep working on the topic as she transitions to graduate school. “This not only touches on individuals’ psychological health,” she continued,“but also involves social wellness.”

The 2024 UB RISE keynote speaker was Americares President & CEO Christine Squires. Americares is a health-focused relief and development organization dedicated to saving lives and improving the health of people affected by poverty or disaster. “Americares is Connecticut-based, but they have a global reach,” said director of the School of Business and UB RISE chair Timothy Raynor in his introduction. “They can teach us to shift our mindsets and think large impact.”

Squires was an English major at the University of Delaware but is now the CEO of the global company, which employs more than 800 staff in eight countries, with 30 ongoing programs and 700 volunteer or medical trips supported. Giving $1 billion in aid annually, they work through local partners to send medical supplies and provide training. They also have teams on the ground to support the medical community in various countries. “We partner with local communities that have local solutions but do it on a global scale,” said Squires. “We work to solve problems such as lack of access and awareness.”

Squires detailed the work Americares is doing in Ukraine, where war is ongoing, and in Puerto Rico, which has suffered several natural disasters over the past decade. She pointed out that public health needs are not just pandemics and disaster relief. “Mental health is also public health,” Squires said. “This is more acute in crisis situations, and it is important that we understand the local cultures and organizations. That local knowledge helps make a local impact.” She shared the story of Glorianne Lopez, a school psychologist in Puerto Rico, who Americares helped by training other staff to assist her. “She can’t serve all 250 students alone,” said Squires.

Americares also provides free clinics locally in Fairfield County, serving the 62,000 residents under 65 who are uninsured. Four Americares clinics offer free health services in Norwalk, Danbury, Bridgeport, and Stamford, helping residents with everything from nutrition advice to grocery store cards, treating the whole person and the whole community.

“This presentation was really important because Christine Squires is talking about global health from a local agency,” says Provost Manyul Im. “Our students need to see that because we also have a global reach, especially among our international students.”

That global reach may begin with one individual or idea, but UB RISE demonstrates how to bring those small changes to the larger world. As public health challenges confront the world over the next few decades, University of Bridgeport graduates will be on the front lines, solving problems for us all.


To learn more about UB’s annual UB RISE event, visit: