Making the Statistics Come Alive, One Child at a Time
When Dewayne Jolly was a case manager for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, he made house calls to lots of families in the Bronx.
Although his mission was to check up on children who had lead poisoning and educate their families about its effects, he quickly realized that that was only one of many health issues these low-income households faced.
“My experience revealed how financial and cultural barriers placed these families at a disadvantage to overcoming the health risk for lead poisoning,” he says. “Many of these families lived in low-income areas, where the building conditions were substandard and economic resources were limited. In addition to lead poisoning, these communities had higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. I learned that the health of the community plays a very important role in the quality of life of an individual.”
So, after nearly two decades in the work world, Jolly, who is a case manager and public health educator for the New York City health department, decided to go back to school to earn a master’s degree in public health.
“I knew that if I wanted to advance my career and if I wanted to help people in the Bronx, where I grew up and live, I would have to take on a role that would put me in a position to be more a part of the decision-making process about public health,” he says.
His bachelor’s degree – in sociology – was from City College, so he put CUNY’s School of Public Health at the top of his list.
“I looked at the program at CUNY’s Hunter College, which is well-established and excellent,” he says. “I also looked at Columbia University, but I didn’t want to go into debt. I decided on the MPH program at the Lehman campus because it is closer to my home, the program was newer and I thought it would be more flexible and the professors would be more willing to listen to the students.”
Jolly, who is 43, decided to ease into academia slowly. He took an adult education writing course at Lehman then enrolled in one public health course. Once he figured out how to juggle work and school, he entered the master’s of public health program.
“Because the students go through the program as a group, we learn from each other,” he says. “And we’ve become friends. The professors are very helpful and knowledgeable. Many of the students have vast experience in the field, and the professors are willing to learn from them.”
Jolly found that his own work experience was great preparation for the classroom.
“You can read a lot of textbooks, but it’s different when you see it,” he says. “The statistics come alive; in academic circles, professors often talk about numbers or theories, but it’s really about people.”
Jolly recently completed a semester-long internship with the Bronx Community Board No. 7, where he worked on an economic assessment of the community.
“We documented all the businesses in the area,” he says. “We also created a database and coding system for the statistics. It was a great experience because we had to create the tools to do this.”
Jolly, whose grade-point average is 3.75, has a scholarship from the city health department. When he graduates in May 2011, he’ll continue working with the health department, where he hopes to take on a more prominent role that will allow him to set policy.
“There are hundreds of programs serving the low-income community,” he says. “Many of them duplicate services. I want to connect with the grass-roots community and create an overarching plan for each community. To do that, we need to think outside the box, and that’s what CUNY’s MPH program at Lehman has taught me to do.”