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Program helps student become public health advocate

Courtney Young
Courtney Young

Courtney Young didn’t see her bachelor’s degree in biology setting her in place to educate the staff of U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune, but after almost two years of pursuing a Master of Public Health degree, Young was equipped to do that.

Young, originally of Wisconsin, earned her biology degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2018 and enrolled in the online Master of Public Health program at SDSU a year later. During her second year of the two-year program, she initiated efforts to create a student chapter of the South Dakota Public Health Association.

She also gave a presentation about her master’s research at the association’s annual conference, which was virtual in September 2020.

Her research as well as her current occupation is in suicide prevention. The association is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association, which encourages state organization to contact the offices of their U.S. senators to let them know what is happening in public health. So she joined with Aaron Hunt, director of the Master of Public Health program, to do just that.

In April, they had one-hour virtual sessions with the public health legislative staffers for Thune and Rounds.

“I never thought I would lobby for public health, but the process of meeting with the senators’ staff opened my eyes to how easy it was. They were very receptive to meeting with us. It really only took a week or two to schedule the meetings. I didn’t think of myself getting involved in public health world but we have to be educating politicians. They only know as much as they are told,” Young said.

They introduced themselves and explained the Master of Public Health program and an opioid abuse prevention grant that Hunt oversees.

Young also spoke of her work with Lost and Found, a nonprofit suicide prevention group based in Sioux Falls with a chapter at SDSU. She began as an intern in January 2020 and began as its education advocacy manager May 1. The organization has gone from three paid employees when she started to eight at the present time.

It is part of the state suicide prevention coalition and focuses on youth suicide prevention, creating a presence on college campuses and Native American communities.

“As education advocacy manager, I do a lot of research on best practices for suicide prevention and making sure our staff understands what those practices are. I’m also working on our social media presence and giving presentations and webinars for partner universities on resilience and healthy relationships,” Young said.

She recommends the websites https://www.resilienttoday.org/our-chapters/ and https://sdpha.clubexpress.com.

In the fall, she begins doctoral studies in health sciences at the University of South Dakota with an eventual goal of becoming a professor.