Virtual Graduation Celebration

On May 12th, we honored the first UTC MPH program graduating class – the 2020 Pioneers! The virtual event included messages from our leadership, a keynote guest speaker, MPH faculty farewells, and an opportunity to highlight accomplishments and hear from each Pioneer.

Although the official UTC spring 2020 commencement ceremony was postponed until August 7, our graduates deserved a special moment to celebrate the attainment of their MPH degree. The program organized an online celebration via Zoom, which included messages from Dr. Valerie Rutledge, Dean of CHEPS, Dr. Marisa Colston, HHP Department Head, and keynote speaker Ms. Leslie Meehan, Director of Primary Prevention at the Tennessee Department of Health, who spoke on the importance of public health and chronic disease both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. She encouraged graduates to go out and see the big picture, be a doer, and use their superpower of natural curiosity to provide public health solutions. She congratulated our students and made clear that there is no better time to graduate with an MPH and make public health shine! Following Ms. Meehan’s words, each MPH faculty member had the opportunity to reminisce, share inspiring and farewell messages to the cohort.

The evening culminated with honoring each Pioneer’s accolades and accomplishments throughout the two-year program. A power point slide was dedicated to each graduate, who were introduced by his/her faculty advisor. The slide included a photo of the graduate and a list of highlights (i.e., graduate/research assistantships, awards, leadership roles, community experiences) while in the MPH program. The graduates then had an opportunity to share their overall experiences and provide special shout out to their professors, family, and friends. 

The event concluded with a toast in which every attendee raised their glass and cheered for the 2020 Pioneers success  in Public Health! The UTC MPH Program is extremely proud of the inaugural class and we look forward to keeping in touch with our alumni and continue to highlight their achievements in the future!





Conducting Contact Tracing

To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department collaborated with the MPH program to perform contact tracing on positive cases in Hamilton County. To date, 15 MPH students have contacted dozens of Hamilton County residents who have been exposed to a patient that tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact tracing is an essential disease control measure employed by local and state health departments for decades (CDC). The main goals of a contact tracer is to protect patient privacy, educate, support, refer, and monitor the health of potentially infected patients. To participate, volunteers must receive HIPAA and contact tracing training. Dr. Dawn Ford, Clinical Associate Professor in the MPH program, serves as the liaison between UTC and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in a county-wide contact tracing effort. To date, Dr. Ford has trained over 65 UTC students, staff, and faculty contact tracing volunteers. In addition to MPH students, students in the Graduate Athletic Training program, and pre-med undergraduate students have also been involved.

Among the trained volunteers, MPH students have been engaged in the contact tracer role for since April 3rd. This opportunity has allowed them first-hand experience in monitoring and data collection during the coronavirus pandemic. When a COVID-19 case is identified by the Health Department, a list of potential contacts are gathered and provided to Dr. Ford. Dr. Ford then assigns the list of contacts to volunteers, who are responsible for conducting an initial interview. After the initial interview, volunteers follow-up with the contacts through daily monitoring calls for up to 14 days. The daily monitoring calls ask about the contact’s health, tracking the development of any symptoms, and offering resources. The contacts are also sent quarantine letters.

Contact tracing is one of the most important recommended strategies for re-opening our society. Conducting adequate contact tracing to try to spot new cases and prevent transmission of COVID-19 is a pivotal public health task in our community. Therefore, increasing contact tracing capacity to continue to do this work will become increasingly more important in the coming months.

A few MPH student volunteers shared their overall experience in conducting contact tracing:

Brandon Denney, MPH 2021 Candidate

“One of the reasons I decided to pursue an MPH was to find meaningful work that had a direct impact in the community, and contact tracing has allowed me to do just that! It is a minor commitment, and all of the people I have reached out to have been friendly and understanding. I’m honored to work alongside my classmates and put our education into practice.”

Ryan Ledford, MPH 2021 Candidate

“I am excited to have the opportunity to help the community during this pandemic. Working with the contacts and the health department has been a rewarding experience!”

Rosie Loesser, MPH 2021 Candidate

“I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the Hamilton County Health Department to protect the public. As a public health student, I feel contact tracing is a perfect example of public health in action. It is a great feeling knowing we are making a difference in Hamilton County’s fight against COVID-19.”

The contact tracing efforts of our students has received a great deal of local media attention including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, UTC News, and Channel 12 News.

As a program, we are proud of our students, staff, and faculty involved in the contact tracing efforts in our community. Together, we look forward to continue to assist the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in combating this public health pandemic

COVID-19 Resources for Local Latinx

Layra Navarro-Flores, MPH 2020 graduate, is passionate about helping the local Latinx community. Layra knew that the undocumented Latinx populations would be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and sought out opportunities to partner with local organizations to address these disparities and the needs of this population.

To accomplish her goals, Layra partnered with Bridge City Community Church and Tennessee United to disseminate vital information to the undocumented Latinx community as part of her  Integrative Learning Experience (ILE)the culminating project for her MPH program of study. Shortly after the pandemic hit Tennessee, the team worked together to create a no-contact canvassing event to disseminate information released by the Chattanooga’s COVID-19 Task force. The undocumented Latinx population are significantly affected, as they are not eligible to receive stimulus payments or enroll in any type of government assistance service programs (i.e. unemployment, SNAP).

The information disseminated into the community informed residents about COVID-19 health precautions, educational resources for students (i.e. free tutoring, printing services), and community updates regarding utility payments, as well as immigrant-accepting COVID-19 assistance relief services available in the community. The no-contact canvassing event revealed high levels of food insecurity among undocumented community members, which led to a food distribution program operated out of Bridge City Community Church.

Ultimately, Layra’s ILE project served to close the gap in knowledge and access to resources for the undocumented Latinx community of Chattanooga.

Erlanger Health – Infection Prevention

Megan Sloan, MPH 2020 graduate, partnered with the Erlanger Health System’s Infection Prevention Department to track hand hygiene data for multiple Erlanger hospitals. This data is particularly important because it can relate to rates of hospital-acquired infections.

Megan felt honored to partner with Erlanger Health System’s Infection Prevention Department for her Integrative Learning Experience (ILE). Among many other responsibilities, the department tracks hand hygiene data for multiple Erlanger hospitals. Megan came into the department right as they were transitioning to a new online database to track hand hygiene compliance, so she created training materials to help the nurses navigate the system easily. The materials she created included a short video, an instructional document, and promotional items, walk users through the steps to enter a hand washing observation and will be featured on the homepage of the new database.

Social Distancing Initiative

Three UTC MPH students collaborated with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department on a social media campaign to promote social distancing. The community-wide campaign uses the hashtag #AloneTogetherCHA on social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Amid the public health pandemic of COVID-19, health professionals are urging community members to practice social distancing. Social distancing is the act of deliberately increasing the physical space between individuals to prevent the spread of infectious disease. This practice, though essential in reducing the spread of COVID-19, requires significant adjustments to everyday life. In an effort to increase awareness of social distancing in our community, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department reached out to the UTC MPH program to partner on a student-led social media campaign opportunity. The goal of the campaign is to promote social distancing and highlight the positive aspects of the practice in an enjoyable and engaging method using a variety of social media platforms.

Ms. Paula Collier, Health Promotion Program Manager for the Hamilton County Health Department, is the campaign supervisor guiding the UTC MPH students in promoting social distancing with different communities in Hamilton County. The three MPH students leading the campaign include Kimberly Reid (Class of 2020), Rosetta Loeser and Taylor Moore (Class of 2021). Each student is responsible for engaging a specific age group (18-22, 23-26, and 27-35 years old) and promoting the hashtag #AloneTogetherCHA. Through this campaign, our students encourage social distancing while working to reduce the negative effects from limited physical contact with others. This is achieved through the production of informative and interactive content such as hash-tagging, virtual games and challenges, home fitness, video skits, and photo sharing. We invite you to check out the content at: @AloneTogetherCHA, Alone Together Chattanooga, and Alone2getherCHA.

Our MPH students provided weekly reports to the health department with an overview of their weekly activities (i.e., number of new followers, likes, and shares), while describing lessons learned and strategies for implementing new messages for the following week. The reports were reviewed by Ms. Collier and shared with the Health Department’s Communications team. Overall, the Health Department has been very impressed with the efforts of our students and hope to continue with the campaign throughout the summer. We are very thankful for this incredible partnership and the opportunity offered to our students by the Hamilton County Health Department.

Feedback provided by the individuals involved in this campaign include:

Kimberly Reid, MPH 2020 Candidate

“Knowing the negative impacts of social isolation, I was excited to be a part of a campaign that emphasized togetherness while still promoting physical distancing. Social media outlets are wonderful tools for connecting community members as well as promoting reliable information about COVID-19. Our team learned a lot about effective ways to engage various age groups and I feel we were able to shine a light on a challenging situation. I am grateful for the experience to help others (and myself) navigate this unusual time.”

 Taylor Moore, MPH 2021 Candidate

“The social media campaign has been exciting for me to raise awareness of social distancing and encourage the residents of Chattanooga to maintain healthy lifestyles.  I am grateful for the opportunity to create positive content that can inspire individuals to stay safe and productive at home during this time.”

Rosetta Loeser, MPH 2021 Candidate

“Participating in the Alone Together Chattanooga social media campaign was highly rewarding. This experience has been a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to assist with countywide outreach efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I am thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Hamilton County Health Department in the outreach effort.”

Paula Collier, Health Promotion Program Manager, Hamilton County Health Department

“The Hamilton County Health Department partnered with UTC MPH students to create a COVID-19 social distancing media campaign targeting young adults. The students created educational and interactive material, reported metrics, and attended meetings via Zoom. Strong partnerships like this benefit the community.”

Alone Together Challenge Video

Kimberly Reid, MPH 2020 graduate, created a video for the Alone Together Chattanooga social media campaign inspired by the #DontRushChallenge. A variety of Chattanooga residents participated in the video including UTC students and family, local NFL player, and YouTuber celebrities.

The video is available in the Alone Together social media platforms and was also shared through the UTC social media handles. The UTC MPH Program is very proud of the work  our students have done to help promote social distancing in our community in a fun and engaging way. We hope you all enjoy the video!


UTC News: MPH Students Conducting Contact Tracing

Every day, Jasmine Pulliam and Mary Ferris get on their phones and make a handful of calls. Each time, they ask the person on the other end a list of questions:

  • How are you feeling today, well or unwell?
  • Are you experiencing coughing?
  • Are you having difficulty breathing/wheezing?
  • Have you experienced fever, chills or body aches?
  • What was your highest temperature in the last 24 hours?
  • Do you have any questions or need to tell me anything else?

They aren’t talking with friends or relatives. In fact, they’re having the conversations with complete strangers.

Both Pulliam and Ferris are in the Master of Public Health program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Along with athletic training students, undergraduate pre-med students and faculty in the Department of Health and Human Services, they’re touching base daily with people who have had contact with someone ill with coronavirus.

None of the people being interviewed actually have the virus; the goal is to track whether they eventually show symptoms or not. From there, health officials can determine where the virus might have previously been, where it might spread and the number of patients suffering from it.

Pulliam has five subjects to call daily and said they have been “very calm and aware of the situation.”

“They are very cooperative and open to answering questions,” she said.

Ferris, who has two interview subjects but expects to have more assigned, describes the people as upbeat and friendly and have not seemed worried.”

Dawn Ford, clinical associate professor with the Master of Public Health program, trained 61 volunteers on procedures, which were developed by the Hamilton County Health Department. From there, the Health Department gets in touch with her when it has people that need tracking, Ford said.

“I assign the contacts to the volunteers and do a quick just-in-time training to go over the specific instructions,” Ford said.

While the Master in Public Health program focuses mostly on preventing and controlling chronic diseases, “there is overlap in how public health workers respond to both infectious and chronic diseases,” Ferris explained.

“As the severity of this novel coronavirus became more apparent to our cohort, we began looking for ways to incorporate our public health studies with the local response,” she said.

UTC MPH students are also involved with the Health Department’s Twitter campaign #AlonetogetherCHA, which promotes social distancing.

“It is a privilege to be able to contribute to local efforts in combating this pandemic,” Ferris said.

Mary Ferris works with the Health Department from her home Thursday, April 9, 2020, to check on people who have come into contact with someone who tests positive for Covid 19.

Erlanger Health System’s Infection Prevention ILE Project

“For my Integrative Learning Experience (ILE), I was lucky enough to be able to partner with Erlanger Health System’s Infection Prevention department. Among many other responsibilities, the department tracks hand hygiene data for multiple Erlanger hospitals. This data is important because it can relate to rates of hospital-acquired infections. I came into the department right as they were transitioning to a new online database to track hand hygiene compliance, so I created training materials to help the nurses navigate the system easily. The materials I created (a short video, an instructional document, and promotional items) walk users through the steps to enter a hand washing observation and will be featured on the homepage of the new database.”

– Megan Sloan, MPH 2020 Candidate


Physical Activity & Nutrition After-School Program (MANE) at Orchard Knob

MPH faculty and students implemented the MANE (Methodical Approach to Activity and Nutrition Education) program at a local community elementary school in efforts to promote healthy lifestyles among children. Dr. Kara Hamilton, Dr. Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, and Professor Melissa Powell were awarded a $12,000 grant through the UTC Equity Fellows program. Their work focuses on advancing the design of a physical activity and nutrition program (MANE) using a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach in the Orchard Knob community. Two MPH students, Kimberly Reid and Zach Farley, served as the project coordinators, and other MPH and undergraduate students assisted with the program.

Public Health & Occupational Therapy Collaboration

UTC Public Health and Occupational Therapy students partnered together as part of an interdisciplinary initiative to deliver the Matter of Balance (MOB) program. Public Health faculty member, Dr. Elizabeth Hathaway, partnered with Dr. Elicia Cruz and students from the UTC Occupational Therapy program as part of an interdisciplinary project to deliver an evidence-based program, MOB, throughout Chattanooga. MOB is an 8-session program, structured group intervention that emphasizes practical strategies to reduce fear of falling and increase activity levels among geriatric populations.

Our first year MPH students were certified by OT faculty member, Dr. Erin Melhorn earlier in January. Both MPH and OT students facilitated the MOB sessions across nine sites this semester. A special thank you goes out to the following community partners:

  • Ridgedale Baptist Church
  • Purpose Point Community Health
  • John Calvin apartments
  • YMCA downtown
  • YMCA Cleveland
  • Silvertree Seniors
  • The Bridge at Ooltewah
  • Caldstead Foundation Community
  • Orange Grove

We welcome and look forward to further collaborations across disciplines at UTC!