Brenden Smith

After graduating from MSU’s James Madison College with a bachelor’s degree in social relations and policy, Master of Public Health (MPH) student Brenden Smith was inspired to pursue a career that combined his quantitative analysis skills with his passion for helping create healthier communities.

Now preparing to complete the program at the end of April, Brenden reflects on his MPH experience in this Q&A.

What inspired you to pursue a career public health?
Because my personal values align heavily with the field. I believe in prevention, compassion, and the common good. I want my work to serve these ideals for the benefit of my community.

What made you choose Michigan State University?
In part it was proximity. I knew quite a few professors involved in the early days of the public health curriculum from my place of employment. But when I started, the idea of a virtual program really appealed to me. Being able to balance coursework with professional work is extremely valuable.

What was the topic for your capstone?
For my capstone paper, I chose a research study and specifically an analysis of a secondary data source. My paper looks at the Michigan Substance Use Vulnerability Index, a data set made by the State of Michigan that combines social vulnerability data from the CDC with data on the burden of the opioid overdose crisis and substance use treatment resources in Michigan on both the county and zip code levels. My paper uses multiple linear regression to predict the burden variables with the social vulnerability and resource data as independent variables. The results compare how both geographic levels differ in model fit. Right now, I’m finding that the county-level model is better at predicting emergency department visit rates, while the zip code-level model is better at predicting the fatal overdose rates.

What professional or educational accomplishment are you most proud of?
I would say I’m most proud of the poster presentations I’ve been able to participate in while being a student. I had the pleasure of presenting at AcademyHealth’s annual research meeting last summer, I recently presented at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, and I’m looking forward to presenting at the Michigan Epidemiology Conference in April. For each of these conferences, I was accepted for different research projects I have been a part of. Conferences are an incredible opportunity to practice sharing your research with the world, receive feedback from a wide audience, and network with fascinating people. I would highly recommend submitting an abstract whenever you can, even if you think you don’t have a chance of being accepted.

How do you plan on making a difference post-graduation?
I hope to make a difference in local public health. I’ve already accepted an offer to work as a health data analyst at Barry County Community Mental Health Authority. I will be working on their substance abuse task force assisting prevention efforts and helping leverage data into action.

What advice do you have for new MPH students?
My advice is to be open to every opportunity that becomes available to you. I came into the program not exactly knowing what I wanted to do. But if you are open and welcome new learning experiences, you can get an idea of the work and subjects that interest you the most. Another thing I would recommend is to get to know the capstone options early and really think about what you want to end up writing. I found my topic in an unusual way; I took PH878: Applied Biostatistics for Public Health Practitioners, and the final project for this class set me up well enough for a capstone paper with the research study option. I really enjoyed the class and was excited to carry the project into the capstone. Ideally, you should choose the proper selective as they are made to set you up well for your capstone. But be open to the possibilities! You might take an elective that sends you down a different path.

I also want to plug the Student Advisory Board (SAB)! If you’re feeling lost or if you’d like to get even more out of the program, SAB is the perfect group to be a part of. It’s primarily how I was able to connect with other students in the program and get involved in so many other things.

What do you like to do outside of work and school?
I love hiking, camping, and pretty much anything related to the outdoors. I’m big into music and own an extensive record collection. I recently purchased a mountain dulcimer (a long, fretted string instrument) and I am planning on learning some Joni Mitchell.


April 10, 2024