Eight MPH students at the Michigan Capitol

On April 10, 2024, the Michigan Association for Local Public Health (MALPH) held its annual Day at the Capitol advocacy event in Lansing, Michigan. MALPH sponsored eight Master of Public Health (MPH) students to attend the event: Liz McCormick, Harsna Chahal, Anna Pantuso, Kendra Shannon, Erica Schuurman, Mariam Turkey, Katlin Harwood-Schelb, and Taegan Byers.

The group met with five offices (Senator McMorrow’s Legislative Director, Representative Glanville's Legislative Director, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks' Policy Advisor, Representative Ranjeev Puri, and Senator Polehanki's Chief of Staff) advocating for public health state legislative and budget goals. Anna Pantuso, Harsna Chahal, Katlin Harwood-Schelb, and Taegan Byers share their experience advocating at the Capitol.

What led you to participate in the MALPH Day at the Capitol event? How did you prepare?

Anna Pantuso, MPH ‘24: I initially learned about the Michigan Association for Local Public Health (MALPH) Day at the Capitol event through Dr. Clements during a Student Advisory Board (SAB) meeting. Participation in this event was not optional; I chose to pursue a Master of Public Health degree because, in the United States, we have policies that adversely affect disadvantaged populations, and I wanted to learn more about social injustice in order to help put an end to health disparities and promote optimal health for all.

Harsna Chahal, MPH ‘24: What led me to participate is my strong passion for health policy advocacy. Throughout my time at MSU as an undergraduate student, I recognized how important it is for those in the health field to advocate for health policies and programs to dismantle the inequity in access to healthcare. With a new perspective and knowledge gained from the MPH program, I want to help communities in Michigan by talking with Representatives and Senators' offices about the importance of passing these policies and programs.

Katlin Harwood-Schelb, MPH ‘24: MALPH chose the legislation and budgetary proposals, and the organization provided talking points for our meetings. However, we brought our own experiences and expertise to each meeting. The first meeting involved creating a table displaying each of our representatives from our respective districts, an email template to contact each representative, and a schedule for our meetings included in the itinerary provided by MALPH.

Harsna: A couple of days before the advocacy day, we all met to talk about our top legislative priorities from the MALPH's legislative agenda because we recognized that we did not have that much time to talk about everything with the office.

What topic were you most passionate about?

Taegan Byers, MPH ‘25: Leading up to the event, I was thrilled about the topics chosen by MALPH, especially since they aligned with my avid interest in health policy and legislative matters. I felt well-prepared and confident due to my prior knowledge and passion for these subjects. The flavored tobacco regulation legislation resonated with me the most. Having witnessed the detrimental impact of vaping on my peers during middle and high school, I am deeply concerned about its public health implications—especially the long-term effects​.

Anna: While all six topics are important, I felt particularly passionate about the Health Data Utility and Efficiency House Bills. As a healthcare worker who uses Epic Systems daily to chart, my providers and I are constantly inconvenienced by how difficult it can be to review and exchange health information across different electronic medical record (EMR) platforms. These bills aim to address this by increasing the efficiency of healthcare data exchange in order to maximize the patient/client experience and streamline the process of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

Harsna: I felt most passionate about the Kindergarten Oral Health Assessment (KOHA) Program. Growing up without dental insurance in the State of Michigan, I recognized how expensive dental care can be. Knowing that this program can help provide free dental care for young children is so important to me because I recognize not only the financial burden that dental care can have on families but also how important hygienic dental care is for one's health. By advocating for more funding for this program, we can help ensure all children in Michigan have access to this vital program.

What was the experience like? How did you feel throughout the day?

Harsna: I was so excited! I did only get 3 hours of sleep the night before because I spent the night before not only prepping the material that MALPH provided to us but also researching more about the legislation. I also then did specific research on each of the counties to bring up talking points on why the office should be supporting this funding or legislation for their constituents.

Taegan: Throughout the day, I was genuinely excited to discuss important public health initiatives and connect with my peers face-to-face, a rare but fun opportunity in our predominantly asynchronous program. Exploring the Capitol was an added bonus!

Katlin: I’ve never participated in direct advocacy, so I jumped on the opportunity. Although I was very nervous throughout the day, I felt satisfied with how the meetings went, and I viewed them as a positive learning experience.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

Taegan: As someone aspiring to work in health policy and potentially run for public office, this opportunity was invaluable to me. It allowed me to apply the political science foundation from my undergraduate studies and the insights gained during graduate school thus far to advocate for meaningful change in my community.

Harsna: This opportunity created a core memory for me. Not only was I able to step into the shoes of a public health official for the day, but I was also able to advocate for the needs of my community. It was an amazing day of not only creating a stronger bond with my MPH peers but also establishing new connections with legislative offices and amazing public health leaders.

Anna: Opportunities like this that remind me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be; present, learning, listening, advocating, and growing. I’m so glad that I had the chance to attend and participate in this event!


April 22, 2024