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Aflac Fellows Program already making a difference after year one

July 27, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

It’s been just over a year since the Arnold School signed a partnership with Fortune 500 financial insurance company Aflac® to establish the Aflac Fellows Program. Having completed the first academic calendar year of support, the program has already done just what it intended and more.

The Aflac Fellowship Fund provides $250,000 to offset the costs of tuition and other educational fees associated with earning a Master of Public Health in Physical Activity and Public Health (MPH-PAPH) degree, the first program of its kind in the nation, from the Arnold School’s Department of Exercise Science (EXSC). Initially designed to provide five $10,000 fellowships for five years, the fund was able to extend the support even further by providing partial scholarship to eight MPH-PAPH (Elizabeth Costa, Kurt Heischmidt, Taja Hereford, Zachary Jenkins, Katharine Olscamp, Andrew Trusty, Anna Claire Breland, Lauren Reid, Shelli James) during the 2015-2016 academic year.

The partnership supports the United States’ National Physical Activity Plan, the 2016 version of which calls for a diverse public health workforce with competence and expertise in physical activity and health. One of the tactics the plan outlines under this strategy is to increase the number of graduates from programs like the MPH-PAPH. That’s where the Aflac Fellows Program really makes a difference.

I've loved the combination of public health and exercise science courses and am really encouraged by the integration of the physical activity focus in so much of my coursework.

-Katharine Olscamp, MPH-PAPH Student

“The Fellowships proved to be an excellent recruiting tool for the 2015 cohort, as they provide financial support for educational expenses,” says Research Assistant Professor Jennifer O’Neill, who also serves as the Graduate Director for the MPH-PAPH program. “The Fellows are hard-working students who are passionate about promoting physical activity. Their interests reflect the wide range of populations and settings in the field of physical activity and public health: children and adolescents, older adults, worksite settings, policy, and the built environment.”

These eight students were delighted to be named Fellows for the 2015-2016 academic year, and they’ve made the most of their financial support and the community service opportunities that accompany this honor. “The Aflac Fellowship allowed me to focus on my academics instead of requiring a part-time job,” says Katharine Olscamp, who is also a USC Graduate Civic Scholar. “I've loved the combination of public health and exercise science courses and am really encouraged by the integration of the physical activity focus in so much of my coursework. In addition, the professors within the department have encouraged me to look at problems in a different way and consider career paths that I wasn't aware of previously.” 

Olscamp also engages in projects such as the National Physical Activity Plan with EXSC Professor Russell Pate, who helped establish the Aflac Fellows Program. In addition, she is working with Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior Chair and Associate Professor Daniela Friedman on the Healthy Brain Research Network.

Through my coaching role, I also learned a lot that I did not think I would about community physical activity programs and working with disadvantaged populations.

-Lauren Reid, MPH-PAPH Student

The Aflac Fellows Program’s community service requirement has also made an impact. “The Fellowship’s focus on community engagement also encouraged me to get involved in Columbia right away,” says Olscamp, who, along with Fellow Elizabeth Costa, helped plan and execute a Girls on the Run Columbia event. “I've met some amazing individuals and had the opportunity to help with several different stages of the 5K planning process.”

As a part of her community service work, Aflac Fellow Lauren Reid helped coach 3rd-5th grade girls through a Girls on the Run program at a local elementary school (pictured above at the 5K that Olscamp and Costa helped organize). “It was cool to see the girls grow and their attitudes change over the season, and I enjoyed watching my team gain confidence and improve their fitness level,” says Reid, who is also the Dean’s Advisory Council Service Committee Chair, the Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association, and the recipient of a National Institutes of Health Diversity Supplement. “Through my coaching role, I also learned a lot that I did not think I would about community physical activity programs and working with disadvantaged populations.” 

My Aflac Fellowship has given me an opportunity that I would not have had without it. I have the opportunity to chase my dreams and to be a professional who is making a difference already, and I will continue to strive to make this world a better place.

-Zachary Jenkins, MPH-PAPH Student

Aflac Fellow Zachary Jenkins is a graduate assistant for the Carolina Changing Peer Leader (CCPL) program, through which CCPLs serve as peer educators to teach other students about general wellness, sexual health, and mental wellness. “My role is to help lead the CCPLs and make sure everything runs smoothly and is backed scientifically while acting as a role model for them,” Jenkins says of his assistantship, which builds nicely on his MPH-PAPH program work.

“If there is going to be a change for the better in public health, it is going to take a multi-faceted effort from all areas under the umbrella of public health to work together to achieve the best results,” he adds. “My Aflac Fellowship has given me an opportunity that I would not have had without it. I have the opportunity to chase my dreams and to be a professional who is making a difference already, and I will continue to strive to make this world a better place.”


Related:

Arnold School receives $250,000 to establish Aflac® Fellows Program