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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Seth Shelby

January 2, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Seth Shelby first became interested in public health when he started a new role as a physical education teacher at a middle school several years out from his 2014 graduation from UofSC with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. The U.S. Army veteran had already taught ninth through 12th grade students at a high school in Virginia, but this was his first experience teaching health education to sixth through eighth grade students. Lacking official guidance or materials from his school district, Shelby turned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for evidence-based resources.

“I found a lot of success combining ecological models with art integration to deliver the content in a meaningful way while also meeting the state standards for each grade level,” he says. “Over the two years I taught middle school, I found myself more professionally engaged with what I was doing on the health side of things versus in the physical education domain, so I did research into graduate programs and was delighted to discover that UofSC was offering an online option.”

I am fascinated by the transformative potential of community health and connecting community members to resources.

-Seth Shelby, Online MPH in HPEB - Professional Program

In 2018, Shelby transitioned to the elementary school setting, rounding out his experience in working with students across the K-12 spectrum, and this fall he enrolled in the Arnold School’s Online Master of Public Health (MPH) in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB) – Professional Program. Though balancing a full-time job, academic coursework and family life leaves little time for other pursuits, Shelby has somehow managed to apply what he’s learning in real time.

“I am fascinated by the transformative potential of community health and connecting community members to resources,” he says. “I do my best to utilize my growing content knowledge to help create positive change in my school.”

With the goal of taking a more active role in collaborating with other staff and community stakeholders to create interventions that promote healthier lifestyles, Shelby is using existing resources and structures to lead interventions in three domains: classroom, staff and community. Prior to the start of the school year, he sat down with teachers, parents and administrators to identify the needs of each group.

This has been my best year professionally without a doubt, and I attribute that success to my enrollment in the MPH program.

-Seth Shelby, Online MPH in HPEB - Professional Program

The resulting interventions Shelby has developed include visiting classrooms between his own physical education lessons to deliver South Carolina standards-based, age-appropriate health content. He also conducts weekly Staff Wellness Days after school where he leads nearly half of the school’s teachers and other staff members in group workouts and discussions of barriers and successes in a supportive environment.

“The participants love it and are seeing and feeling a difference, which makes me incredibly happy and motivated to create fun and interactive workouts,” Shelby says. “It has been a truly inspiring collective effort that I look forward to each week.”

At the community level, the Teacher of the Year nominee has partnered with his school’s Title 1 Coordinator to host and promote Community Walk Day, where they convene with local residents (usually 30-40 families) to walk around the school’s track for an hour every other Saturday. They are also working to establish a fresh produce connection to the school to provide healthy food options for parents and staff.

“These interventions have taken plenty of time and energy to implement; however, they create a sense of purpose in me professionally that has really allowed me to build more meaningful relationships with the entire school community,” Shelby says. “This has been my best year professionally without a doubt, and I attribute that success to my enrollment in the MPH program.”

In addition to useful – and immediately applicable – course content, Shelby has already found mentors among the faculty members within his program. In particular, he credits HPEB associate professor Sonya Jones’ engaging qualitative methods class with inspiring his own efforts in community change.

For others who are feeling similarly inspired to make community change and considering a master’s degree in public health, Shelby has some advice. “Make sure that your heart is in it, especially if you’re working full time and planning to complete the program on top of those and any family responsibilities,” he says. “It takes a lot of reflection, balance and coffee.”

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