February 8, 2023 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
As far as life missions go, Zach Jenkins’ is simple and clear: to spread peace, love and joy to everyone he encounters. Fortunately, it’s a goal he gets to work towards in both his personal and professional lives.
“I feel like I get to do that every day in this job,” the workforce development associate says. “I am very fortunate to work at this amazing school with such amazing people, and I hope that everyone finds a career where they have as much fun and feel as fulfilled as I do.”
Jenkins’ career began as an undergraduate at Youngstown State University studying exercise science in his hometown. It was his senior year when he read a small paragraph about public health in one of his textbooks.
I am very fortunate to work at this amazing school with such amazing people, and I hope that everyone finds a career where they have as much fun and feel as fulfilled as I do.
“I had never heard of it before, so I asked the professor about it,” Jenkins remembers. “He said, ‘exercise science is about hugging one tree at a time; public health is about hugging all of the trees at once.’ That idea deeply intrigued me, so I knew I had to get involved in public health.”
Youngstown State faculty introduced Jenkins to the Arnold School, particularly its work to prevent childhood obesity through increasing physical activity. He snagged an internship with exercise science researchers Russell Pate and Kerry McIver-Cordan, who were leading a project through the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group.
This experience cemented Jenkins’ interest in the field. That fall, he enrolled in the department’s Master of Public Health in Physical Activity and Public Health program and continued to build on his interests in these areas.
“Graduate school was a truly special experience for me,” he says. “I loved meeting so many great people, including students, faculty and public health practitioners.”
One of his most meaningful experiences during the program was completing his practicum (now known as a practice experience). Though the details may vary across programs, practice experiences provide students with hands-on learning opportunities where they can apply their knowledge and skills in real public health environments.
For Jenkins, this milestone took place under the direction of exercise science faculty Michael Beets and Glenn Weaver, who also specialize in children’s physical activity and obesity prevention. Both are invesitagors with the Arnold Childhood Obesity Initiative.
“This was a time of deep reflection and self-discovery both personally and professionally,” says Jenkins, who saw the job posting for his current position shortly after graduating. “Experiential learning had played such an important role in my life that the thought of helping future students with their experiences sounded like my dream job, which it turned out, it was.”
Five years later, Jenkins still loves what he does. Depending on the day, that can include building and managing relationships with employers who sponsor practice experiences and working with students to identify their interests. He even focuses on experiental learning as a third-year Ph.D. student in USC’s educational leadership and policies program.
I love getting to know everyone’s story as to how they got involved and interested in public health. And I love helping them figure out how practice experiences can advance their career aspirations.
Approximately 30-40 students engage in practice experiences each year, completing 140-250 hours of hands-on activities that result in two quality work products that demonstrate public health competencies. These projects are designed to serve the needs of both the students and the sponsoring public health organizations. Behind the scenes, Jenkins tracks these activities using a data management system and facilitates contract negotiations to complete memorandums of agreement between the Arnold School and each of the nearly 200 placement sites across the United States within our network.
"Zach is our school’s liaison to master of public health students when they need support the most ... when they are trying to enter the job market," says Lucy Ingram, associate dean for academic affairs and online education. "He is an integral part of what makes our school thrive, guiding students and faculty advisors in what is needed to complete the practice experience requirement for graduation and helping students feel better prepared to enter the workforce with their newly gained public health skillset. Zach does his job with infectious joy, and he has an unmatched rapport with students and colleagues alike."
“I love getting to know everyone’s story as to how they got involved and interested in public health,” Jenkins says. “And I love helping them figure out how practice experiences can advance their career aspirations.”
The Staff Spotlight Series is sponsored by the Arnold School's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.