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Berkeley Public Health undergrads gear up during the pandemic

With classes online and classmates scattered worldwide, undergraduate students at UC Berkeley School of Public Health have been finding new ways to engage with their communities at UC Berkeley and elsewhere.

“One challenge was finding ways to continue to create the sense of community and camaraderie,” said Tiffany Yu, president of the Cal Undergraduate Public Health Coalition (Cal UPHC).

As the largest public health student organization at UC Berkeley, Cal UPHC underwent structural and organizational changes to adapt to the new norms brought on by the pandemic. The various committees that are part of the organization each produced at least one online event or project focusing on community health, environmental health, or health policy since COVID-19 lockdowns started. All events were open to both Berkeley students and the general public.

To help students better understand how global differences in government outlook and culture affected the COVID-19 recovery process in  different countries, the group’s Global Health Committee hosted a webinar that looked at health policies and approaches of 14 countries, including Switzerland, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Thailand. Committee members read scientific literature and journalism to interpret and present possible political and cultural differences.

“Countries like Thailand, Japan, and Taiwan showed a large community effort,” said Hannah Young, committee chair. “Whereas in America, we’re more individualistic.”

Meanwhile, the Human Health and Environment Committee looked at how environmental policies impact people’s daily lives. They encouraged students to vote in the 2020 election by hosting a public webinar with UCSF students and the ASUC Vote Coalition that focused on the environmental policies backed by different presidential candidates.

“We worked with the ASUC Vote Coalition since they focus on making sure that students know that they can vote to express their opinions,” said Christine Youn, committee chair. She said that the webinar provided students with steps on how to register to vote.

Another committee, focused on community health, produced five video tutorials to help immigrants whose first languages are not English communicate efficiently via telehealth during the pandemic

“There are so many things that get lost in translation all the time,” said Aleris Law, committee chair, who has first-hand experience with immigration: her mother is an immigrant. The tutorials are meant to teach immigrants how to make appointments online, where to get COVID-19 tests, and which clinics are closed during the pandemic.

The committee then teamed with VHIO, a volunteer interpretation organization, to translate the subtitles into six languages: Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Tagalog, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Since the pandemic started—along with increased public focus on the field of public health—Cal UPHC has ballooned from 40 students to 140.

Yu says they plan to continue to expand their reach over the coming semester, “to the Berkeley community and beyond.”