Public Health Alumni Spotlight

University Communications & Marketing | 09/12/2023

Public Health Alumni Spotlight
(L-R) Lucy Rojas, Christine Yakicic, Makenna Topka, Joe Theiss, Hannah Anderson

In the ever-evolving landscape of public health, passionate individuals are at the forefront, working tirelessly to address global health challenges, promote well-being, and improve the lives of communities worldwide. These dedicated professionals are the unsung heroes who work diligently behind the scenes, making impactful changes in our society. Amongst the public health scene are five SFU alumni, who have embarked on inspiring journeys, each contributing uniquely to the field.

Continue reading for the stories of Lucy Rojas, Christine Yakicic, Makenna Topka, Joe Theiss, and Hannah Anderson!

Public Health at Saint Francis University

Lucy Rojas

Occupation: Global Health instructor with Saint Francis University’s Public Health Department, and Health Care Educator with the Air Force 18th Medical Group with their Education and Training department at Okinawa, Japan.
Lucy graduated with her bachelor’s (2018) and master’s degree (2020) from Saint Francis University. Her focus is education, and she believes that sharing knowledge can positively impact our society. Public Health access and education are a luxury for many. Lucy stated that she can use the knowledge and skills learned through the PUBH program to bridge the gap in services and change health perspectives in impoverished communities. Education improves health because it encourages and enables a healthy lifestyle. Education can create opportunities for better health.
How has the SFU PUBH program helped prepare you to enter the workforce?
I was born and raised in the developing nation of Honduras. Having a different perspective of what health means, the PUBH program with SFU helped me understand all the different aspects involved with Public Health. One key component from the program that stood out was learning about how culture plays an important role in determining health. My learning is not just based on lectures and classwork, it is from real work experiences like projects, fieldwork, and volunteering. The core classes were extremely helpful for a student like me who came from a different background. Prior to the program, I had zero exposure to epidemiology, biostatistics, or public health initiatives.
What was your favorite part of the SFU PUBH program?
The opportunities with the Public Health program are remarkable. One of my favorite parts of the program was the opportunity to participate directly with vulnerable communities during my trip to Costa Rica with H.U.G.S. That was a real-life experience where I gained the most valuable understanding of what it is like to work with less privileged communities. Another great part of the Public Health Program was the support I got during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting from the School of Public Health during my Internship with the America Red Cross in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
What was your favorite thing about the SFU Campus community?
I got a close sense of community from faculties and the smaller class size. I really like how our classwork is discussion-based, real-life scenarios of situations that can happen in the field. The professors were great with lots of knowledge about the program, which really helped me to get out of my comfort zone and have a unique experience at the School of Public Health.
What advice do you have for students who might be thinking about a degree in public health?
Keep an open mind and be prepared to learn from the classroom and outside. You will not just learn from your professors but also from real-life experience, classmates, and your community. A degree in Public Health can provide a large range of different paths that can take you to “Become that someone.”
How has a public health degree helped you “Become that someone……?”
I knew I wanted to be a healthcare provider but was unsure of the route or my next steps. Now, I am happy with how my career has turned out in a rewarding field. Every day, I have the opportunity to impact someone, whether it is one individual or at a group level.

Christine Yakicic

Occupation: Program coordinator for the Childbirth Education Program for Inova Health System in Virginia. 
How has the SFU PUBH program helped prepare you to enter the workforce? The PUBH program at SFU helped prepare me for grad school and the workforce. It was especially helpful in preparing me for grad school by ensuring that I knew all of the essentials of public health and by giving me the option to pursue an MPH. It prepared me for the workforce by giving me the resources to research topics properly and showing me how to use critical thinking skills. 
What was your favorite thing about the SFU Campus community? My favorite part about campus was the size- going to a smaller university allowed me to have one-on-one time with professors if needed. 
What advice do you have for students who might be thinking about a degree in public health? My advice would be to push through! It may be tough sometimes, but the end result is worth it. 
How has a public health degree helped you “Become that someone……?” My degree has helped me become that someone by giving me a boost in the workforce. It helped me get a PRN position at a vaccine clinic and a full-time position at the same hospital. 

Makenna Topka

Occupation:  Administrator at Shadyside Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.
Makenna is a spring 2022 graduate of SFU, who is currently enrolled in the Masters of Public Health program at Saint Francis. 
How has the SFU PUBH program helped prepare you to enter the workforce? The public health program helped prepare me for the workforce by giving me first-hand experience. The program also had a paradigm of classes that gave me all the knowledge necessary to begin my career. 
What was your favorite part of the SFU PUBH program? My favorite part of the SFU public health program was the field experiences. These allowed me to see exactly what I wanted to do with my degree. 
What was your favorite thing about the SFU Campus community? My favorite thing about the SFU campus community is how kind and helpful everyone was. Professors and other students on campus were always happy to help with anything. 
What advice do you have for students who might be thinking about a degree in public health? Narrow down what exactly you want to do in the public health field. There are so many different avenues you can take with a degree in public health, so it is beneficial to figure out what you want your career to be. 
How has a public health degree helped you “Become that someone……?” My public health degree has helped me to “Become that someone” by teaching me about empathy and compassion for others. I use this degree to try and help others in a less fortunate situation or who cannot help themselves.

Joe Theiss

Occupation: Third-year medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine's Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine Program - future physician.
Joe graduated with Honors from Saint Francis University in December 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, a Pre-Medicine Concentration, and a Biology Minor. Upon graduation from Saint Francis University in 2020, he obtained a job at his local county health department, where he was part of a COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team. His role in the position included meeting with over 500+ local restaurants, event planners, and school board members to enhance COVID-19 safety plans in his community. He also participated in several COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including vaccination and testing clinic facilitation, driving a mobile testing unit, and staffing telephone helplines. Joe stated that this opportunity is one of his proudest achievements because he found that giving aid to those in need, especially during one of the most challenging times in the world, is very rewarding. 
Joe's ultimate goal after graduation was to continue pursuing a degree in medicine. Only seven months after starting his first job, he was accepted into Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine Program. He is currently a third-year medical student and is excited about his future career as a physician. While in graduate school, Joe built upon his foundations from SFU by holistically approaching patient scenarios and clinical outcomes, which is required as an osteopathic physician.
What was your favorite part of the SFU PUBH program? All these previous experiences are credited to the help of the SFU Public Health Program. Under the leadership of Dr. Horner and her team, they helped secure me a field experience with my local health department and then my first job. My internship before graduation was the first step in finding a career in public health that I enjoyed, and I felt as though I had the knowledge to complete my responsibilities confidently. Reflecting on this experience sometimes leaves me in shock because I never realized that the principles I learned from SFU were the biggest influence on how I can help manage a worldwide pandemic. 
What advice do you have for students who might be thinking about a degree in public health? My advice to any student deciding if the public health program is the right major or minor for them is to view the program as a broad field of opportunity. Public health is ultimately a service to one’s community through research, evaluation, improvement, and commitment. Public health goals and initiatives to improve health, happiness, and well-being have shaped almost every aspect of day-to-day life. The SFU Public Health Program creates paths for those students looking to step up and be in the field of medicine, who may be unsure of exactly where in medicine, but hope to improve the overall quality of life. 
How has a public health degree helped you “Become that someone……?” As the world transitions out of the COVID-19 Pandemic, I see the impact I made during my time at the local health department and understand my need as a physician in my community, both of which were influenced by my public health degree and my desire to truly “Become that Someone.” 

Hannah Anderson

Occupation: Clinical Supervisor in a Cyber School Setting
Hannah graduated from SFU in 2019 and began working in the behavioral health field. In April 2023,  after completing a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis, she passed her board exam in April 2023. 
"I love public health and use what I learned at SFU to help my clients and students. I work as a clinical supervisor and oversee students in a cyber school setting. I work to help individuals who are on the autism spectrum achieve better behavioral outcomes. I am also working on opening up my own practice."