By Elizabeth Drucker
I came to my graduate program in public health with one firm objective weighing heavily on my
mind: I wanted to pursue a career in college student mental health. I have also earned a prior
master’s degree in Higher Education but felt like I needed more training in how to make a
difference in student mental health promotion and suicide prevention. Many of my master’s level
classes allowed me to see differing perspectives of mental health in student populations and how
I might be able to contribute to this field.
ITo graduate from my MPH program at Northern Illinois University, students are required to
complete a graduate level public health internship. At the beginning, I had some ideas of what I
wanted to do, but I had no idea how to accomplish all of my objectives. I had learned all sorts of
public health strategies over the course of the two-year program. I studied the basics of public
health through my core classes such as epidemiology, health management and policy, and
environmental health. And once I entered the final year of my program, I focused on classes in
my health promotion concentration. I learned how to devise health communication strategies and
to use social media effectively to deliver a particular public health message.
IAnd then, with one semester left, it was time to search for my internship. With the COVID-19
pandemic, everything was chaotic and uncertain. While the world seemed to shut down, as we
were required to spend the majority of our time landlocked in our homes, the choices seemed
better on the internship front. In seeking my internship, I could include potential agencies all
over the country—and the world. Just knowing that I could work on something I am so
passionate about—college mental health and suicide—empowered me even more.
II contacted the OSU Suicide Prevention Program with this goal in mind. I had some ideas but
had never built an internship before. I worked this out with the Assistant Director of the OSU
SPP (Laura Lewis). Through the winter and spring, we met to discuss our hopes about what this
internship could do on both ends. We eventually agreed that I would focus on how to provide outreach, information, and advocacy for the parents and families of students who attend Ohio
IAs a student with a mental illness, I had a lot of ideas. I brainstormed about all the things I
wished my parents had known before and during my time in college and graduate school. During
most weeks of my internship, I had Zoom staff meetings with the talented summer crew
dedicated to keeping the program running. I have never had the opportunity to work as a team
before and as I clicked off of the Zoom chats each Wednesday afternoon, I left with a sense that
great things were being done here. The undergraduate students working on our team were
articulate and creative and amazing in so many ways. They listened to me present my first major
summer project: a literature review detailing the current research on how we can best reach the
parents and families of young adults with mental illness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
After I clicked through my powerpoint presentation, they offered many other ideas that I had
never even considered.
IBut my supervisor, Laura Lewis, was truly amazing. Together, we built this internship from
nothing. She facilitated meetings with other OSU administrators and helped me see the larger
picture of how my summer projects would be able to help other student affairs professionals, and
of course, all the students attending The Ohio State University. She was always available and
ready to teach me things about suicide that even as a student with bipolar disorder, I had never
known before. She singlehandedly helped me see the strategies that are most effective to reach
parents in suicide prevention. In our one-on-one meetings, we talked about mental health and
suicide in college students. She gave me a sneak peek of what is being done in this endeavor on
the OSU campus.
II have to say that Ohio State is unique in its unyielding devotion to promoting the mental health
of all students attending this very large public school. In similar institutions, there is a tendency
to get lost in the crowd, in large lecture halls, and that transition into the campus residence halls.
During my time at Ohio State this summer, I have learned that this school is different. I met one
dedicated administrator after another. And as I mentioned earlier, the students are just as
motivated to make their world a better place for themselves and their fellow students. From
working at Ohio State, I can tell that each student is important to the administrators. They make
every effort to reach the students, wherever they are at. I am so grateful that I was able to be a
part of that this summer.
I will take a lot of lessons with me. Despite being a “virtual” internship, I found a great deal of
collegial companionship with the people I worked with, both students and staff. I know that
whatever my professional future holds, I will be able to use the skills I learned during this
internship. I now know that there is great potential for improving college student mental health. I
was stretched in so many directions over the summer and I was able to see how my previous
education may be helpful in promoting college student health and preventing suicide. I had never
really had the opportunity to focus on what is going through the heads of parents as they work
tirelessly to promote student mental health. With this new perspective, I will be able to be more
effective in my role of improving mental health.