First Year Programs

UW Public Health Initiative and FIGs Collaboration

March 30, 2021

Full Article: Collaboration offers incoming students an understanding of population health

An ongoing collaboration between the University of Washington Population Health Initiative and First Year Programs offers incoming undergraduate students the opportunity to research and learn about the concept of population health within the local Seattle community.

This partnership reaches approximately 3,000 incoming freshmen and transfer students, offering students a preliminary introduction to the concept of population health and its interdisciplinarity.

“The basic premise behind First Year Programs is to help create smaller academic communities for incoming students,” Meghan Coletta, program manager of First Year Programs, said.

To accomplish this, First Year Programs offers various programs to welcome incoming freshmen or transfer students to the UW community, including First-year Interest Groups (FIG).

FIGs are groups of approximately 20 to 25 undergraduate students who are enrolled in the same primary courses together during their first quarter at the UW. In addition, all FIG students enroll in a two-credit course, General Studies 199: The University Community.

The course is designed to promote critical thinking, undergraduate research and community engagement. The University Community course is led by a returning undergraduate student FIG leader and includes several projects to help students accomplish these goals.

Among these is a quarter-long Communities & Resources assignment that allows students to analyze a critical population health challenge within a local Seattle neighborhood. The project integrates population health principles and the Seattle Communities & Resources Project (CoRe).

“[Population health] hits every industry, every major,” Coletta said. “There’s a touchpoint to anything that a student could be doing in their career field.”

The project provides students with research experience, promotes collaboration and community building. Through this project, students apply a population health lens to examine how various aspects of a Seattle neighborhood impact resident health and well-being.

The project begins with students intentionally matched into interdisciplinary groups by FIG leaders. This promotes student engagement with peers with different academic or personal backgrounds, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration early in their academic careers.

The groups then choose a specific Seattle neighborhood to research via in-person or online community exploration and academic research. After conducting preliminary research, students identify critical population health challenges within the area.

“Research has always been infused into the course because we always want to honor the fact that we are a Research I institution,” Coletta said.

Past projects have touched on issues ranging from access to healthcaretransportation access inequitiesbarriers to education and access to affordable housing.

The project allows students to familiarize themselves with Seattle while also opening students’ eyes to local population health challenges and existing disparities.

“Seattle can be described as a diverse and liberal city, but this [project] has students dig into that and learn that there’s more to it,” Coletta said. “Seattle has a dense history, and not all of it is a positive history. We want students to get off campus, either virtually or in-person, and notice that.”

Further, the project assignment requires students to think critically and engage with population health topics innovatively. Students are afforded creative liberty, free to communicate their research findings through a variety of means. The only stipulation is that they cannot create a PowerPoint.

“This is a way to infuse research into a non-academic form that is accessible for everyone around,” Coletta said.

Previous projects have taken the form of newsletters, original websites, Instagram accounts, Twitter pages, magazines, travel guides and infographics.

“We’ve seen such incredible examples of what students are able to pull from this,” Coletta said.

Through this collaboration, the Population Health Initiative supports incoming students as they engage with local communities and learn how many overlapping and intersecting determinants impact health and well-being.

“Population health really does impact every single facet of life,” Coletta said. “That’s something that we want students to grasp by examining a neighborhood right near them in the Seattle area.”