Cecelia Madsen was a fellow with the Master of Public Health Program at the very start, before there were staff, faculty or students. She had just returned from the Peace Corps from Senegal to live in Ithaca, NY where she was born, to work as an assistant coach for Cornell’s rowing team. As an MPH Program fellow, Cecelia helped with early marketing, recruiting, and admissions.
Next, as an MPH student who enrolled with the first cohort in 2017, Cecelia concentrated in Food Systems and Health. She engaged with community nutrition education projects through Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, including a start-up Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Rx prescription program that continues to expand, today. She spent her summer internship with the Sustainability Research Department of PepsiCo in New York City, helping to review global water impact strategies and to plan for watershed educational materials. For her final MPH graduation capstone report, Cecelia created a “Global Health Security 2.0” framework to make the case for “an effective public health policy response to non-communicable diseases.”
Now, Cecelia is back to her roots, coaching rowing at Cornell. In this role, she currently spends a lot of time recruiting and talking to high school athletes about Cornell. “A lot of coaching is about helping students to be good people and to work through challenges together,” Cecelia says. The skills she helps to teach, like teamwork, resilience and time management, were also key to her past public health work and MPH coursework. “This still relates to public health,” she points out, not only because of the value of group athletics for promoting physical and mental health, but because “we are working toward collective health—actions at the individual level are about the collective team, and if some are forgotten or left behind, it impacts the whole group.” This is very much what public health is all about, according to Cecelia. In her work, she gets to practice leadership, public speaking, designing plans, and identifying indicators of progress or success—all skills she refined in Methods courses with the MPH Program.
During COVID-19, Cornell athletics coaches like Cecelia have remained consistent touch points for students. Cecelia says these sorts of support networks and the skills she helps foster, to face challenges and trust in the whole team to “pull through,” are important in crisis times. She checks in with students every week or two, asking them about their mental health, staying active, feeling safe, and capacity to be a productive student. If a student is struggling, she refers them to other campus services such as mental health services, athlete tutoring services, or nutritionists. The Cornell rowing team is also leading an athletics team fundraiser for United Way of Tompkins County to contribute to the COVID-19 response.
“I remember when the MPH Program started and a lot of people were confused about why it was in the vet school [College of Veterinary Medicine],” says Cecelia, “but it’s easier now to explain because of the COVID-19 pandemic and all that’s being brought to light about zoonotic diseases and the food system–Cornell was ahead of the curve,” she says, in focusing on the “One Health” interconnection of animal, human and environmental health.
Cecelia feels that no matter what happens next, her MPH degree will always allow her to contribute to society in ways that are relevant and important.