Sometimes it can be challenging to connect with fellow students in an online program. Master of Public Health (MPH) student Liz McCormick and Olivia Thomas (MPH '23) both decided to connect with their peers as quickly as they could. Since meeting virtually in their first class together, the pair navigated through the MPH program knowing they had each other’s back. Liz and Olivia talk about their public health interests, give advice to students, and more in this Q&A.

How did you two meet?

Liz: Our first semester we took Introduction to Public Health at the same time, and we were part of a small discussion group. Now 4 of us are still talking regularly on a weekly basis and it’s cool to go through a program with someone who’s been there since day one.

Why is it important to connect with others during an online class?

Liz: When you’re in an online class it’s easy to step back and not include yourself in conversations, but you learn the most when you’re collaborating with other people. I find it helpful to bounce ideas off others. Some of my favorite assignments were group discussions and looking at things from someone else’s perspective.

Olivia: I would say the foundation of connection is that personal aspect of it. Liz and I happen to live really close to each other so it’s nice that we were able to build that foundation of a friendship because it makes the experience at school a lot easier. Make sure to reach out to your peers and see who’s around you!

What was the MPH application process like?

Olivia: I knew I wanted to stay in Michigan, and I ended up choosing MSU because of the flexibility of the online program and being able to work and live where I wanted to. I ended being very happy with my decision. But I will admit that at first I was little nervous about being fully online because of the peer connection aspect about school, but the faculty and my peers really made it a great experience.

Liz: I’m a little bit opposite because I knew I wanted to return to MSU at some capacity, so I applied for two different programs. I chose public health because I liked how in tune it was with medicine, but it focuses on helping people on a community scale rather than one patient at a time like I had been doing before. I also liked the fact that I didn’t have to move, the flexibility, and what time of day I could study so I could continue working my day job. I did the program part-time, and you went more full-time right, Olivia?

Olivia: It’s not too bad going full-time but my advice would be to pace yourself. I struggled a little bit at first because I took much on at once and wanted to finish at a certain time, but you should really take your time so you can finish strong and enjoy the ride along the way.

Liz: I like doing just two courses at a time because I’m able to really focus on the course material and I’m able to put my full effort into those assignments.

What are your current jobs?

Olivia: I just accepted my post-graduation job. I’m going to be a client launch lead for a healthcare company. I will get to do some traveling and train community engagement employees from my company to host events and run public health programs. 

Liz: I have two jobs – I’m a teaching assistant for our program which is really fun. I’m also a graduate intern at MPHI where I’m contracted out with MDHHS and we do surveillance on respiratory illness hospitalization. I’m very interested in working in epidemiology.

What is your favorite class or public health topic?

Olivia: My favorite class was the course on community engagement because that’s the field I work in and what I want to continue doing.

Liz: I really enjoyed our health equity course. Learning from Dr. Renee Canady was amazing and it really went in-depth on topics that I didn’t know a lot about but needed to learn more. Honestly, there are so many great professors to learn from and it’s great that they’re so open to talking over email. I could reach out and ask about topics and they gladly will talk with you for ages. And it’s awesome to see the different pathways you can go down through them and it’s nice to have their mentorship.

Olivia: I’d like to shout out Dr. Phillips! On a student engagement level, she is the best at connecting people and helping you figure out what you need to do to be successful. She was a big support for me as I finished the rest of the program.

Liz: We love you Dr. Phillips!

Olivia, you just graduated - what was your experience finishing the program like? Do you have any advice for MPH students?

Olivia: I was really excited to finally get this piece of paper that represented all the work I’d done over the past couple years! I was nervous about finding a job, but I kept in mind that with time I would be rewarded. I encourage you to start job hunting early, maybe the semester before you graduate, just to see what types of jobs are out there. And give yourself some leeway to see where you fit in the world of public health.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Olivia: Go green!

Liz: Go white!


Are you an MPH student looking to collaborate with peers and enhance the sense of community in the program? 
Join the MPH Student Advisory Board (SAB). 


September 14, 2023