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Making a difference in public health

Honored Graduating Student: Alyssa Baer (HLTH)

Growing up immersed in the healthcare industry, Alyssa Baer knew she wanted to study public health at Brigham Young University.

Alyssa Baer

“I saw a lot of the inner workings of public health, due to different health challenges in my family,” Baer says. At one point, she’d thought about possibly becoming a doctor or a physical therapist, but eventually decided that what the world needs—and what she could offer—was a more preventative approach to health and well-being.

“Traditional medicine is so important,” Baer says, “but it’s definitely very reactionary, whereas public health is focused on understanding social determinants—changing environments, behaviors, and the resources available to help people prevent health concerns before they happen.”

Of the four available emphases in Department of Public Health, Baer chose health promotion, and “never questioned if it was the right place to be.”

Baer recently received the Ballard Scholar for Social Impact with the BYU Marriott Ballard Center. For Baer’s undergraduate honors thesis, she conducted an impact-evaluation on a local non-profit organization that works with vulnerable children.

According to Baer, there are a large number of well-intending non-profit organizations popping up around the world, but not all of them have the best results. Impact evaluation is important to make certain that a non-profit has a positive impact instead of a detrimental one.

“I love that,” she says, “I love that I have been able to take the things I’ve learned and actually implement them and see them impact people.”

When Baer graduates, she will transition to working full-time for the local non-profit she impact studied. She will travel to Zambia and implement programs to assist impoverished and marginalized populations.

“I have an opportunity to create sustainable programs,” she says, “that will actually affect change.”

While in the public health program, Baer has been a teaching and research assistant. Currently, she works with a professor on the nighttime commuter safety of female college students. The study will examine the differences in how men and women can walk at night, as most women often don’t feel safe enough to walk around by themselves. Baer is hoping to find out how to better construct environments that are more conducive to the safety of women.

Alyssa Baer

Baer also placed second with her team in this year’s National Society for Public Health Education competition.

This fall, Baer will start graduate school in public health with an emphasis in maternal and child health.

“Public health is so fascinating, because every social problem is interrelated,” Baer says. “Our social problems are so complex and interconnected, so in order to solve them sustainably, we have to find interconnected and complex solutions. To think outside the box, and be innovative; coming together to talk about these problems, and ultimately make our community safer.”