EpiAssist reaches out to Rockport

Service learning program partners student volunteers with health departments and public health agencies needing assistance
June 10, 2019

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey slammed Rockport, Texas, with its full force and fury. Houses lifted off their foundations only to be slammed to the ground yards away. Two years later, Rockport residents continue work to rebuild and recover from the destruction left behind.

Recently, public health undergraduate students volunteering with EpiAssist, a service learning program housed in the Texas A&M School of Public Health, provided help to the Texas Department of State Health Services Region 11 personnel to assess the current state of need in the area.

Students Suyash Gupta, Raïssa Lubanda and Claire Rowan traveled with faculty advisor and EpiAssist’s new program lead Angela Clendenin, PhD, instructional assistant professor at the School of Public Health. They drove to Rockport to work alongside public health professionals as they conducted the first Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) in the community since Hurricane Harvey. The Texas A&M team members were each paired with a public health team member and were assigned sections of Aransas County in which to conduct door-to-door, face-to-face surveys assessing the resource needs and documenting the residents’ post-Harvey disaster experience.

“After spending the weekend in Rockport, I learned so much about public health response,” Gupta said. “I was not exactly sure what performing a CASPER was going to entail, but I am glad I did it. Even though I was just collecting data, I felt like I was making a difference and helping these people out. This CASPER experience was one that I will always remember, and I cannot wait until the next one.”

The CASPER process involved receiving just-in-time training at the check-in site, as well as safety training. The Texas A&M team worked with their partners to go over the survey and practice interviewing. The teams were then dispatched to the designated clusters to begin surveying.

“After completing the CASPER in Rockport, I had a greater understanding of the challenges seen by local and state health departments,” Rowan said. “Although I had knowledge of how these health departments and local industries worked, and I had skills gained in classes, the CASPER helped me to connect the two.”

EpiAssist, as a service learning program, partners student volunteers with health departments and public health agencies needing assistance on different projects. Past EpiAssist activities included other CASPERs, data analysis, sample collection, education kit development, program evaluation and helping provide support to the Department of State Health Services’ Medical Operations Center, which was implemented during Hurricane Harvey.

“Overall, I believe that the CASPER is an excellent way to experience public health in action,” Lubanda said. “It’s a great way to apply what you learn in the classroom the real world. It also gives confidence about our abilities to those of us who are seniors and who are about to enter the workforce.”

While the students gain valuable practical skills and begin to build their professional network, EpiAssist partners get needed manpower. However, the lessons the students’ learned go beyond just the practical skills and include the opportunity to engage with communities to educate residents on important public health issues.

“On the trip to Rockport and on the return to College Station, the students and I talked about the purpose of our trip,” Clendenin said. “Whenever you enter into a community still in recovery from a significant disaster, engaging with the residents and listening to their stories, experiencing both their loss and optimism for the future is impactful. I am proud of these students for wanting to serve in the Rockport community. They not only witnessed their public health classroom learning in action, they embodied the Aggie tradition of selfless service.”

Pictured L-R:  Public Health undergraduates Raïssa Lubanda, Claire Rowan, and Suyash Gupta spent two days in Rockport assisting Texas Department of State Health Services Region 11 personnel in assessing the post-Hurricane Harvey needs of residents in the area.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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