Weissman represents Stempel at FPHA conference, hopes others will follow in her footsteps

Stempel News caught up with Ph.D. student Jessica Weissman on the heels of her recent successful poster presentation at the Florida Public Health Association annual educational conference in Orlando. We asked her to share a bit about her experience representing FIU Stempel College at a statewide conference as well as her advice for others looking to get involved with professional organizations… 

Tell us about your recent attendance at the FPHA conference Orlando. We heard you were the only person representing FIU…

This past summer, I attended the FPHA annual educational conference in Orlando. The conference took place over three days, and I was impressed with the quality and variety of sessions.

To begin with, the educational sessions ranged from topics on environmental health to topics on physical activity, nutrition, infectious diseases and more. The speakers were interesting and well-prepared, and they presented exciting and up-to-date information on public health. Also, there were 18 poster presentations on a variety of interesting and timely topics.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to network with colleagues working in settings such as Florida health departments, other colleges and universities, and Women, Infant and Children programs. On another note, I was disappointed to see that I was the only representative from FIU at this meeting. But the upside is that now I’m serving on the board of FPHA as secretary, and I’m actively encouraging the students in public health programs at FIU to join FPHA.

You presented results from a project conducted in a doctoral course at the conference. What was the poster about? Who worked with you on it?

The poster I presented revealed the results of a study that was conducted as the major assignment for professor William Darrow’s class, Survey Research in Public Health (PHC 7723), during the spring 2015 semester. The title of the poster is “Psychological health and academic success in college students: An exploratory cross-sectional study” and the authors are Jessica Weissman, Sharice Preston, Elena Sebekos, Willmarie Latorre, Bandar Alsaif, Karl Krupp, William Darrow.

The purpose of the study was to explore the association between students’ perception of their own physical and psychological health while the following measures of academic performance: considering dropping out of college, GPA, credit hours and number of classes missed due to health reasons. Students entering the FIU Student Health Services facility at FIU from March 30 through April 9, 2015 completed an anonymous 65-item web-based questionnaire.

Jessica Weissman reps Stempel at FPHA conference

Weissman reps FIU Stempel College at 2015 FPHA conference in Orlando

This was the first study to explore the association between overall physical and psychological health and academic performance in a group of college students. Future studies should determine underlying health reasons for differing academic performance, so that colleges can appropriately tailor dropout prevention efforts and future studies can investigate dropout prevention programs.

Tell us why other FIU Stempel College students should consider attending the FPHA conference in the future.

The benefits far outweigh the cost of the membership. I definitely encourage my fellow public health undergraduate and graduate students to join and get involved with FPHA. The FPHA board and the specialized FPHA committees are always happy to have help from students, and volunteering with this professional organization is a great way to network and improve your curriculum vitae.

Plus, joining FPHA will also give you the opportunity to apply for scholarships and present a poster at the annual meeting. This year, FPHA awarded three $300 and five $500 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, respectively. Eighteen individuals presented innovative and exciting posters and I was proud to have been one of them.

Tell us about yourself.
I think I inherited my health nut genes from my father. I remember him packing his bag and heading off to the gym nearly every day, and I remember my frustration that the facility wouldn’t allow children under the age of 14 to work out. I couldn’t wait that long and would sneak in… The short story is, from an early age health and fitness have been important parts of my life.

I earned an MS in Dietetics and Nutrition from FIU Stempel College in 2010. After obtaining my master’s degree and successfully completing internships to become a registered dietitian (RD), I was immediately hired as a clinical dietitian by my internship supervisor at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. For the following two years (2010-2012), I was successful in my dietetics practice, where I worked as a clinical and bariatric dietitian at local South Florida hospitals while holding the elected position of co-president for the Broward County Dietetic Association (BCDA). However, I knew my true passion remained in academic health research—a field in which I knew that I could make a great impact on society.

Why did you choose to attend FIU Stempel College?

In August 2014, I began the FIU Stempel College Ph.D. program in Public Health with a specialization in Health Promotion & Disease Prevention. I am extremely enthusiastic about this program as it’s a great fit for my interests and passion. I’ve enjoyed every class I have taken, and I’ve enjoyed all of the research, writing and presentation experiences I’ve had so far as well. I highly recommend this Ph.D. program to anyone with an interest in health promotion and disease prevention.

What do you see as the biggest benefits of getting your degree at Stempel?

I’m thankful for all of my mentors who’ve helped me successfully complete my first year in the program, including: professors Devieux, Darrow, McCoy, Bastida, De La Rosa, Kanamori and Trepka. I’m excited to continue working with these mentors to complete my degree.

So far in my academic career, I’ve maintained a GPA of 3.9, published two manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and have recently submitted three additional manuscripts for publication in peer reviewed journals. I have given five professional presentations and have another upcoming poster presentation in November 2015.

Since February 2015, I’ve been working as a graduate research fellow at the Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse at FIU. My CRUSADA mentors—professors De La Rosa, Trepka and Kanamori—have kept me on track with my academic and research goals. CRUSADA has provided such an amazing opportunity for me to improve my research skills including writing manuscripts, abstracts and grant proposals, and giving professional presentations.

I’m happy to be earning my Ph.D. degree from FIU Stempel College for several reasons. First off, the professors, specifically professors McCoy and Bastida, have been critical in helping me to sign up for the appropriate courses. They’ve helped me obtain a graduate fellowship appointment, and they’ve guided me in the right direction so that I can complete my degree requirements in a timely manner. Second, the public health program offers a wide range of classes that enable students to become independent researchers or successful public health practitioners. The classes are practical, interesting and fun! Third, the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention has been quite successful in terms of research projects, so there are a lot of opportunities to get involved with exciting and innovative projects. Fourth, the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention encourages interdisciplinary collaborations, an important and necessary skill for upcoming scientists. Fifth, I’m happy to be earning my degree in Miami, where I am very close to my family, especially my baby nieces and nephews.

What’s next for Jessica Weissman?

I’m excited to share that I will be presenting more results from the FIU Student Health Services study at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in October-November 2015 in Chicago.



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