Student Spotlight: Thomas Troelstrup, MPH student
“Thanks to this terrific program, I was just offered my dream job on Tuesday as a Foodborne Disease Outbreak Epidemiologist for the Tennessee Department of Health in Nashville! I never thought I would land it by the age of 28!”
MPH student Thomas Troelstrup reached out to us with some exciting news about his career this week, so we wanted to connect with him to talk about his new opportunity and his experience with UNE!
Like so many MPH students, Thomas came to study Public Health in a somewhat roundabout way. After high school, he attended community college, playing college baseball and majoring in History. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the opportunity to transfer to UNC Greensboro, to play ball, but History was not available to him as a major due to an issue with transfer credits. He was offered the choice between Public Health, Economics, and Communications as the best potential fits for the amount and type of credits he was transferring in.
As an athlete, Thomas has a natural interest in the field of health. That interest, coupled with the number of job opportunities in the Public Health realm, led Thomas to choose to pursue his BS in Public Health. From his very first class, he fell in love. And after he earned his undergraduate in Public Health, he decided to continue his studies straight through and earn his Master of Public Health.
How Thomas chose UNE
When choosing a graduate school to continue his education, Thomas had three major criteria:
- Accredited university
- 100% online
- Good program reputation
Getting his MPH from an accredited university was a major consideration for Thomas. He chose UNE because he learned during the course of his job search that a degree from an accredited university is mandatory for the majority of federal and state-level public health jobs, and therefore essential for career advancement into high level public health jobs.
When he began his online MPH program search, Thomas had a full time job in the health field already, and he didn’t want to move in order to earn his MPH. So a program that was fully online was a mandatory feature.
During the course of some extensive research into competitive programs, Thomas read several positive reviews about the UNE MPH program. UNE’s US News & World Report ranking was also a great testament to the high quality of UNE’s online MPH program, and was a factor in both deciding to look more deeply into UNE’s programs, and in the end, to apply to the UNE MPH program.
Stellar support right from the beginning
Before Thomas even applied to UNE, he called the university and ended up speaking to Assistant Director of Student Support, Elizabeth Benz, at length about the Public Health program. She walked him through an overview of the program, helped him with his questions, and was just “super helpful” in general. Little did either of them know that that very first phone call would be the beginning of a highly cooperative relationship that continued throughout Thomas’ career at UNE.
Learning as a collaborative process
Thomas felt that having instructors, support staff, and professors all willing and available to be involved in his learning process was instrumental in allowing him to thrive throughout his academic career at UNE. When choosing an online graduate school, one thing that can be overlooked is access to faculty, and Thomas was pleased with the level of involvement from, and access to, his instructors.
Weathering the storms together – the essential role of student support
As it tends to do, life threw Thomas a series of curveballs, seemingly from the very moment he began his online MPH program. Because of a chain of unforeseen events that occurred in his family life, he unexpectedly found himself in need of support and program flexibility.
Thomas found that the support from UNE was tremendous. Both the instructors and the student support staff at UNE were understanding and accommodating of his circumstances during his entire academic journey, and offered extra assistance through his challenging times.
Earning a master’s degree while balancing a full time job and family life can be challenging. So the extra support from UNE during times of struggle helped keep Thomas on track. It would have been easy for his instructors to just leave Thomas to sink or swim – but they were willing to work with him to accommodate his unexpected personal challenges.
Defining a career direction
The single most defining course that Thomas encountered during his studies at UNE was Epidemiology. So much so, in fact, Thomas decided to position himself for a career in that field.
What is Epidemiology?
Epidemiology is the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. In epidemiology, the patient is the community and individuals are viewed collectively.
By definition, epidemiology is the study (scientific, systematic, and data-driven) of the distribution (frequency, pattern) and determinants (causes, risk factors) of health-related states and events (not just diseases) in specified populations (neighborhood, school, city, state, country, global). It is also the application of this study to the control of health problems (Source: Principles of Epidemiology, 3rd Edition).
Beginning with an internship with Florida’s Department of Health, Cancer Program, Thomas explored the chronic disease aspect of Epidemiology. Chronic Disease Epidemiology looks at different factors contributing to chronic diseases (such as Hypertension, Diabetes, Cancers and Cardiovascular Disease) within an entire population and extracts trends from that data. So with his internship, a part of his assignment was to collect data on eCigarette users and analyze the results as they relate to chronic disease incidence.
His internship was a valuable experience, but it also reaffirmed his interest in another branch of Epidemiology – Infectious Disease Epidemiology.
Infectious Disease Epidemiology is the branch of Epidemiology that most resonates with Thomas. It’s an exciting field that requires a researcher to analyze collected data and then explain the story behind it, to respond to emerging threats and improve control of diseases regularly found among specific populations or geographical areas.
Thomas’ new job in Infectious Epidemiology!
Thomas is very much looking forward to his new job, in which he will be dealing with foodborne illness outbreaks. It involves the detective work of locating and identifying clusters of diseases. He will be working in partnership with the University of Tennessee (UT), analyzing the data that UT students have collected through in-person interviews with outbreak victims.
The students will ask victims where they’ve eaten in past seven days, find out if they were with anyone else, then locate the victims’ companions for interviews, observe them for signs of infection, and so on. Thomas will interpret the raw data collected by the students to decipher trends, and trace the outbreaks back to their origins.
A glowing review
When asked, Thomas says that the 100% online aspect of the MPH program and the ability to be flexible and learn at his own pace were the most important components of the MPH program for Thomas.
Thomas says that he can’t stress enough how much he loved the program. Communication from the Student Support Staff and his instructors was amazing and super helpful. He felt that everyone at UNE was able to appreciate that students deal with far more than just what is happening at school, and everyone is committed to helping students succeed.
“Thanks to UNE for a terrific program that prepared me for the public health field!”