Franks, Stefanak Recommissioned as COPH Ambassadors, Give Back to Benefit Students
William J. Franks, BS ’69, and Matthew A. Stefanak III, recently retired health commissioners from Stark and Mahoning counties, respectively, have donned the Kent State blue and gold to formally serve as ambassadors for the College of Public Health. They’ll be evangelizing about public health careers at local high schools, community colleges and Kent State regional campuses to encourage interest and will meet with prospective students and their parents visiting the college. In addition, the ambassadors will spend regular time on the Kent campus, counseling students about job, internship and practicum opportunities.
“It’s just outstanding that these individuals, who’ve served our community for many years, want to focus on building the next generation of public health leaders and work with Kent State to do so,” says Ken Slenkovich, assistant dean, operations and community relations, who is coordinating the Ambassadors Program. “They approached us, wanting to give back to the public health community. How could we not embrace this terrific offer,” he says.
“Our students are clamoring for contacts with public health professionals to give them guidance about finding jobs and to open doors for them,” agrees Dr. Thomas Brewer, associate dean, undergraduate academic affairs. “Bill and Matt’s commitment just demonstrates that people are in this profession because they really love it,” he says.
Franks, a Kent State graduate with 41 years in the field, was “thrilled” that his alma mater was establishing a College of Public Health. He met with Dean Sonia Alemagno several years ago to discuss creation of the college, and the two talked about their mutual interest in matching up students with working public health professionals. The Ambassadors Program has its roots in that conversation, according to Franks. “Students completing their public health education at Kent State should know their options and have contacts, so that when they graduate, they have somewhere to look for a job and get a foot in the door,” he says.
“I see us building an effective referral system through which students can be introduced to different aspects of public health, professionals in the field, internships, summer jobs, and volunteer experiences,” envisions Franks. “Matt and I will be exploring what organizations in our area hire employees with a public health degree and that are willing to have students come for one-on-one experiences,” Franks says.
Franks retired as health commissioner in 2012, and Stefanak stepped down last year as well. “My public health career isn’t over, it’s just taking a turn into practice-based research and higher education, and I expressed an interest to Ken and others in the college of having an academic home,” Stefanak explains.
He views his ambassador role as a logical progression of an existing partnership with Kent State. “In the past, I’ve worked with faculty and staff to perform a community health assessment in the Mahoning Valley, in collaboration with hospital partners and local health departments in our region,” Stefanak says. He also teamed up with John Hoornbeek, Ph.D., associate professor, Health Policy & Management, and his graduate students, to submit a grant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study changes in local health department financing. In addition, Stefanak presently is teaching a section of the undergraduate Capstone in Public Health course.
“Ken suggested that, given the college’s growth trajectory, Kent State would welcome help from experienced health commissioners as ambassadors to promote public health as an academic concentration and profession,” Stefanak recalls. He says that he looks forward to meeting with students to hear about their interests and academic and career plans and to offer his perspectives about the world of work and guidance to help realize their aspirations.
Franks agrees that getting to know students is the first priority. The pair recently spent time at Kent State’s Career Services Center, gaining understanding about how they could be of assistance. “The center is starting to have a lot of public health students come in,” says Franks. “They need resources, contacts and career advice,” he says.