University of Southern California: Public health program, ‘very real’ Trojan network help graduate land coveted job

Jane Lam felt a sense of accomplishment and pride as she stood among a sea of crimson and gold graduates to receive her master of public health during USC’s commencement ceremony at the Los Angeles Coliseum in May.

One month later, she started her dream job, a plum position as a health program analyst II at Heluna Health recruiting epidemiology analysts, research analysts and epidemiologists for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH).

Lam said it was the Master of Public Health program’s practicum, courses, and the Trojan family network that made it happen.

“You learn quickly that the Trojan family, this spirit we have, it’s special,” said Lam, a lifelong Angeleno who earned an MPH with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics. “I have so much gratitude for the guidance and support I’ve received.”

Jane Lam, MPH (2021)
A pandemic practicum

MPH students are required to take a practicum, a 300-hour experience working within a public health agency or organization. Lam completed her experience with the Randall Lewis Health Policy Fellowship, a competitive internship for graduate students interested in health policy.

The fellowship placed Lam with the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, where she learned how to transform data and information into programs and policy recommendations for public health and environmental justice leaders.

Lam ultimately logged in 400 hours over a period of six months, all during the pandemic, running two separate projects that looked at adverse health impacts in disadvantaged communities and how policies could address resulting health disparities during the planning process.

Her hard work paid off.

“During my job interview I was asked if I had any project management or health policy experience, and I was able to bring up my work with SCAG,” Lam said.

Capstone networking

That’s music to Jane Steinberg’s ears. The director of public health practice programs for the MPH program makes a point to invite alumni to speak to students in her Capstone courses.

Jane Steinberg
Jane Steinberg, PhD, MPH
“Our graduates are filling critical gaps in our local health departments and beyond due to the graying of the workforce in healthcare, as well as a great expansion of jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Steinberg, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of population and public health sciences. “We are so proud to set them up for success and to watch them support each other and thrive after graduation.”

Steinberg invited Jonathan Han, MPH (2020), who spoke about how much he enjoyed his meaningful work as an epidemiology analyst at LACDPH through Heluna Health.

“I heard that, and I was like, ‘That’s it! I need to talk to him,’” Lam said.

Lam reached out to Han to learn more about his work and employer. Over time, she shared her resume so he could have more context about her experience. Then she asked him to write a letter of recommendation.

Trojan network a two-way street

Han didn’t hesitate to help.

“I’ve received so many resources and so many opportunities through USC, and specifically with the MPH program where my professors have been willing to vouch for me at the drop of a hat sometimes,” Han said. “I attribute the ability to be where I am to the people at USC and I want to do the same for my fellow Trojans.”

Lam’s organization made the process easier for Han during a busy time professionally mid-pandemic.

“The Trojan family and the Trojan network are very real,” Han said. “People point out how expensive USC can be, but part of the package is you have access to this really wide network of people who are willing to help you—it’s worth it to take advantage of the strong family USC has built.”