University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Public Health Undergrads Learn Through Service

Public Health Undergrads Learn Through Service


Students gain valuable experience while at the UW, but not many can say they’ve produced a video that “improves the interface between Chinese callers and 9-1-1 dispatchers.”

Tracy Yeung, who graduated from the UW in 2015 with a BS in public health and a BA in medical anthropology and global health, worked on such a video as part of the public health capstone course at the UW School of Public Health.

“I hope that people in the Chinese community with limited English proficiency, especially the older population, will be able to watch the video and feel more confident about calling 9-1-1,” Yeung says.

The capstone is a pioneering program that combines learning goals and community service to enhance student intellectual growth and the common good. In the required two-quarter course, students apply the knowledge they acquired in their degree program by creating solutions to public health problems. In Tracy Yeung’s case, she tried to help Chinese immigrants overcome language barriers when making emergency calls. 

So far, students have dedicated more than 20,000 cumulative hours supporting projects that strengthen local communities and provide services to vulnerable populations. Partners have included the Chinese Information and Service Center, United Way of King County, Urban Rest Stop, Roots Young Adult Shelter, Jewish Family Services, Low-income Housing Institute, International Refugee Commission, East African Community Services and Bailey Boushay House. About 50 projects are lined up for this year.

“We fill so many different needs,” says Deborah Hinchey, a clinical instructor of health services who teaches the course. “Students are filling positions that help keep the doors open, they’re interacting with people in need, helping clean bathrooms and showers.” It’s not always the most glamorous work, but it teaches students humility and helps them better understand the communities they seek to serve.

“Students bring everything together during their capstone,” Hinchey says. “It’s a structured way for them to gain exposure to communities and make meaning of their experiences.”

This year, 240 students bring their fresh perspectives to an array of societal challenges, from refugee resettlement and food insecurity, to financial stability and homelessness. The projects, in turn, impact the students— building leaders who possess passion, proficiency and confidence that their work can change the world.

Says Hinchey, “Students examine their own power and privilege, who they are and how they see the world.”