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SUNY Downstate SPH Student Spotlight

Photo of Donell Harvin

Donell Harvin

DrPH Candidate with a
Concentration in Environmental and Occupational Health Science

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What brought you to the field of Public Health and prompted you to pursue a DrPH degree?

I have worked in the health field for 20 years, starting out as a paramedic working in underserved communities, specifically Brooklyn and the immediate area around SUNY Downstate. I saw public health as a higher calling and a way to affect more lives and serve a greater population than just one patient at a time. Before starting SUNY's DrPH program, I completed an MPH in Environmental Science, an MPA in Emergency Management, and a masters (MA) certificate in Terrorism Studies. My previous work has involved the study of air quality around public schools, and the psychology of terrorism and suicide bombers. I am still actively involved in EMS and I have written and taught extensively on EMS, emergency management and suicide terrorism. I currently teach EMS, Police and Fire/Rescue and emergency management personnel as an adjunct professor at John Jay College, and I have also served as a researcher at John Jay's Center on Terrorism Studies. I am currently the Deputy Director for the NYC Medical Examiner's Special Operations Division, an interdisciplinary team tasked with responding to incidents involving numerous fatalities and/or in complex fatality management scenarios in the tri-state region. I have been involved in many emergency/disaster responses including the 1993 WTC bombing, 9/11, the November 12, 2001 Flight 587, the 2007 steam pipe explosion, and the 2009 Mid-air collision over the Hudson.

I decided to pursue a DrPH degree to gain the skills necessary to effectively research morbidity and mortality from environmentally-mediated diseases that occur as a result of disasters. After I complete my degree, I plan to work with international disaster relief organizations and schools of public health to advance environmental disease prevention and control in disaster-stricken communities.

What made you choose SUNY Downstate?

I chose SUNY for three major reasons: the location, the value, and the focus and commitment to addressing health disparities in the urban environment. I visited the school three times before making my decision to come here, and I found that the faculty were very excited about what they we doing; that energy made me very interested in being part of what was happening here. The faculty were open to helping me achieve MY goals, and in creating a research project that fit MY needs, unlike other schools that I had visited which wanted me to align myself with faculty's pre-existing research interests. Also, I was well aware of SUNY Downstate's national reputation in medicine and the sciences, and their extensive and distinguished history of research excellence. Students come from all over the country, and from other parts of the world to study here. Simply put; you get the big name, without the big tuition bill.

In my time at SUNY Downstate, I have had the freedom to pursue my own academic interests while being exposed to areas in public health that I had not known well, or appreciated. The DrPH program encourages and empowers students to take control of their education, and master the subject-matter. The work is a true collaboration between students and faculty. Students work together to challenge each other to be prepared, knowledgeable and compassionate public health practitioners. This style of interactive learning has given me "real-life" skills that I have already been able to use in my interactions with peers and superiors in my current job.

What would you say to a student considering the program?

If you are serious about public health, and are committed to developing the skills needed to address the health concerns that we face, then SUNY Downstate SPH is the school for you.