Work-integrated learning benefits students and their communities

Originally from the University of Alberta's School of Public Health

Shelby Rowein, a master of public health (MPH) student, knew her dream job before she started her education in public health. “I grew up on a farm. I want to live on a farm. And I knew I wanted to work in public health.”

With an undergraduate degree in nutrition, Rowein is a registered dietitian in her last semester of her MPH with “quite a few things on the go.”

Monday through Wednesday, she spends the morning working as a clinical dietitian with Alberta Health Services and virtually supporting public health students as a teaching assistant in the evening. “I’ve always wanted to make connections and learn from students,” said Rowein.

Thursday and Friday are reserved for working for the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARND), who work with community members to tackle problems in infrastructure, homelessness, mental health supports, and other broader societal issues affecting rural communities in the province.

This work opportunity is part of a work-integrated learning program at the School of Public Health. These 400-hour immersive placements are a critical part of a well-rounded public health education, providing students with essential professional experience which allows them to  apply classroom knowledge in a practical way that benefits both community partners and students.

In turn, these opportunities foster strong links between the School of Public Health and organizations in the community that can build a more resilient future for Alberta by adopting public health expertise. Erin Pollock, Assistant Teaching Professor, Experiential Learning at the School of Public Health, sits down with graduate students to discuss what public health competencies they want to develop and demonstrate in future careers.

“The Practice Office aims to connect students with organizations that are engaging in public health work that benefits both student learning and organizational public health capacity,” commented Pollock.

Through her work, Pollock aims to “create connections and a network of organizations that better understand public health professionals within the work that they do.” This opportunity helps organizations realize their public health potential and connects them to the appropriate resources, tools, and public health professionals to help them create resilient societies. The Alberta Rural Development Network is one such organization that has benefitted from the work of public health students.

After learning about how they could increase their capacity to create stronger food security in rural Alberta through a work-integrated learning partnership with the School of Public Health, ARDN took on Rowein, ultimately hiring her as a project manager.

“This is my dream job. To live on a farm and continue to help [rural] communities plan and get better access to food,” said Rowein.

Since then, ARDN has engaged with the School of Public Health and undertook two student team projects and there is a future for another practicum student. The not-for-profit group is working with these students to identify gaps and better understand public health complexities in rural Alberta, allowing them to better access new streams of revenue and expand their capacity to help rural communities.

Public Health work-integrated learning placements help organizations build stronger networks and incorporate public health knowledge into their business model, enabling them to foster more resilient workplaces, communities and organizations.

“Public health is all about supporting populations where they live, work, and play - not just one or the other,” said Pollock. With public health professionals in all sectors of our society, we would see a more resilient economy, reduced disease burden, and “the integration of health and wellness into everyday life.”

According to Statistics Canada, students who undergo experiential learning opportunities earn more than their peers, enjoy higher full-time employment rates and are more likely to pay off their debt. And for students like Rowein, it led to a job in their dream field.

When asked about how she’ll change the world, Rowein wants to empower people towards greater food security. “I want to continue working on the broader social determinants of health so people can take power back and get access to food. I also want to see people more independent in growing their own food.”

To learn more about the work-integrated learning program at the School of Public Health, contact Erin Pollock at


Julia Juco