What they're saying...

Carnisha Gilder

“The Health Promotion Sciences program is an inclusive environment that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of students. The PhD program more than prepared me for a plethora of amazing positions in industry and academia for behavioral scientists that have come across my desk. My hands on experience in the weight management lab and teaching experience prepared me the most.” – Carnisha Gilder, PhD in Health Promotion Sciences 2021 Graduate

Working with Faculty Leaders

Carnisha applied to UConn’s PhD in Health Promotion Sciences program because of her desire to make a significant positive impact in the field of obesity research. Carnisha is a full-time doctoral candidate who works alongside Dr. Tricia Leahey, a leader in the field of behavioral interventions for weight loss and weight loss maintenance.  Carnisha’s work focuses on the impact of social connectedness on weight loss and weight loss maintenance. She also explores race as a moderator.

When reflecting on the PhD Health Promotion Sciences Program, Carnisha says it equips students with valuable skill sets that are transferable to positions in both industry and academia. This program allows students to work cross-functionally with the most distinguished professors and researchers in their field, from obesity research to advanced statistics. Not only are the faculty leaders in their field, but they’re also a joy to work alongside.

Carnisha, to this day, reflects fondly on her experience specifically with Dr. Tricia Leahey writing: "words cannot express how grateful I am for your guidance and mentorship. You advocate for your students like no other. You inspire me to show up as my best self because you always operate in excellence and integrity. Thank you for introducing me to behavioral weight loss and the weight management lab. My experience as an interventionist has been rewarding in more ways than one. Thank you for all that you do. But, most importantly, thanks for being you."

Gaining Workforce Experience Before Entering the Workforce

In the lab, students are given essential roles. Carnisha is currently the lead interventionist for a behavioral weight-loss trial funded by the NIH. As an interventionist, she positively impacts the lives of hundreds of people on their weight loss journey. The PhD in Health Promotion Sciences Program also gives students valuable teaching experience. Carnisha is the instructor of record for a writing course. “I am grateful for the roles and experiences that I am given in the PhD program,” Carnisha says. “Most people don’t get these experiences until their first years in the workforce.”

An Inclusive Environment for All

Carnisha believes that UConn is a safe and inclusive environment for diverse students to thrive. “The Health Promotion Sciences program is an inclusive environment that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of students,” she says.

Carnisha recommends the Health Promotion Science program to people who want to make real change in the health industry. “This program doesn’t limit you to any career. The skills that you acquire during your time in the program are incredibly transferable.”

Sara Borrello

“I use what I learned in my health promotion classes every day at my job – and it makes me a better practitioner.” – Sara Borrello, 2020 MS in Health Promotion Sciences

An Interdisciplinary Program

Sara joined the Allied Health Sciences Department to complete her MS in Health Promotion Sciences after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences from UConn. She was drawn to the program because of its interdisciplinary nature – “In the real world, good nutrition is not black and white,” she says. “This program expanded my nutrition education because of its focus on environmental, psychological, biological, and social implications of health promotion.”

Now, Sara works as a Registered Dietitian at Signature Healthcare. She works with a multidisciplinary team of practitioners and with clients – 1-on-1 and in group class settings – to provide nutrition counseling to patients undergoing medical and surgical weight loss. As Signature Healthcare merges with the Endocrinology Center to form the Metabolic Center, Sara will work with patients with diabetes and other endocrine disorders including the thyroid, pituitary and adrenal diseases.

Valuable Experiences that Transcend the Classroom

As a student, Sara learned many valuable lessons that she’s brought into her career. “Through our assignments, I became confident in reading and interpreting research. I was able to present them in front of large groups of people. I connected with successful professionals in the healthcare field who mentored me and have stayed in contact with me to this day.” She also reflects on the program’s faculty – and reminds students that people are always willing to help if you ask.

During her time in the Health Promotion Sciences program, Sara engaged in research through the Walnut Study, which was a clinical trial looking at the effects of walnut supplementation on inflammatory biomarkers associated with colorectal cancer. She reflects on the Walnut Study as one of her most valuable experiences in the program because of how much she learned about the research process.

Sara also highlights the importance of communication – something she was able to master specifically with her biostatistics project, which she presented to 75 people. “The thought of it was terrifying to me but it helped me get over my fear of being in front of groups. A huge part of health promotion is communicating your findings and providing education, so developing strong presentation skills through this program will help me throughout my career,” Sara says.

Becoming a Better Practitioner

When discussing the Health Promotion Sciences program, Sara highlights that students don’t have to know exactly what career they want to pursue to be successful. “Say yes to every opportunity,” she says. “Learn as much as you can and network with as many people as you can. You never know what you can learn from an opportunity or who you will meet that will help you on your career journey.” And when considering the overall impact of the program, Sara sums it up nicely: “I use what I learned in my health promotion classes every day at my job – and it makes me a better practitioner.”

Heidi Karner

“No required course was irrelevant. Each and every class had something to offer with a fresh new perspective. I wanted a well-rounded degree, and I got one!” – Heidi Karner, 2019 MS in Health Promotion Sciences

Applying Knowledge and Skills

Heidi joined the MS in Health Promotion Sciences Program because of how applicable and impactful the coursework was. After graduating in Fall 2019, she began working at Joslin Diabetes Center as a Nutrition & Diabetes Care and Education Specialist with a focus on diabetes in pregnancy.

In her current position, Heidi applies what she learned at UConn by providing Medical Nutrition Therapy and Diabetes Self-Management Education to people with varying types of diabetes including Type 1,  Type 2, and gestational diabetes. She teaches the Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby gestational diabetes class for newly diagnosed mothers, develops meal plans for patients based on dietary preferences and comorbidities, and helps create educational materials and curricula for the Center.

Impactful Experiences in the Classroom and in the Field

As a student in UConn’s MS in Health Promotion Sciences program, Heidi found a lot of value in the partnerships she formed. As part of her SNAP-Ed graduate assistantship, she worked with Foodshare, tabling at food pantries in the greater Hartford area, and taught preschoolers about nutrition. “I was able to apply the knowledge I was learning through my coursework, in the field – with high risk populations,” she says. “This made it so much more impactful for me.”

In addition to her valuable field experiences, Heidi reflects positively on her time in the classroom, learning about health disparities and how to vet published research. “I loved how applicable and impactful the coursework was,” she reflects. “No required course was irrelevant. Each and every class had something to offer with a fresh new perspective. I wanted a well-rounded degree, and I got one!”

A Tailored Experience

For those interested in pursuing a degree and career in health promotion sciences, the health promotion sciences program is the perfect fit. “You can tailor your experience to pursue your career goals in just about any healthcare field,” Heidi says. “If you have the drive and determination, there are people in this program who can connect you and open doors for you.”

Looking back, Heidi’s memories of the program were positive because of the department’s focus on what’s best for each student. “I felt heard and seen during my time in graduate school, and I feel very fortunate to have had the level of support and guidance that I had during my time in UConn’s MS in Health Promotion Sciences program.”

Colleen Mistler

“The field is incredibly rewarding - you feel a sense of purpose in working in this field.” – Colleen Mistler, 2023 (planned) PhD in Health Promotion Sciences

An Ideal Learning Environment for All

After graduating with a Master of Science degree in Health Promotion and Disease prevention from Springfield College, Colleen was drawn to UConn’s PhD in Health Promotion Sciences because of the program’s focus in the behavioral sciences and comprehensive course load. “The inclusive environment and multidimensional research interests of the faculty in the program provide an ideal learning environment for all,” Colleen says.

As a full-time PhD student planning to graduate in 2023, Colleen is funded by a National Institutes of Mental Health T-32 Social Process of HIV/AIDS training program. Her work focuses on adapting treatment protocols to accommodate for cognitive dysfunction in clinical settings. For her dissertation, Colleen is hoping to research improving outcomes for people with opioid use disorder through tailored treatment. Her work builds on research with her advisor, Dr. Michael Copenhaver, focused on HIV prevention among opioid-dependent individuals in drug treatment.

A Wide Range of Skills

With the guidance of multiple department faculty, Colleen has gained the knowledge and skills to conduct high quality research during her time in the Health Promotion Sciences PhD program. “The resources provided by the program have allowed me to establish myself as a qualified, early investigator in my field of research,” Colleen says. “Working alongside my advisor has been extremely valuable to me for many reasons – I’ve learned about establishing research groups, the research process, scientific writing, and grantsmanship.”

In addition to everything Colleen has learned about research, she also mentions the other skills she’s learned in the program. “This program has also taught me effective communication skills, and the value of transparency in both academic and research endeavors. There’s a big focus on professional development as well, which has been extremely helpful in developing and advancing my academic career.”

A Rewarding Field

For students interested in learning more about the field, Colleen recommends UConn’s program to anyone who wants to advance their understanding of health sciences research. And for those considering pursuing a career in health promotion sciences, “the field is incredibly rewarding – you feel a sense of purpose in working in this field. And by adding to an evidence-based foundation of health promotion programs, you can increase the well-being of our communities.”