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Health Promotion | Selected Student Profiles

Annessa Bontrager, Current Student

Anessa Bontrager

What is your academic/professional background prior to coming to AU?    

I received my Bachelor of Science in Community Health from Slippery Rock University. I completed my internship at Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield working with a physical activity based afterschool/recess program and got hired to continue working with Highmark for the year after my internship. From there I moved to DC, earned my Certified Personal Trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist certifications and began personal training. I decided to move from a gym setting to training clients in their homes. I got all the proper licensure and started my own business, Impact Fitness.

Why did you choose AU, and the MS in Health Promotion Management specifically?

I knew I wanted to start a career where I could make a big impact in the Health Promotion field. I had some friends graduate from the MS in Health Promotion program who had similar interests and passions as myself. They told me to look into AU's program and after I did, my search was over. The opportunity for research, internships and hands-on experience that is connected with this graduate program is unmatched. The professors in the Health Promotion Management program have a genuine desire to positively impact the surrounding community, and that is infectious.

Can you describe what you are working on at your current internship/job?

Along with continuing my personal training business, I am currently a full time Health and Fitness Supervisor of the Recreational Sports and Fitness department at AU. This position allows me to use my knowledge in health communication to create monthly bulletin boards, newsletters and flyers along with managing the department's social media. I am also able to provide wellness events throughout the semester such as nutrition lectures, blood drives and 5ks. The position not only provides a paycheck, but helps pay for tuition! This is a great opportunity to stay connected to opportunities at AU, hold a full time job and still be able to go to school.

Devin Ellsworth, Current Student

Devin Ellsworth

What is your academic/professional background prior to coming to AU?

Prior to attending American University, I spent a great deal of time bouncing around from job to job, trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I graduated from Boston University in May 2008, with a BA in Environmental Policy. I loved what I studied at BU, and knew I wanted to do something that helped improve the global environment. However, I needed time to figure out where best to apply my skills. So I worked at a summer camp teaching about nature for four summers, I lived in Costa Rica and taught English, spent a great deal of time working and living in Boston and some time in Minneapolis. Finally I found that my passion was for food - specifically the environmental impact of food - and for teaching. After some searching, I found the Masters of Science in Health Promotion Management at AU and knew immediately it was the perfect fit for what I want to do in the future!

Why did you choose AU, and the Master's in Health Promotion Management specifically?

I liked the fact that AU is located in DC, which is one of my favorite cities. I was fortunate enough to spend a semester here in college as an intern on Capitol Hill, and knew I loved the area. I had also heard great things about AU. I chose the Health Promotion Management program because of an article on the front page of the AU website when I was browsing for programs. It detailed the work of Dr. Anastasia Snelling, a professor here, and the Associate Dean for SETH (School of Education, Teaching and Health), focusing on her work with a school in a food desert of DC. I read about her work to improve the health of the school and the surrounding community and knew right then that I wanted to be a part of this graduate program, and more specifically the work she was doing.

Have you worked on any specific research projects that you would like to highlight?

I am currently working on a research project that looks to better understand how information that is being tested is selected for standardized testing. I am primarily looking at testing that is delivered to urban school districts such as district wide testing and testing the Special Education eligibility.

Can you describe what you are working on at your current internship/job?

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to get involved with Dr. Snelling's work here in DC. For my graduate assistantship, I am working on a project that is funded by a USDA grant to expand Dr. Snelling's work to 11 DC schools with the most need. In each of the schools we have identified a "Wellness Champion", a teacher or member of the staff that will help lead the charge to improve the health of the school community. Projects spearheaded by our Champions are largely their design, and can range from starting a school garden to establishing a wellness council in the school to a pedometer challenge for the staff. The work is very exciting, and I am honored to have a chance to support the efforts of these amazing and dedicated teachers as they work to improve their schools!

Lauren Williams, Current Student

Lauren Williams

What is your academic/professional background prior to coming to AU?

I got my BA in Media Studies from the Catholic University of America, with an interest in pursuing a career in television production. While the field proved to be fast-paced and lively, I began to question whether I would still find this line of work fulfilling in the future. After going back to the drawing board, I realized that health/fitness had become a firm cornerstone in my life. The prospect of promoting healthy behaviors in the community excited me, so I began searching for ways to turn this passion into a career.

Why did you choose AU, and the Master's in Health Promotion Management specifically?

After researching all of the health-related graduate programs in the area, I was uniquely drawn the the Health Promotion Management Program at AU. I found that the ideals of the program aligned with my own, and would start me on the path to achieving my career aspirations. I also liked the variety of classes that the program offered, as I believe that health promotion requires a multi-faceted approach.

Have you worked on any specific research projects that you would like to highlight?

As a graduate student at AU, I have the unique opportunity to participate in a behavioral economics study funded by the USDA. The study involves myself and other graduate students visiting public elementary schools in DC and Arlington to observe whether "taste tests" affect vegetable consumption among students. In the test schools, broccoli and black beans were prepared three different ways; students then voted on their favorite preparation, which would be served in the lunchroom moving forward. Over two follow-up visits, we observed whether this engagement effected their vegetable consumption. The study proved to be a great opportunity for hands-on experience in health promotion.

Betsy Walters, Current Student

Betsy Walters

What is your academic/professional background prior to coming to AU?

I have a BA in Psychology with minors in Biology and Military Science from Marquette University. I also have an MBA with an emphasis in Project Management from Lakeland College. After completing my BA, I entered into the Army as a Medical Service Corps officer. I deployed to Iraq with a Medical Evacuation Battalion, and then finished up my military service as the Administrative Officer of a Combat Support Hospital. Following that, I was the Health Promotion Officer at a US Army installation in Vincenza, Italy, employed by the US Army Public Health Command.

Why did you choose AU, and the Master's in Health Promotion Management specifically?

I often joke that I finally know what I want to do when I grow up, and I'd like the degree to back it up. Having completed my MBA online, I really wanted to experience an in-person Master's program. I knew I wanted a degree that would afford me the opportunity to sit for the CHES (Commission for Health Education Credentialing) if I wanted it. I narrowed down my search, and found that American University had a very solid, well-established and respected program. Because my husband is on Active Duty, I move around frequently. Another huge appeal of the AU program is the network in the field that comes with it.

Can you describe what you are working on at your current internship/job?

I currently work as the Senior Manager of Professional Services at NASPE (National Association for Sport and Physical Education). A very big project I am working on is the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. AAHPERD, NASPE's parent organization, is a partner in this President's Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition initiative. We are in charge of the Professional Development piece of this program. What makes this program so exciting is its focus on teaching health-related fitness to students to give them the skills they need for lifelong fitness.

Christopher Smith, Current Student

Christopher Smith

What is your academic/professional background prior to coming to AU?

Prior to coming to AU I received my Associates in Fine Arts from Northern Virginia Community College and received my first Yoga Teaching certificate. My yoga certification inspired me to shift academic gears and pursue a career in the health field.

Why did you choose AU, and the Master's in Health Promotion Management specifically?

I chose American University for many reasons. Being in DC offered me unique opportunities that other schools didn't. American university also offered me the ability to work on my MS while still finishing my BS. After beginning my MS program I am still able to work full time while finishing my Master's in two years.

Can you describe what you are working on at your current internship/job?

My current internship/job is managing CorePower's Glover Park Studio. As a studio manager I teach four different types of yoga classes for students. I also market the studio to new students. I collaborate with community business partners on events, manage instructors and work with students. I get to apply what I have learned in the program to my everyday work life.