Since the first Think Tank took place over Fallcoming, we were lucky enough to have a panel of four alums, all experienced in different aspects of public health. After earning a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, Karen McDonnell ’91 began teaching at the George Washington University School of Public Health. Well-versed in maternal and child health, Alysia Mihalakos ’01 is the Interim Chief at Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Rhode Island Department of Health. As a PhD candidate in Biological Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, Allison Demas ’07 is deeply involved in the research aspect of public health. Lastly, James Liebow ’13 is a fellow at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Together, they painted a vivid picture of the challenges and rewards of working in public health to a group of 30 students and faculty members. One of the central topics of discussion was the quality of lunches for kids. Through one of her students, Karen found out how Lunchables and frozen vegetables have become surprisingly healthier over the years. Compared to the price of a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, the cost of cooking a homemade meal doesn’t seem that expensive anymore, although still not as easy. As the son of a school lunch provider, James reflected on the financial difficulty of school lunch providers to supply healthy food with their limited budget. The concern for school lunches only translated to more mandates, not more funding. Similarly, sacrificing gym classes for more classroom time will undoubtedly lead to less healthier children. The panelists also spoke about research on the “obesity gene” and how the effect of GMOs on public health.
On Friday, October 25th, 2013, the Levitt Center had the privilege of hosting Luis Vivanco, Associate Professor and Director of Global and Regional Studies at the University of Vermont, for a Think Tank lunch discussion on “What’s So Interesting About Watching Penguins on Film? ... And Other Reflections on Culture and Nature in Wildlife Film.” Vivanco began Friday’s lunch discussion with a fundamental question: why are we watching penguins so much? He revealed that penguins help us think deeply about issues such as global warming, relationships, and more. By examining two notable films on penguins, Of Penguins and Men and March of the Penguins, Vivanco contrasted the primary ways that human beings observe and examine these animals. Of Penguins and Men provided an examination of penguins focusing on the adventurous, human element of capturing nature shots while March of the Penguins provided an examination of penguins through a hidden, omniscient observer lens. Vivanco posed a final question for the audience as he concluded his lunch discussion: which version of penguins makes more sense? The answer, as he suggested, however, is that both versions make sense.