Celine LaBelle entered SEBS as a biochemistry major, but quickly realized that her interests lay on the people side of biochemistry— their thoughts, the systems that affect them, how and why they do what they do. Celine ended up taking a FIG (first-year interest group seminar) that centered around public health, and accidentally discovered her passion.
Pursuing a public health major, with a concentration in health disparities, and a statistics minor, Celine is serious about her academic career and was selected as a George H. Cook Honors Scholar. This program is an independent research program for SEBS undergraduates that culminates with a student’s senior honors thesis and final presentation.
Her project focused on food insecurity and food resource use among students using Rutgers-New Brunswick Student Health. “A student’s food insecurity was initially determined at Rutgers Student Health through a “screen and intervene” program,” she explained. “If they were positive for food insecurity (meaning they might have trouble getting regular, safe, and desirable food), they were referred to on-campus services like the Rutgers Student Food Pantry and the Rutgers Dean of Students office. My project focused on who was more likely to use food resources, and what might be done to increase resource use in the future.”
Celine also threw herself into extracurricular activities and campus life. She was a clarinetist in Symphony Band during her freshman and sophomore years, the Rutgers Pep Band for her sophomore, junior, and senior years—travelling to Indianapolis and Chicago for basketball tournaments—and the Marching Scarlet Knights for her junior and senior years.
Motivated by her family, her friends, and “some really great professors” and a determination not to “sweat the small stuff” Celine learned not to underestimate herself or undervalue her own worth.
Being a research assistant at the Aresty Research Center taught her that. One of the younger candidates to apply for an Aresty research assistant position, Celine was asked by Dr. Plascak (the principal investigator) why he should choose her. “I told him that I knew I was young, and that I may not have as much experience as other people, but I was willing to learn and grow if given the chance,” said Celine. “I also mentioned that I had heard—more like researched beforehand—that he was relatively new faculty and that someone had to have taken a chance on him, and that I would hope he would similarly take a chance on me.”
Working five to ten hours per week, per semester, Celine was awarded the Best Social Sciences Poster in 2018 at the annual Rutgers Aresty Research Center Undergraduate Symposium.
Service has also been an important part of Celine’s Rutgers career. She served as a SEBS Ambassador—doing student outreach—and as chapter president of the Bloustein Public Service Association (BPSA.)
As a part of Bloustein PSA, Celine was involved in the Scarlet Day of Service, the Community Food Bank of NJ, Elijah’s Promise and shelter volunteering. To complete her six required Bloustein internship credits, Celine also interned at the Center for Women and Work (through the School of Management and Labor Relations on Rutgers Livingston Campus) last summer.
This spring Celine was selected by the National Office of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) House of Delegates as the recipient of the SOPHE 2019 Chapter Student Recognition Award. Originally scheduled to travel to the SOPHE Annual Meeting in Atlanta over spring break to receive this award, and to participate in the conference, Celine instead “attended” the conference from her couch! “Being selected was an honor,” she said, “and I’m glad to have had the chance to cultivate and expand my knowledge in the field I love
Also this spring, Celine began working at the Montgomery Township Health Department part-time—transitioning to full time due to the pandemic—as a health education intern, care coordinator, and contact tracer.
In light of the pandemic, Celine’s choice of public health as a career seems perfectly timed. When asked about that and whether her view of public health had changed because of it, she said this: “Overall, I would say no. Public health has always been about prevention, protection, and evaluation and this pandemic has just proven that even more. My role has changed iinn that I may be able to find a job easier, but I worry that my job(s) may not be long-term because what usually happens is that key stakeholders like funders and governments, care about public health when there’s an emergency, but once the imminent danger has passed, less importance is placed on public health (and with that, less funding). With less funding, critical programs are cut and we see a negative ripple effect in bigger-picture problems like health equity and social justice. That can be frustrating. My hope is that we take public health more seriously moving forward, and learn from our mistakes.”
For now, Celine’s plans for the future include the job she’s taken with the Health Department, soaking up the sun, hiking, and spending time with her family. She plans to pursue her Masters in Public Health, after getting some experience under her belt.
Congratulations to Celine and the SEBS Class of 2020!