The University of Iowa

Q & A with Public Health graduate student Sefonobong Obot

Sefonobong Obot


How has working on a community engagement project shaped or enhanced your education?

As a community and behavioral health major in the public health program, I recognize public health includes not only understanding the behavior of individuals in order to know how to help them better, but also trying to understand what a community wants as a whole in terms of becoming a healthier city. This project really helped shape what goes into talking to communities and understanding their interests and what they look for from you as a potential resource. I had not previously worked with communities to this degree, so that was all new.

This project also added a certain depth of understanding to what I am learning in my classes. It is one thing to learn about how to interact with communities and talk about how collaboration works theoretically. To actually see it play out and be part of it over a whole semester and to contextualize the lessons from the classroom to see what true collaborative relationships can look like was something else.


Sefon's public health group


In what ways did working with IISC effect your project and your interaction with the university and community?

IISC was a huge help, along with our professor Dr. Shelly Campo, in navigating different ways to go about talking about issues in Mason City such as transportation. They each have experience with dealing with communities and their stakeholders, so their understanding of logistics and media was a great resource. IISC provided assistance in working with community partners, such as the Cerro Gordo County Public Health Department, to get data information for our project and just providing support to help us with components and facets of a community project that we would not have known about, such as figuring out how radio ads work in Mason City. We all just felt that we were really being supported and had the capability of being part of building the community collaboration in a mutual way because we had people behind us who had already been there to guide us and enhance our interactions.


How do you feel your project went in terms of quality and execution?

For the purpose of the class it went well. We met the requirements of the class in terms of what does it mean to sit down with a partner and understand their needs and then propose a way to meet those needs. Also, taking the final proposal and delivering it in such a way that the community partner could understand it and potentially implement it in Mason City was valuable. Working with community partners who may not necessarily have the resources such as the man-power, time or finances to implement everything caused us to make sure we were being mindful of our recommendations and producing a final deliverable that they could actually utilize.

Because we spent time in the community and talked to those who would be directly effected by the results of our project, we were able to get a better sense of how that community defines itself. From there, we were able to produce results that stayed true to that community definition. For example, we worked with Mason City on their transportation needs so we spoke with a bus driver, those who ride the bus, but also those who participate in other forms of transportation such as carpooling. By talking about all the alternative transportation methods with those who actually utilize them in the community, we had more insight on how to execute our project, which really enhanced the quality of the final product.


IISC community visit


What was the most rewarding part of working on your project?

The most rewarding part was actually presenting the project because at that time we actually had different media tools to utilize, one of which was a poster campaign which had photos of people from the community. So, it was just really rewarding to be able to say “Look, here are some of the beautiful members of your community who use these different forms of transportation.” Just showing the hidden beauty that is within Mason City to all of the community was really rewarding.


What was the most challenging part of working on the project?

The most challenging part of the project was commuting to and from Mason City. We really had to try to figure out how we were going to maximize our time when we went there because it is quite a drive. That being said, whenever I would go it always felt rewarding, the work we were able to get done while we were there always outweighed the logistics and planning that had to go into the trip.


Do you have any last comments?

I really loved my team – we worked so well together. We made sure everyone was able to provide their input and were listened to. We all traveled to Mason City multiple times which was not a class requirement but we all wanted to. We truly put in the investment as individuals and as a team for the project. I also feel that part of that just goes to show how well IISC presented the project. It is not just a one and done, it is a collaboration, it is building partnerships and getting to know what the community wants. Having IISC set that bar was really helpful.


Learn more about Sefonobong's community engagement project here.