Alton Russell ‘14 Researches New Approach to Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response

Earlier this semester, Alton Russell ’14 presented his capstone project for his self-designed major in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in global health and sustainability.

Russell, a Wilmington, N.C. native, began his undergraduate career as an engineer. He quickly settled on an industrial engineering degree with a certificate in healthcare systems; however, during his sophomore year Russell decided that he wanted to complement his studies with a second major. As he was interested in how political, social, and cultural factors intertwine to shape the health of individuals, communities, and the environment, he worked with faculty to develop his self-designed major.

“An engineering degree alone was insufficient,” Russell explained. “Problems of health demand solutions that are not only technically innovative but also grounded in an understanding of human factors, and a technically viable solution is useful only to the extent that it is compatible with cultural and political realities. I believed, and still do, the combination of these two degrees would offer a unique and useful preparation for making lasting improvements to health systems.”

For his capstone project in global health and sustainability, Russell partnered with The North Carolina Division of Public Health (NCDPH), a state public health agency that aims to promote health equity, prevent disease, and protect the environment. His project focused on the efforts of the NCDPH’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response branch, which collaborates with entities statewide to determine best practices for dealing with natural disasters, epidemics, and other crises.

Russell worked with a new initiative called the Trusted Leaders in the Community (TLC) Information Network, which is designed to engage religious and civic leaders in the dissemination of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response information. Leaders in this network will be asked to assist in the delivery of critical messages to their congregations and communities before, during, and after an emergency.

Russell’s project was motivated by the notion that in order to have credibility during an emergency, messages are best delivered by trusted leaders of the community. He helped determine that the primary populations that may not be receiving critical health messages through conventional means are minority religious congregations, migrant worker groups, and elderly living communities. Each of these groups has a history of cultural disenfranchisement that may inhibit members from receiving and accepting public health messages from more traditional sources.

“By capitalizing on the strong faith-based and civic networks in North Carolina,” said Russell, “the TLC Information Network will disseminate time-sensitive and potentially life-saving information quickly and efficiently.”

His role in the project was to develop a high-level proposal to communicate internally, research and compile lists of potential TLC partners, and use programming skills to prototype a database of groups and leaders in the TLC Information Network.

“I felt confident taking on this project due to the diverse learning experiences I have gained in and out of the classroom at NC State,” said Russell. “The various leadership roles I have had as a Park Scholar taught me the necessary time management and communication skills, and Park Scholarships’ diversity programming has helped me develop the sensitivity to effectively work with such diverse groups of people.”

Upon graduation, Russell will join Premier, Inc. to help health systems reduce costs without sacrificing quality of care.

Story by Laura Turner