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Learning About Program Evaluation at the Sarah Samuels Center for Public Health Research & Evaluation

Emily Altman photoEmily Altman, Second Year PHN Student

This summer I had the opportunity to work as an intern at the Sarah Samuels Center for Public Health Research & Evaluation (Samuels Center) located in Oakland, CA (www.samuelscenter.com). Established 20 years ago, Samuels Center works closely with community and public health partners to evaluate interventions focused on addressing public health nutrition. The overarching goal of this work is to promote public health. The mission of Samuels Center perfectly aligns with the goals of our Public Health Nutrition program and I was thus eager to join the team as a summer intern.

I quickly learned that despite being a relatively small research and evaluation firm, Samuels Center has the capability to complete comprehensive research and evaluation projects at the community, county, and state levels. Over the course of the summer I worked on nine evaluation projects, which exposed me to skills and content that added to my previous domestic and international work in public health. For example, I co-moderated focus groups with parents whose children were in a childcare intervention as well as with the providers themselves. This research explored the impact of improved access to quality childcare on child and family health. I also helped code and analyze a series of interviews with community organizations working to reduce early childhood obesity in Los Angeles County. These organizations had missions ranging from establishing hospital policies to support breastfeeding to building parks for children in underserved areas. In a third project, I used SPSS to analyze pre- and post-test data from a school-based nutrition intervention in a low-income county.

From these and other projects, I learned how valuable rigorous research methods are in program evaluation and how high quality evaluation data can inform decisions to improve public health. I was also reminded of the importance of balancing high quality science with the practical needs of a community. These hands-on experiences and the excellent mentoring I received from top-notch professionals at Samuels Center were instrumental in helping me develop skills and a new mindset as I enter my second year at Berkeley. I am grateful for having the opportunity to work with an inspirational team at Samuels Center and to use since day one many of the skills I learned in- and outside of the classroom at UC Berkeley. Ultimately, I was inspired by Samuels Center’s commitment to maintaining a strong connection to the communities that it serves.

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