WVU Public Health graduates impact communities across West Virginia through practice-based experience

Growing up in Morgantown, West Virginia University was the obvious college choice for Eva Cicci and Colton Sanders. Now, as they prepare to graduate in May, the two School of Public Health students are ready to start a new journey, expanding on the impact they’ve already made through their experiences serving communities across the state.

“I was born and raised in Morgantown, so I will always have a special place for the state and university in my heart,” Colton said. “I have great memories of all the beautiful and unique people I have had the opportunity to meet along the way. From my professors to my fellow students, everyone has had an impact on my time at WVU.”

Colton has made an impact, too, and it’s one he plans to expand upon after graduation.

Although all undergraduate Public Health students complete an applied field placement experience during one of their final semesters, Colton has been working with the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities Regional Transition Navigator Services program for nearly a year. The initiative provides information, training and resources/services to at-risk youth and young adults statewide who face emotional disturbance, mental illness or substance use disorders. While involved with the program, Colton has connected clients with a range of services and helped them to find employment, housing and transportation accessibility as well as food and clothing resources – a perfect complement to his degree’s area of emphasis in patient navigation.

Prior to finding his fit in public health, Colton knew he wanted to work in the healthcare field, but he wasn’t sure which path to follow.

“I have always been drawn to anything health-related growing up,” he said. “My mother has spent many years working for WVU Medicine, so I have always been exposed to the healthcare field. In the time I spent away from school, I involved myself in a variety of activities, using the opportunity to explore different interests and pinpoint what truly motivates me. While browsing through the majors available at WVU, the public health section immediately caught my attention, igniting a strong interest within me. And so, from that point onward, my journey into the world of public health began.”

Like Colton, Eva was always drawn to the healthcare field and was inspired by her mother’s nursing career but didn’t know about the public health program at WVU.

“I started in the pre-nursing field, determined to become a nurse like my mom,” she said. “However, my freshman year was within the peak of COVID, and after many issues with grades, classes and other personal challenges, I decided to research other fields. I expressed interest in psychology, social work and public health. After meeting with representatives of each school and discussing what each program is like, I felt a strong calling to public health and have never wanted to turn back.

“Public health is a broad field full of people who care about people. It is a world that is constantly changing as science develops further and more discoveries are made. Public health is necessary to keep populations and communities safe, healthy, content and thriving to the best of their abilities.”

During her field placement experience, Eva worked with the West Virginia Prevention Research Center’s Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education), focusing on youth mental health services in Cabell, Clay, Fayette, Harrison, Logan and Wirt Counties. Eva provided data collection and analysis support as well as literature reviews that support the ongoing evaluation process that allows for timely adjustment and improvement in project delivery and the achievement of project goals including infrastructure development, service delivery and sustainability in addressing students’ mental health needs.

Eva has accepted an offer to continue working at the Prevention Research Center following graduation, and she would like to further her studies in a master’s degree program.

Colton also plans to carry on the work he started during his field placement experience, whether that’s right away or after attending a graduate program.

“My goal is to work as a patient navigator in a hospital system,” he said. “I hope to propose a grant for funding for a new project similar to the Regional Transition Navigator Services in a rural area with many young individuals living in foster care.

“I am energized to begin searching for a career and building a life I will have great pride in. I welcome and embrace all the unique changes and obstacles that the universe will offer.”

As they look toward the future, the soon-to-be alumni are also reflecting on their college experience and what they wish they would have known as they started their journey.

“Take a breath, relax and learn how you learn,” Eva says. “Grades and GPAs will change. You are not stuck with the letters and numbers that will ‘follow’ you from freshman year. Figuring out how you work academically will help you occupationally.”

Outside the classroom, Colton says students should take advantage of all WVU has to offer.

“Get involved – join clubs, attend sporting events, go to job fairs, watch plays and music performances. Four years have flown by, and I wish I had taken my own advice and been more involved with the university. Many different options exist for student involvement. It would nearly be impossible not to discover something that brings someone enjoyment and a sense of belonging.”



MEDIA CONTACT: Lindsay Wiles
Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health