Osa Iyekekpolor sees people in his Dorchester, Mass. neighborhood smoking cigarettes and wonders if they realize how much it can hurt their health.

Phinix Knight-Jack knows that the fast-food restaurant across from where she lives, near Dorchester’s Codman Square, is always a popular spot—and that it serves a lot of unhealthy food that could be contributing to overweight and obesity.

Their shared concern about the health of those in their community is what brought Osa, Phinix, and about a dozen other high school and college students to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in early August to learn some basics about public health and career possibilities in the field. Osa is a senior at Codman Academy, a Dorchester charter school; Phinix is a rising sophomore at Hamilton College and a Codman Academy alumna; and the rest of the students on the tour are current students or alumni at Codman Academy. All have also been working as summer interns at the Codman Square Health Center.

In a presentation from Ra’Shaun Nalls, associate director of community engagement at Harvard Chan School, the students learned that public health researchers examine risk factors for health, such as drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking, or living in areas with high levels of air pollution. Stacey King, assistant director of the MPH (master of public health) field practice, outlined various professional tracks for those with a public health degree, such as health policy, global health, or data analysis.

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