Public Health

Intelligent Lives film screening highlights inclusion in Falk College classrooms, research

People surrounding a table preparing for a film shoot.
Professor Katie McDonald (front right, standing), filmmaker Dan Habib (front left, standing) and Micah Fialka-Feldman (seated) prepare for filming of Intelligent Lives at Falk College in 2016.

“When the film, Intelligent Lives is featured as part of the 2018 Syracuse International Film Festival’s Imaging Disability showcase October 14, the audience will see how Falk College classrooms and programs are incredible places of inclusion for students with intellectual disability,” says professor of public health and faculty fellow at the Burton Blatt Institute, Katherine McDonald. The film explores how segregation of people with intellectual disability became the norm, why this segregation is slowly being dismantled, and how some people with intellectual disability are blazing a bold new path, including Micah Fialka-Feldman ’15.

In 2013, McDonald received a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to address the pressing need for scientific knowledge to improve the health of persons with intellectual disability for the study, “Project ETHICS.”

During the study, an expert panel created a survey administered to over 500 people across the U.S. to learn about their views on doing research with adults with an intellectual disability. One of the panel members was Fialka-Feldman, a then-Syracuse University student and teaching assistant, who is now a staff member in the School of Education where he teaches and works on projects in the Taishoff Center as well as McDonald’s Community4All Project. Fialka-Feldman, who graduated in May 2015 with a certificate in Disability Studies, helped design the Project ETHICS survey and assisted with recruitment and sharing findings.

During the project, McDonald was contacted by Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker, Dan Habib from the Institute on Disability (UCEDD) at the University of New Hampshire. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID) in 2014. Fialka-Feldman also served on the PCPID.

Habib filmed Fialka-Feldman participating in Project ETHICS work at Syracuse University and in public health classes in Falk College in 2016. During multiple site visits to campus, Habib and his team spent time with Fialka-Feldman, his friends and colleagues to capture Micah’s vibrant academic, work and social life. The visits included filming Micah at home, working at the SU School of Education, attending his public health class taught by assistant dean of student services and public health professor, Jim Byrne, and working as part of the Expert Panel on research findings in Project ETHICS with McDonald.

“Having Micah in a class of 100 students was a privilege. He participated in all aspects of the class and shared his life experience in the class and during exams. Micah’s insights about topics in the personal and social health class were thought provoking for the class and for me,” notes Byrne.

“Project ETHICS is community-engaged research. The film is about expanding ideas of intelligence – community-engaged research draws from similar ideas. Rather than trained scientists controlling research, we work hand-in-hand with community members who have lived experience and draw from their expertise to create research questions, methods, dissemination, and action to follow. This way of working legitimizes the value of lived experience, and emphasizes that a broad array of stakeholders can—and should—contribute to research,” explains McDonald, principal investigator for the study.

Since 2016, numerous research articles about Project ETHICS have been published, on which Fialka-Feldman is co-author. “This film is a key component to challenging dominant cultural narratives about people labeled with intellectual disability. We need films that reflect disability rights, and showcase people with disability leading meaningful lives as caring, capable citizens” says McDonald.

The Intelligent Lives screening will take place on Sunday, October 14 at 3:00 p.m. in Shemin Auditorium, Shaffer Art Building. The film is captioned; ASL interpretation and CART will be provided for the introduction and discussion. Watch the trailer of the film.

Throughout the month of October, the Disability Cultural Center (DCC) and a host of campus partners and student organizations will host Disability Awareness and Appreciation Month. The month’s events will focus on disability and its many intersections. For more information, visit the Syracuse University story.

Falk announces Graduate Merit Scholarships for Syracuse University students

Syracuse University Students at CommencementFalk College is pleased to announce the Falk College Merit Award Scholarship for current Syracuse University students interested in applying for a Falk College master’s degree.

Incentives include no application fee, GRE waiver where applicable, and a 25% tuition discount incentive, which is applied after any other scholarships, scholarship credits, assistantships, and remitted tuition credits are applied.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be a current Syracuse University student in good standing with an overall GPA of 3.4 or higher applying for part-time or full-time study in one of the following degree programs:

Interested students must contact Falk Admissions and submit their application by February 15. Successful applicants will be officially admitted by the academic department and must formally matriculate for a 2019-2020 term.

“Falk College graduate degree programs allow undergraduates of all majors to tailor and enhance their career opportunities,” says Falk College director of admissions, Felicia Otero. “For example, bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology pair especially well with a master’s degree in social work (MSW), marriage and family therapy (MFT), or the SWK-MFT dual program, as well as human development and family science, public health, and global health.

“Undergraduates studying business, management, advertising, and public relations can apply their skills directly to our sport venue and event management master’s program. Students with skills in these disciplines might also apply to public health, global health, and food studies master’s programs, alongside students with bachelor’s degrees in communication & rhetorical studies, English, advertising, and education,” Otero continues. “Undergraduates in biology and chemistry programs often pursue graduate study in nutrition science, as well as public health and global health programs at Falk.”

“Falk graduate degrees lead to a variety of careers and end-credentials,” says Deborah Golia, assistant director of admissions at Falk College. “You’ll find Falk alumni working as counselors, therapists, social workers, community advocates, community educators, public health specialists, nonprofit program directors, managers, nutritionists, dietitians, sustainability program educators, and in limitless other roles.”

“Falk College graduate degrees also lead to research professions and continued study in doctoral programs,” she adds.

Falk Admissions will host a Graduate Information Session on Friday, November 2 in Falk Complex, White Hall, Room 335 at 4:00 p.m. In addition to review of Falk graduate programs, interested students can learn more about Falk Graduate Scholarships. For more information, please contact the Falk College Office of Admissions at 315.443.5555 or email

Ten students complete month-long NSF-funded trauma research program

2018 REU Group Members PoseTen student-veterans and traditional students recently completed the month-long 2018 National Science Foundation-funded Trauma Research Education for Undergraduates (REU) Program hosted by Falk College. To enhance skills for conducting trauma research while increasing their ability to gain admission to competitive graduate programs, participants attended seminars on research methods and statistics, neurobiological, psychological, and physiological aspects of trauma, and research ethics as well as weekly self-care lessons and graduate school application workshops.

Following a national review process, participants are identified and paired with experienced mentors from a broad range of disciplines. Through these efforts, students develop a hypothesis and perform statistical analysis of research data. Students will continue their research projects for the coming year, with the goal of presenting findings at a national or regional conference. Previous students presented at the annual meetings of the Eastern Psychological Association, Southeastern Psychological Association, and Association for Psychological Science.

Participants who completed the June 2018 program include Casssidy Brydon (Florida Atlantic University), John Christopher (Tarrant County College), Ansel Gautam (Drew University), Brittany Hampton (Marist College), Tyler Johnston (University of Southern California), Erin Meyer (Cleveland State University), Wilmer Rivas (University of Southern California), Naomi Ruffin (Georgia State University), Matthew Ruhnke (University of New Haven), and Ian Troidl (SUNY at Buffalo).

Project manager Ivan Castro, who completed the Syracuse REU program in 2012 notes that participants consistently report this opportunity helps them gain valuable graduate-level research experience prior to entering graduate school. When the REU program was launched in 2012, it was designed for veterans to create an opportunity to engage them in this content area. With only six veterans enrolled prior to the program start that first year, the collaborators decided to enroll non-veterans, which is an important facet of the continuing program.

With spots for five veterans and five non-veterans, the program draws on personal experiences of veterans who understand the nature and context of traumatic events. Veterans are able to acclimate to an undergraduate culture with traditional undergraduates and are appreciated for their unique perspectives. Undergraduates see the benefit of knowing their study population because the veterans provide insight into their experiences.

A joint effort by Syracuse University, SUNY Upstate Medical University and SUNY Oswego, the Collaborative Research: REU Site:Training Diverse Undergraduate Teams of Veterans and Non-Veterans to Conduct Trauma Research with Veterans project is directed by Brooks B. Gump, Falk Family Endowed Professor of Public Health. Professor Karen Wolford, who coordinates the interdisciplinary graduate certificate program in trauma studies at SUNY Oswego, co-directs the program. Supported by a National Science Foundation REU grant and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, this program spans one year, including the intensive four-week summer program in June. For more information, including details about the June 2019 REU Program, contact Ivan Castro at or visit

Falk College-Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group partner to support public health-focused drug policies

Professor Dessa Bergen-Cico posed with new agreementA four-year collaborative partnership between Syracuse University’s Falk College and the Council of Europe’s Cooperation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group) will support rigorous curricular development and training for drug policy administrators. This collaboration is an outgrowth of Falk College’s on-going partnerships with the Pompidou Group and Syracuse University’s Study Abroad Strasbourg program.

Dessa Bergen-Cico, associate professor of public health and coordinator of Falk College’s addiction studies programs, is Syracuse University’s partnership lead. She has worked with the Pompidou Group since 2010 to support drug policy administrators in developing sustainable, effective drug policies focused on public health and safety. The trainings provide managers from government and non-government institutions with objective, data-driven approaches to developing, implementing, and evaluating national drug policies that are evidence based, promote human rights, and strengthen international cooperation. Using data as a foundation, this cooperation supports effective policies and academic research. Faculty and select students with an interest in research in drug policy and drug use trends may contact Dr. Bergen-Cico ( to learn more about opportunities for involvement in research and the biannual executive education trainings.

Results of these collaborations to date include published research in Substance Use and Misuse, The Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse, Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, International Journal of Psychology and Psychoanalysis, and World Medical and Health Policy as well as international executive-level training and presentations.

Bergen-Cico’s research and scholarship span numerous emerging democracies focused on drug policies and emerging trends in drug use. In 2011, students and faculty from Falk College’s public health program attended the Pompidou Group – Syracuse University Trans-Atlantic Executive Training on Drug Policy: Effective Governance of Coherent Drug Policies where Bergen-Cico presented on the then-emerging opioid crisis in the United States. In 2015, she was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to conduct research on substance use and drug policy in the country of Georgia and across Eurasia.

Last spring, Bergen-Cico presented training for the Council of Europe on new psychoactive substance use trends and demand reduction responses in the U.S. where she shared her groundbreaking research on new psychoactive substances Kratom and Siberian Ephedra. In September 2017, Thomas Kattau and Elena Hedoux from the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group visited Syracuse University to promote internship opportunities and study abroad programs. This visit included several presentations on the role of international cooperation in fighting drug use, the migration wave in Europe and resulting challenges for public health systems, and how new psychoactive substances are bringing new challenges to societies.

After learning about Bergen-Cico’s research on the efficacy of mindfulness-based programs for prevention and drug demand reduction in the U.S., Ricardo Sánchez Huesca, Mexico’s deputy general director of youth integration centers for Mexico invited her to conduct training in Mexico. In addition to a December 2017 seminar on mindfulness for prevention of traumatic stress and addictive behaviors, Bergen-Cico gave the keynote presentation entitled, “New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Trends and in the in the United States” at the 19th International Congress on Addictions: Dual Disorders and Comorbidity Associated with Substance Use in Cancun, Mexico.

This spring, Bergen-Cico conducted the training, “Political or scientific evaluation? Examination of legalized cannabis policy outcomes in the U.S.” with 25 participants from 17 countries representing four different continents as part of the 2018 Pompidou Group’s executive training program in Venice, Italy. This program that examined evaluating the development, implementation, and impact of drug policy will take place in Lisbon, Portugal this Fall where Bergen-Cico will participate.

Turning research into innovative solutions: Meet Fanta Drame ’18

Fanta Drame PortraitTurning research into innovative solutions is the ultimate goal for Falk College public health alumna, Fanta Drame ’18. She originally accepted her offer to Syracuse University to pursue the pre-med track and become a pediatrician, her childhood dream. However, she learned about public health during her summer experience at the Clinton Foundation and changed her major within the first week. After sitting in Professor Jim Byrne’s Personal and Social Health class, she knew this was one decision she would never regret. Pursuing the public health route allowed her to merge her passion for health, interest in travelling and goal of enacting change to serve a larger population.

The year 2017 was an exciting time for her as she leveraged her classroom experiences and teachings as an intern at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was the first to take part in a global comparative study abroad program for her last semester. She was accepted to the IMHOTEP Summer Program and was placed at CDC’S NCEH/ATSDR Department. She completed an independent project in health and risk communication where she assessed and analyzed the official messages distributed in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic. Using readily available, free to low-cost software, she tracked the changes in message priority, new additions, changes in wording, and changes in perceived emotional tone and its correlation with the trajectory of reported cases.

Fanta then advocated for herself to be the first Syracuse University student to complete the School of International Training’s International Honors Program. After receiving support from the faculty of Falk and the Syracuse University’s Study Abroad office, she travelled from Washington, D.C. to New Delhi, India, then Cape Town, South Africa and lastly Sao Paulo, Brazil for her last semester. “This was a fulfilling experience. I learned about different cultures, gained four new homestay families, met wonderful people and got in touch with my nature side.” While studying the health care systems as well as the socio-political and economic climates of each location, she analyzed maternal and child health globally, assessing the gap between theory and practice.

Fanta’s commitment and love for public health led her to pursue her MPH/MPA and then eventually her DrPH. “I have created my purpose and found a way to make a difference and pay it forward,” she says. Her career goal is to open her own non-profit organization geared towards alleviating maternal and child mortality globally.

Drame was one of twelve seniors named as a 2018 Syracuse University Scholar, the highest undergraduate honor the University bestows. She is described by her teachers as an outstanding scholar who blended her studies in public health with a strong portfolio of research and community service to prepare for a career aligned with her unwavering social justice values. As a Syracuse University Scholar, she shared remarks during Falk College’s May 2018 Convocation:

Read Fanta’s 2018 Falk College Convocation Speech

Discussion Series for PTSD Awareness Month this June

Scott and his dog Dash pose for a photo
U.S. Air Force veteran Scott Aubin with his dog Dash. Scott will present “Dealing with Unrecognized PTSD” on Wednesday, June 13th.
To educate the local community about issues related to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Syracuse University’s Falk College is offering a discussion series during the month of June, which is designated as National PTSD Awareness Month. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events, such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault.

The discussion series to raise public awareness of PTSD and its effective treatments is free and open to the public. It takes place in conjunction with the Trauma Research Education for Undergraduates program, a joint effort by Syracuse University, SUNY Upstate Medical University and SUNY Oswego to improve access to research experiences for groups typically underrepresented in research.

The project, “Training Diverse Undergraduate Teams of Veterans and Non-Veterans to Conduct Trauma Research with Veterans,” is directed by Brooks B. Gump, Falk Family Endowed Professor of Public Health and co-directed by professor Karen Wolford, who also coordinates the interdisciplinary graduate certificate program in trauma studies at SUNY Oswego.

The discussion series includes:

Supported by a National Science Foundation Research Education for Undergraduates grant and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), this REU program spans one year, including an intensive four-week summer program in June. This program provides research training to increase skills in conducting trauma research while increasing a student’s ability to gain admission to competitive graduate programs.

“Through a competitive national review process, we have selected a group of student-Veterans and traditional students to complete this research training this summer,” says Wolford. “The students will be paired on teams with mentors to research PTSD and will later present their research at national conferences”.

“As part of this research training, we invite guest speakers who have expertise in the area of PTSD to inform our research trainees on cutting edge developments on traumatic stress research. We open these expert talks to the community as part of the June Posttraumatic Stress awareness month, which is an ongoing national effort to educate about PTSD,” Wolford adds.

For more information about the speakers or REU program, contact Ivan Castro at or visit

Research training program for veterans accepting applications

REU 2016 students group photoTo improve access to undergraduate research experiences in the area of trauma for groups typically underrepresented in this research, including veterans, a collaborative venture between Syracuse University’s Falk College, SUNY Oswego, and SUNY Upstate Medical University is now recruiting students for its 2018 program June 4-28, 2018 on the Syracuse campus.

The Undergraduate Trauma Research Training program is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Education for Undergraduates (REU) opportunity directed by Brooks B. Gump, Ph.D., M.P.H., Falk Family Endowed Professor of Public Health, and co-directed by Karen Wolford, Ph.D., Professor Department of Psychology and Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program in Trauma Studies at SUNY Oswego and includes other faculty from these institutions as well as SUNY Upstate Medical University.  This program brings together veterans and non-veterans in a safe environment to pursue trauma research activities.

This month-long immersion program involves coursework, mentored student-faculty interactions, and the development of a research project. Participating students receive a $3,000 stipend for attending the summer session. Room and board are provided free of charge, as needed.

The program, now in its seventh year, draws on personal experiences of veterans who understand the nature and context of traumatic events. By gaining a scientific understanding of trauma, students who complete the program gain essential tools they can use to improve the quality of life for themselves and others, including veterans. Read more about one REU participant’s experience here.

The program is purposefully structured to span one full year. Following the summer program, students continue their research under the mentorship of REU faculty during the Fall semester. Finally, students are expected to present their research at a national conference in Spring, 2019. The travel and registration expense for the conference is provided to the student through this program. For more information about the program, and to submit application for it, click here to go to the Syracuse University REU website or contact Ivan Castro at The application deadline is March 14, 2018.

REU program prepares students for trauma research in veteran populations

Karen Wolford and student
SUNY College at Oswego professor Karen Wolford and former student Arthur Delsing are developing a mobile phone application to help people with anxiety disorders, particularly veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Rea
Honoring veterans’ military service and attending to their re-entry into civilian life are important parts of how our nation celebrates veterans during the month of November. For some veterans, re-entry may involve enrolling in college. Moving from military to college life can be challenging. A program at Syracuse University’s Falk College now in its seventh year, with support from the University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), addresses this challenge by training undergraduate students, including veterans, to conduct research on trauma’s effects in veteran populations. Part of a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Training Diverse Undergraduate Teams of Veterans and Non-Veterans to Conduct Trauma Research with Veterans program helps students look at the chemical, clinical, cognitive and family factors associated with the various outcomes of trauma.

Read the full NSF article

Remembrance Scholar’s passion for medicine leads her to public health at Falk

Kelsey Montondo portrait
Kelsey Montondo ’18

There are few things more difficult than walking a loved one through illness. For the caregiver, the challenges can magnify their strength to love, to advocate, and to serve. In the process, some discover a new calling both unexpected and beautiful: the desire to extend their hearts and hands to others in similar circumstances by entering the field of medicine. That is how Kelsey Montondo ’18 found herself studying public health at Syracuse University’s Falk College.

Montondo grew up in a single-parent home with her mother and sister. “Although our father had left when I was young, there was never a lack of love or feeling of family. My grandparents acted as second parents, and my grandfather was the father figure every girl needed growing up.” When Montondo was still very young, her grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a nervous system disorder that affects motor skills. She recalls feelings of helplessness and sorrow, accompanied by a desire to understand the condition. Throughout his treatment, she witnessed the best—and the worst—in healthcare: providers with intense compassion, others who seemed to lack empathy. Both of whom inspired her. “Each of these experiences solidified my passions and helped me make the decision to pursue a career in medicine. Being on both sides, patient and caregiver, I hope to relate my experiences, both good and bad, to my future in medicine.”

In 2014, she came to Syracuse University. “I visited a plethora of colleges during my search but none of them gave me the same first impression that SU did.” A large university is something she always wanted to experience, she says, and she is grateful for the campus’ diverse population and the people she has met here. “The sense of community, not only among the students, but also to members of the Syracuse area, who all have a similar bond and love for the Orange, is something that definitely drew me to SU,” she adds. Plus, it was close enough to easily visit family in her hometown of Buffalo, New York.

At Falk College, she majors in public health to study disease prevention and the promotion of people’s long life and overall good health. “I often get asked the question ‘what is public health?’ and I normally give the sarcastic answer of ‘public health is everything and everywhere,’ which in fact I find to be very true. It is difficult to find something that does not relate to public health in some way,” Montondo explains. She minors in nutrition, a Falk College program which celebrated its 100th anniversary earlier this year. “So many of the courses taught in Falk College overlap, and often times, one cannot be discussed without the other.” She believes Falk programs are inherently interdisciplinary, and in her four years, she has noticed increasing opportunities for students in subjects like the environment and policy.

It was October 2016, the start of her junior year, when Montondo’s grandfather passed away. “Losing the man that raised me, that I looked up to, that I learned from, that pushed me to be the best person I could each and every day was a very hard loss. However, from this loss I also found clarity. I was reassured about my passions and my dreams and to never settle for anything less than what I know I am capable of.”

And Montondo did not settle. This fall, in a competitive selection process, she was given the great honor of being named one of 35 Syracuse University students in the 2017-18 Remembrance Scholar cohort, which, she says, is “without a doubt one of my most proud accomplishments.” These scholarships were established as a way to honor the 35 Syracuse University students who, alongside 235 others, tragically lost their lives in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. “Being given the honor and responsibilities that come along with being a Remembrance Scholar is something I will carry with me, not just for this year but for a lifetime,” says Montondo. The Remembrance Scholars will lead a number of events during Remembrance Week on October 22-28, 2017 to “Look Back, Act Forward.”

At Syracuse, Montondo is actively involved in a number of research projects, including the Syracuse Lead Study led by Brooks Gump, Ph.D., M.P.H., Graduate Director and Falk Family Endowed Professor of Public Health. Montondo says she has gained new skills from the study and, by working directly with individuals from the Syracuse community, has also discovered a new passion for eliminating health disparities in underprivileged communities.

Montondo also works as a Certified NYS Emergency Medical Technician for Syracuse University Ambulance and Syracuse University Health Services. She serves as president of Phi Delta Epsilon Medical Fraternity and volunteers her time at Camp Kesem, a summer camp for children of parents with cancer.

Long-term, her goal is to become a clinical healthcare provider. She plans to use her public health knowledge to apply preventative medicine to her practice. “All of my experiences thus far at Syracuse have only reinforced in myself that medicine is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” says Montondo.