Since its inception in 2001, the Grace and Harold Sewell Memorial Fund’s Stipend Program has provided funding for librarians to attend either the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Conference or Pharmacy Education, the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). 

The goal of the Sewell Stipend program is to encourage librarians’ identification with the health care practitioners they serve for librarians so that they can better anticipate and meet their research and pedagogical needs (Grace and Harold Sewell Memorial Fund, 2019). Stipends are administered and awarded on a competitive basis by the Medical Library Association’s Public Health & Health Administration Caucus (APHA stipend) and by AACP Library and Information Sciences Section (Pharmacy Education stipend).

Research and Education Librarian and Liaison to the VCU School of Population Health Samantha Guss received a Sewell Stipend to attend the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) conference in Atlanta. The 2023 APHA Annual Conference brought together more than 10,000 public health workers from government, academia and other sectors for more than 1,000 sessions reporting on research, programs and innovations in addition to an exhibit hall and exhibition. 

The 2023 STAPH (“Sewell Travel Award for Public Health”) cohort included 10 librarians from academic health sciences libraries, academic libraries and public libraries, who all serve public health programs or patrons in some way. 

The program offered opportunities for reflection. Each librarian had a mentorship experience with a public health practitioner and contributed to individual and group reflection essays. The cohort of librarians (plus a program leader) met multiple times before, during and after the conference. Additionally, each cohort member was required to find a volunteer experience, either at the conference or by helping administer the stipend cohort program itself.

Guss, who joined VCU Libraries in February 2023, took advantage of the conference experience to gain a deeper understanding of the work of public health researchers and workers in a variety of settings. Public health’s ties to a variety of other disciplines in the health sciences and social sciences were especially apparent: “From the sessions I attended, it became even more clear to me how social determinants of health are central to the study of public health, and that truly everything about our society is connected to public health in some way, directly or indirectly,” explained Guss. “I also came away with new awareness of the impacts of politics and policy on public health and how challenging it is to do public health work at a time when public support of science is so strained.” Another theme of the conference was the imperative to recruit and retain more public health workers in the U.S. to meet current and future needs, which echoes the announcement and rationale for creating a dedicated School of Population Health at VCU.

Guss completed the volunteering and mentorship requirements of the Sewell Stipend by spending time at the VCU booth in the APHA exhibits hall with a group of faculty, staff, and students from the VCU School of Population Health. This involved talking with alumni and potential students that visited the booth, plus learning more about VCU’s current research strengths and how VCU’s programs might grow in the future. She participated in a debriefing and reflection session with several students and faculty members from the VCU Department of Epidemiology and School of Population Health, which allowed her to hear from students and faculty and staff who are closely involved with curriculum design and development. 

In her first year working at VCU Libraries, Guss has been focusing on making connections with people in the School of Population Health and learning about the curricula, research methods, and norms of public health disciplines, and she believes her participation in the 2023 Sewell Travel Award for Public Health cohort helped her move forward on all these goals. “I plan to use what I’ve learned through the Sewell stipend program to refine VCU Libraries’ programming, outreach and services to better understand my liaison areas during this exciting time for public health at VCU,” Guss notes. “I would recommend attending a disciplinary conference to any liaison librarian, and I feel lucky that I was able to do so with the structure and funding from the Sewell Stipend Program.”

Categories Awards and Honors, Faculty/Staff, Health Sciences Library, Librarians at Work