man standing at UMass

Organizing for Better Public Health

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This article is part of a series on Innovative Internships.

Parker “Bina” Sweet ’17 always wanted to be a doctor when he grew up, but a service learning trip to the Dominican Republic after his first year in college changed his mind. His host, herself a doctor and professor of medicine, convinced him that in order to effect change, health care leaders need to practice not on the patient, but on the systems in which they operate. “When we solve public health problems,” he says, “we are elevating the very ground on which people stand. It’s all about access.” 

Sweet, who was named one of “29 Who Shine” by the Massachusetts Department of Education this spring, is taking that advice to heart. While working toward a five-year bachelor’s-plus-master’s degree in health policy and management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he helped create the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps, which coordinates teams of doctoral, masters-in-public-health, and undergraduate students throughout the commonwealth to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing and other public health work. He also worked on the contact-tracing efforts of nonprofit global health organization Partners in Health during the height of the pandemic, centralizing the efforts of town boards of health. Taking all he’s learned in the field of contact tracing and applying it to leadership training, he is teaching an interdisciplinary skills-based seminar to public health students this fall. 

Being busy and juggling many responsibilities are habits he cultivated at Williston. As a fully engaged student—he captained the boys cross-country and wrestling teams while taking a slate of challenging classes here—he internalized the school’s emphasis on a growth mindset, an approach he still embraces. Williston, he says, “gave me the inner strength to be confident in exploration.”