Aaron Plotke

Alumnus Report: Health Policy

Aaron at the Senate office building

Pursuing an individualized major was one of the best decisions I made during my time at UConn. With my major, Health Policy, I set out to explore the connection between public and private policy and human health, relying upon a whole host of disciplines from economics and management to human rights and psychology. It was an enriching experience. It taught me to look at problems and their potential solutions in a multidimensional fashion and pushed me to consider many different perspectives — an important skill that is especially relevant today.

Fast forward three years and I am now bringing my Health Policy degree to bear as a Masters student at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Similar to the Individualized Major Program, the Mailman School emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to the study and practice of public health. My department, Sociomedical Sciences, is especially strong at this; it weaves together history, ethics, economics, and politics to understand the public health issues of our time. One of my favorite courses thus far has focused on the ethics of public health. Each class involved an open discussion about the political and ethical dimensions of public health policy, such as taxing sugar-sweetened beverages or mandating helmets for motorcyclists. Coming into that course, I was grateful to have taken my health policy coursework at UConn, where I learned (among other things) to identify the values that underlie policy decisions.

A highlight of my Columbia experience has been participating in the Health Justice Advocacy Clinic at the Columbia Law School. We were a group of law and public health students that set out to research lead hazards in public and private housing and to effect meaningful and lasting policy reform. My team worked with advocates in Ohio to pass local ordinances to strengthen pre-rental risk assessment requirements for private homes and apartments in Cleveland and Ohio at large. We are happy to report that just this week, Cleveland passed its first pre-rental lead hazard inspection ordinance. In addition, we sought to pass national legislation, The Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act, that would close loopholes in HUD’s inspection requirements for their public and publicly assisted housing programs (e.g., House Choice Vouchers, Section 8). Currently, families in certain housing programs are not guaranteed the same protections from lead poisoning as those afforded in other federally funded housing programs. We sought to fix that, and are proud to say that our bill has been introduced in both the US Senate and House of Representatives!

From global health and human rights to social policy and healthcare management, my individualized major provided me with a foundation to take on these exciting new experiences.

By Aaron Plotke
IMJR: Health Policy