Spotlight on Social Sciences Alumni: Lee Helmken

Name: Lee Helmken
Age: 25
Education (UR and additional): B.A. in Health & Society, University of Rochester, 2009; M.P.H. in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Emory University, 2011.
Current city/state of residence: Atlanta, Georgia
Job Title: Project Coordinator
Employer: Emory Center for Injury Control, Emory University School of Medicine


When and how did you choose your major?

I started UR as a pre-med/biology major but quickly realized I wasn’t interested in the science of healthcare. In my freshman year, I took a Peer Health Advocacy course and switched my major to health & society. This became an amazing opportunity to take inter-disciplinary courses that addressed health at all levels. I got a better idea of what the field of public health looked like, and I was hooked.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was a member of Phi Sigma Sigma, and it taught me a lot about finding a balance between social life and academic/work life. Also, I worked in the Health Promotion Office where I taught health education programs for student groups. This experience ultimately led me to want to pursue a master’s degree in Health Education.

Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?

My Peer Health Advocacy professor became a mentor, and my supervisor, at the Health Promotion Office. She helped me see the opportunities available in my field and work through whether I should go to graduate school or look for a job after graduation. She no longer works at UR, but we still keep in touch.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I came straight to Emory University to get my Master of Public Health degree. My education at UR provided perspective on population-level health and the understanding that a person’s environment can have an immense impact on their overall health. I realized that in order to get the type of job I wanted, I needed to go back to school to enhance my skills, knowledge, and understanding of public health.

What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I am a coordinator at the Emory Center for Injury Control. We provide training, outreach, and resources to build the capacity of those who work in injury and violence prevention. Part of my job is to formally evaluate the work that we do as well as help us obtain funding to continue our work. At Emory, I learned that injuries are a leading cause of death in the United States, and I became so interested in what I can do to decrease this burden.

What advice do you have for current students?

Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can – I am still so grateful for the many academic and cultural perspectives I gained at UR. In my experience, you never know what you’re truly interested in until you try different things; just one class or part-time job can lead you down a path you never expected!