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Always encouraged by her mother to help those in need, Kristy Coyle ’22 has harnessed those values as she pursues a degree in community health at SUNY Potsdam. Her internships and faculty mentorship opportunities have reinforced her educational experiences—as she looks ahead to a career focused on assisting the less fortunate and educating the community about health disparities.

“My mom is really passionate about helping other people, giving anything that you can, whenever you can, and she thinks that community health is a really good field. She urged me to consider community health and I have really enjoyed it,” Coyle said.

“I love all the professors here. They really care about student success and mentorship / research opportunities with students." -Kristy Coyle '22 

Now a senior, Coyle has been on the President’s List every semester, and is also a Presidential Scholar at the College where she has been completing a research project focused on food insecurity. She’s now organizing a food insecurity and nutrition education conference for her Presidential Scholar’s project that will be held on campus on April 9, 2022. Collaborating with several local organizations like the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and GardenShare, she has been busy preparing for the day-long event.

A leader in public health education, the CCE helps inform the community about SNAP benefits—providing people with the knowledge and tools to buy healthy groceries on a limited budget—and GardenShare works with farmers to make SNAP benefits available at local farmers’ markets. “The Cornell Cooperative Extension is going to be doing a workshop with students on meal prepping and budgeting. A big goal for this conference is to bridge the campus with the community, so I want to have a panel of faculty, students, and community members that can answer questions regarding food security,” she said.

Guided by her faculty mentor Sarah Lister, the assistant chair for the Department of Public Health and Human Performance, Coyle has been examining the causes and effects of food insecurity as part of her Presidential Scholars research project as she gears up for the conference. “Sarah has always been there for me in this journey through community health, food security, and the Presidential Scholars Program. She inspires me every day because she always does so many good things for other people,” she said. In addition to her role as the community health internship coordinator, Lister oversees the College’s food pantry operations on campus, something that Coyle was introduced to when started the community health program. “I really wanted to share that with other students, to get more people involved, and to help students struggling with food insecurity,” Coyle said.

After growing up in the North Country, and attending Potsdam High School, Coyle enrolled at SUNY Potsdam in the fall of 2018. From swimming in the Maxcy Hall pool to walking around campus in her youth, she was already very familiar with the College, and decided to stay close to home to save money and be close to her family. “It just felt really comfortable,” she said. “A big deciding factor was that I really didn’t want to have loans. I got a really good financial aid package.”

Starting out she explored several different majors, before finding her calling within the community health program—a perfect fit for someone interested in helping others. “I love all the professors here. They really care about student success and mentorship / research opportunities with students, and I think that’s really important for student learning,” she said. “I also like how small the classes are, so you get that opportunity to build relationships with your professors.”

As she enters her last semester, Coyle will be fully immersed in back-to-back internships, parlaying what she’s learned in the classroom into real-world opportunities. She will be starting on campus, working as an intern in the Department of Public Health and Human Performance. One of her initiatives will involve outreach to local high schools, and meeting with incoming exploratory students at SUNY Potsdam, to discuss the benefits and career options available through the community health program. “The project that I’m most excited for is to start a Basic Needs Hub, which is kind of similar to a food pantry, but it’s more like hygiene, toothpaste, deodorant, different things that students might need if they either don’t have the money for it, or don’t have the means to get to the store,” she said. “We’re going to be moving the food pantry into the Barrington Student Union, so we want to use that space in Dunn Hall for the Basic Needs Hub.”

Halfway through the semester she will be transitioning off campus for an internship at A.A. Kingston Middle School in Potsdam. Coyle will be immersed in a seventh-grade classroom every day, working with their health teacher, creating lesson plans, teaching, and helping to grade papers—an experience that she says will influence her upcoming career moves. “Right now, I’m between getting my master’s degree in public health, or seeing if my internships bring me in the direction of wanting to teach,” she said.

Whatever direction she goes, Coyle will be working to improve the lives of those around her. “There are lot of different ways that you can help other people within the community health degree, not even just the food security, you have people suffering from domestic violence, mental health and a bunch of other things,” she said. “I think it’s really important for people to do good things for others, especially in this time where there’s a lot division and a lot of stress.”

Article and photos by Jason Hunter