Rachael ReedIf you walked into the Georgia World Congress Center overwhelmed by the massive amounts of public health contained within its walls, you’re not alone.

APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo can be a lot to take in with its array of panels, presentations and networking opportunities. But public health students — especially first-time attendees — have the APHA Student Assembly to guide them through the five-day meeting as well as all that APHA has to offer year-round.

Each year, APHA’s student leaders convene the National Student Meeting to welcome future public health professionals in a friendly, open environment. Attendees receive a crash course in the Student Assembly, including how to make the most of their APHA membership.

At this year’s National Student Meeting, held Saturday in Atlanta, outgoing assembly Chair Rachael Reed shared plans for increasing member engagement in the coming year. In 2018, for example, student members can look forward to a new mentoring database that will pair students with seasoned public health professionals from across the APHA community. More immediately, however, students can take advantage of the Student Assembly’s Mentoring Session on Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in room A301 of the Georgia World Congress Center. During the session, mentors will be on hand to talk about their experience, knowledge and skills.

In keeping with APHA’s Annual Meeting theme, the National Student Meeting organized around a theme of “Climate Change and Health: Responding to the Challenges,” which encouraged attendees to consider how they might incorporate environmental health into their public health careers. Students got a taste of what that could look like with a guest panel featuring experts who’ve merged their passions for environmental protection and public health.

Marybeth Montoro, director of communications at the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health and a researcher at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, and Abby Mutic, a certified nurse midwife, discussed how they work to bridge environmental and human health, particularly in the field of medicine.

Of course, students don’t have to wait until they receive their degrees to become advocates for public health. Susan Polan, APHA’s associate executive director for public affairs and advocacy, briefed student attendees on threats to public health at the federal level and offered guidance for fighting back against public health funding cuts and attacks on the Affordable Care Act. The Student Assembly encouraged its members to raise their voices in easy ways, such as making flash calls to members of Congress — something that Reed says she hopes will ramp up again in 2018.

If you missed Saturday’s meeting, no worries — there’s plenty more chances to meet your fellow public health students. For example, the Student Assembly will host a “Hotlanta—Come Chill With Us” student session on Sunday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in GWCC A404, as well as Monday night’s Student Social at the Atlanta Braves All Star Grill (stop by the Student Assembly booth, #641, at the Public Health Expo for tickets). For those still literally finding their way, there will even be a walking tour of the convention center. If you’re a member of the Student Assembly, you’ll never have to wander alone.

Student Assembly Chair Rachael Reed speaks at Saturday’s National Student Meeting in Atlanta. Photo by Michele Late, courtesy The Nation’s Health