February 13, 2008

Student wins prestigious national fellowship

by Pete Rosenbery


CARBONDALE, Ill. — Andrew R. Roszak, a dual-major graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the recipient of a prestigious national fellowship that focuses on public and private sector roles in health policy development.

Roszak is one of two 2008-2009 David A. Winston Health Policy Fellows. The year-long fellowship provides "a unique opportunity to learn about the political system through direct exposure to public and private sector roles in health policy development," according to the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA).

Roszak will begin the fellowship in June — one month after he graduates from SIUC with a law degree from the SIU School of Law and a master's degree in public administration.

The former Kankakee full-time firefighter and paramedic is continuing his work as an intern with the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield, where he drafts and revises administrative rules for various IDPH programs — a job has done for 15 months. He will be studying to take the bar exam in July.

"I really want to work in health policy and health policy law," he said. "This is really a unique opportunity to become entrenched in health policy at the federal level. I've received experience with the internship; this is really a chance to challenge myself more and really work on the broad issues of health care. "

Roszak, 28, is still in a bit of awe about receiving the fellowship, and the possibilities that come with it. Roszak was one of five national finalists — and the first SIUC student — to meet with the organization's 12 board members Jan. 17 in Washington, D.C. Meeting with three separate panels for about 45 minutes each, the process lasted about five hours. He learned his fate several hours later via cell phone as he was preparing to watch the political satirists, "The Capitol Steps."

The fellowship is a great opportunity and a "totally life-changing experience," he said.

Roszak brings a unique background and experience to the highly selective, competitive program, said professor W. Eugene Basanta, who is co-director of the law school's Center for Health Law and Policy.

A non-traditional student, Roszak earned his bachelor's degree in Fire Service Management from the Chicago Fire Academy through SIUC's off-campus programs. He took master's-level courses in public administration from nearby Governor's State University before deciding to move to Carbondale for law school and to complete his MPA.

Roszak's internship in Springfield requires a six-hour, 450 mile roundtrip once a week. He wakes at about 3:30 a.m. and gets home at about 9 p.m. He lived in Springfield last summer while working there.

Roszak joins select company — there are only 27 fellows in the program's 21-year history. Students from schools including the University of Alabama, Indiana University, University of Iowa, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern, Penn State University, University of North Carolina, University of Washington-Seattle, and Yale are previous recipients. The organization's other recipient for 2008-2009 is Kelly Whitener, a student in the master of public health program at the University of California at Los Angeles.

"The experiences that Andy will gain through his exposure to public and private sector roles in health policy development will provide him with valuable skills as a future leader in the national health policy community," said Carolyn LeeDecker, AUPHA's vice president and chief value officer.

Fellows spend the first three months in orientation visits with key government policy development groups to determine which ones match their goals. They spend the rest of the time working with the organization of their choice. The organization's current fellows are working with the U.S. Senate's Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and on health policy issues with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) staff.

Given his firefighter and emergency responder background, Roszak said his initial interest might be in formulating health policies that deal with emergency response.

"That's the exciting thing about public health. It really does have an emergency aspect to it that I can relate with given my background," he said.

Involved with emergency preparedness at the local and state levels, Roszak has an opportunity to see it from a federal perspective, Basanta said.

"Given his background and experience he has a lot to contribute. This will be a great experience for him," he said.

Gaining high-level, inside-the-Beltway experience provides important opportunities and insight, particularly when health care is one of the top issues in a presidential election year, Basanta said.

"For someone interested in policy, what better opportunity can you have than to meet many national leaders in your area of interest?"

John A. Hamman, an associate professor in political science, and director of SIUC's MPA program, predicts the fellowship experience "will facilitate this already blossoming career in the field of health."

Roszak is self-reliant, resourceful, and industrious, said Hamman, noting Roszak's involvement with numerous registered student organizations in both programs to go with a myriad of professional affiliations. Many students who enroll in the dual program stumble when faced with completing the MPA research paper, and earn only a law degree, Hamman said.

That is not a problem for Roszak, who completed and defended his research paper. Roszak will be "one of the very few students" to complete the dual degree program on schedule, Hamman said. The University of Georgia's Education Law and Policy Forum published "The Legalities of Automated External Defibrillators," a version of Roszak's research paper on the issue.

Roszak will present the topic as an invited speaker at the annual conference of The National Association of School Nurses in late June in Albuquerque, N.M. The American Bar Association's Section of State and Local Government Law's quarterly publication, "State and Local Law News," published another of Roszak's papers, "EMS Immunity, Which Act Has You Covered," last month.

"We are very proud of Andy and his accomplishments," law school Dean Peter Alexander said. "Law school is a difficult pursuit, but to go through law school while pursing a master's degree concurrently is very challenging. He has obviously had success in both programs and that is not a surprise."

The fellowship speaks highly of SIUC, the law school, and the MPA program, Basanta said. It is another example that SIUC students "can compete at a national level for just about anything that they set their sites on."

But Roszak credits SIUC for providing valuable opportunities. He points to the resources available not only within his programs, but throughout the campus.

"It fulfilled my wildest dreams," he said. "I would have never imagined that all this would have come true."

The Fellowship honors David A. Winston, whose influence in more than 20 years of health policy helped bridge health care policies between the public and private sector in the 1980s. He is credited with helping shape the Reagan administration's position of deregulation and competition within the health care sector, according to AUPHA. He subsequently moved to the private sector, continuing his work to see the two entities made positive strides in health care. He was senior corporate vice president and head of the Washington Office of Voluntary Hospitals of America when he died in 1986.