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Conor Foley BA’12 uses his international public health knowledge to help local youth

by Melanie Moyer,

Conor Foley’s BA’12 public health studies at Willamette have taken him from Chicago to Rwanda. Lately, however, he’s using what he’s learned in Oregon at the Marion County Health and Human Services Department to combat the nationwide problem of adolescent tobacco use.

As the county’s Chronic Disease Prevention Program coordinator, Foley’s work brings him into classrooms to educate students about the harms of vaping and other nicotine products to combat alarming rates of use among adolescent populations.

“We give them knowledge about how to talk to friends about quitting and accessing resources to help them quit,” he shares. “Working directly in the community that I've lived in now for almost fifteen years, I’m trying to help make better outcomes.”

An Anthropology (now Global Cultural Studies) major with minors in Spanish and American Ethnic Studies, Foley was always interested in how he could apply his cultural knowledge to help change people’s lives. His advisor, Anthropology Professor Joyce Millen, helped him become excited about public health, now offered as a major or minor track. Millen’s Medical Anthropology class introduced him to a new direction he could pursue. He even found her name in the acknowledgments of a book he was reading about Partners in Health, a global health organization.

“I asked her if she knew her name was in the book, and she said, ‘Yeah, I used to work for them,’” he remembers. Inspired by the connection, Foley went on to work with Partners in Health in a Rwandan hospital during the summer after his first year at Willamette, and again in their Boston office the summer before his senior year.

True to his Willamette education and its motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born, Foley served his community on regional and national levels. Working with the Willamette Academy college access program, he gained a clear perspective on making transformative change for local young people. He also participated in a Take a Break service trip to Chicago, visiting nonprofits that advocate for immigrant rights and an immigrant detention center.

“It was a really cool opportunity to see folks doing the kind of work that I could emulate,” he says. “I still think about those examples in my work today.”

After graduating from Willamette, Foley earned his Masters in Public Health from Oregon State University. In addition to his work with Marion County, Foley also coaches track at McKay High School, a passion he developed as a student-athlete on Willamette’s track and field team. His coaching is yet another way he’s using his Willamette experience to give back to the local community.

Photo caption: Conor with his wife Larkin Smith Foley BA'09, MAT'10. The two met while attending Willamette.

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