A passion for protecting vulnerable populations

C. Robin Rentrope  Headshot

One alumna’s public health skills and trauma-informed approach are aiding humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and surrounding regions

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine had been climbing for nearly two months when C. Robin Rentrope (SAS ’19; GRS ’19, public health) began work as a global health security fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January.

Assigned to an operations unit within the CDC, Rentrope and her colleagues were charged to report daily on refugee and healthcare-specific crises. When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, pinpointing critical issues in bordering countries became her nearly round-the-clock responsibility.

“I hardly remember what I was doing when I first started,” Rentrope said of her first few weeks at the CDC. “Ukraine is our top priority now.”

Hours before her interview with Action on a Saturday in mid-March, the busy young mom had prepared for her next CDC report by reading the news and checking refugee relief updates on her phone during a haircut appointment.

“I haven’t been there long, but I’m diving in and trying to keep up to speed,” Rentrope said, as she bounced her 1-year-old daughter on her knee. “I hate that [the war in Ukraine] is the reason that I get to do this work with refugees… but I’m surrounded by people who care. People are staying up all night—some are risking their own lives to help save others. So in that way, it’s really incredible.”

The yearlong global health security fellowship is co-funded by the Public Health Institute, with an aim of providing frontline experience to recent public health graduates and recruiting future leaders in the field to the CDC.

Rentrope remarked that her time and experiences at the Mandel School have proven invaluable in her role at the CDC—and in her continued work at Case Western Reserve.

On top of her full-time, remote job at the CDC and various volunteer roles, Rentrope works part time as a co-investigator with the Center on Trauma and Adversity at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and as lab supervisor of the HIV Biobehavioral and Symptom Science research team at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.

“I didn’t imagine being employed by the university after graduating. I thought I would be getting back into the field, in grassroots movements to promote health equity,” Rentrope said. “But the research we are doing at CWRU is really important to improve the health of a vulnerable population—people living with HIV.”

Rentrope enjoys that the work allows her to conduct long-term research while using the trauma-informed approach she learned as a Leadership Fellow at the Mandel School.

“My team members at the nursing and medical schools really value my social work skills,” she said. “I’ve been able to retain research participants by building trust, staying flexible, providing referrals and increasing research compensation when appropriate. These may seem like little things, but those little things add up to big changes.”

By Carey Skinner Moss

Read more stories like this in the Spring 2022 edition of Action.