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Four medical students, two male, two female, stand next to each other wearing their white coats

Leadership through Advocacy

Daniela Zapata, a second-year medicine student, was surprised to learn about the number of leadership, advocacy and other opportunities available to her when she first began her education journey at NEOMED.  One such opportunity is the Student Advocacy Council at NEOMED. The group enables students to learn effective advocacy methodologies, introduces them to local and state elected officials, and most importantly, informs students on how to address issues relating to their profession.

Comprised of 14 students across all three Colleges, the interprofessional council is led by Janet Coon, associate director for government and external affairs, and John Stilliana, vice president for government and external affairs. “Before attending NEOMED, I was not expecting much due to its rural location and had the idea that opportunities would be limited,” Zapata said. “Ironically this couldn’t be further from the truth because we [students] have more opportunities to participate in leadership and give input that yields change.”

One of the recent proposals funded by the Strategic Initiative Fund (SIF) focused on increasing advocacy opportunities for student members of the council.

Activities included:

  • The Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce hosted a “fireside chat” in the fall with the candidates running for U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 13th NEOMED student attendees had the opportunity to practice their networking skills, learn about the candidates and meet students from the University of Akron, including student trustees.
  • In November, NEOMED hosted an advocacy day at the State Capital. Students witnessed a new representative being sworn in during session and attended a committee hearing. In addition, government affairs hosted a legislative reception allowing students to network with members of NEOMED’s Government Alumni Advocacy Council and to learn helpful tools for effective advocacy from legislators and their staff.
  • The Ohio Chamber of Commerce hosted a Healthcare Transformation Summit in late November. This daylong seminar included sessions covering topics such as workforce shortage, technology, health care and barriers to care. In addition to attending breakout sessions during the day, students attended a networking reception alongside elected officials.

“These opportunities have allowed our students to have real world experiences when it comes to advocacy work, networking with policy creators, and form connections with current alumni,” Coon said. “These culminating experiences have allowed our students to have that exceptional experience we as a University strive to provide.”

In the last two years, NEOMED has dedicated $1.5 million to the Strategic Initiative Fund (SIF) allowing students, faculty and staff to develop and implement ideas to better the University and to drive our mission of creating transformational leaders forward.

For more information on the council, please contact Janet Coon at