I have really found my passion advocating for mental health and ensuring that all folks have access to the resources that they need and deserve.
How do you define public health, and what does it mean to you?
I would define public health as promoting and protecting the health of our communities. Growing up in rural West Virginia, I saw firsthand the barriers and challenges that many folks face in regard to their health or accessing care. To me, public health is all about ensuring that our communities are not only healthy but that everyone has the resources they need to support their wellness.
Why did you choose WVU for your public health education?
I chose WVU because of my roots to the state, and I felt that pursuing my education here would allow for me to gain a better understanding of the public health landscape and challenges within Appalachia.
Have you had any professors who have made an impact on you while at WVU?
I have a few faculty that have made an impact on me while studying for my MHA here at WVU. Dr. Heather Henderson is one of those. She is so compassionate and dedicated to the work that she does. She went above and beyond in the virtual classroom to ensure that each of us felt supported and connected. With the ongoing pandemic, it hasn’t always been easy to do that.
Sometimes it’s easy to have doubts about your abilities as an emerging professional. I remember discussing the doubts that I had about myself as a professional in an assignment that I submitted. Dr. Henderson made it a point to acknowledge this, and she gave such genuine advice. She validated me and let me know that I am more than capable to accomplish anything that I set my mind to. Her kindness in taking the time to do that is something that I will always remember and appreciate.
I would also say that Dr. Sarah Woodrum made an impact on me as well. I admire her experience in leadership and learned so much from her on what makes a good leader in public health.
What are some unique or interesting experiences you’ve had during your time at WVU?
I’ve had the unique experience of being in the first graduating cohorts for two programs at WVU. I was part of the first cohort to graduate from WVU’s B.S. in Health Informatics and Information Management Program, and will now be in the first MHA cohort to graduate.
Tell us about your internship/capstone experience.
I completed my capstone experience through my current organization, Faces & Voices of Recovery. Faces & Voices is a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. I work as an advocacy program assistant. My team focuses on advocating for public policies and funding that supports substance use disorder (SUD) recovery for all.
I was assigned special projects outside of my normal work. One of these involved performing a readiness assessment and scan of a rural community for a recovery high school. I helped to facilitate focus groups and one-on-one interviews with various community members and professionals, as well as research the current policy landscape in the area.
Upon completing some analysis, I was able to help draft a report based upon our findings for our clients to guide them on next steps in implementing a recovery high school for the youth in their community.
What are planning to do after graduation? What is your ultimate career goal?
I am planning to continue my work in the nonprofit sector. I have really found my passion advocating for mental health and ensuring that all folks have access to the resources that they need and deserve. While it is challenging work, it is rewarding to see the impact it makes on folks. I am hoping to use what I have learned during my MHA curriculum to guide me in furthering my career and growing into leadership roles.
In the future, I see myself working and managing a team for a nonprofit organization that focuses on advocating for access to mental health supports and services. I am specifically hoping to work for an organization that focuses on advocating for empowering young people.
What would you tell prospective students about WVU and the School of Public Health?
I would tell prospective students that WVU and the School of Public Health feel like home. There is a unique sense of community among students and faculty. I had a strong sense of belonging while studying at WVU.
In making a choice of where to study, it’s important to consider the culture. I developed good relationships with the faculty and instructors, and you don’t always get that in higher education. There is always a place for you and your passions, interests, and talents within the mountaineer family.
What advice would you give to your freshman self?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice. I was very shy and timid as a freshman, but have since come out of my shell. I would want my younger self to be more aware of the power in one’s voice. My time at WVU was very influential in finding my identity and passions that I have. I learned how valuable my voice is and that my voice matters.
What will you always remember from your time at WVU?
I will remember the friendships that I have made during both my undergraduate and graduate experience. I have been able to meet so many people through my time at WVU, and I am forever thankful for that. I have found mentors in the faculty, and lifelong friends among my classmates.
Why should someone choose WVU to study public health?
One should choose WVU to study public health so that they can be part of a program that is full of talented and experienced faculty who have a wealth of knowledge to share. The School of Public Health has so many relationships and connections to organizations within the state. Having an interest in Appalachia and public health in the region, WVU was the obvious choice. The faculty and students alike have a shared passion for the work that they do.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
While some may already know, I co-authored a NYT best-selling book alongside Lady Gaga and Born This Way Foundation called CHANNEL KINDNESS: Stories of Kindness and Community.