Competitors to Classmates
When Nadeem Fazal and Shamaal Sheppard, two new Mailman students, arrived on campus in August, they thought they were both starting over: new year, new school, new faces. But on their first day of orientation, the two quickly discovered that they had met previously—four years ago, as competitors in track and field. When we learned through an Instagram post that Nadeem and Shamaal had found each other in a sea of over 663 new students, we were curious to hear more.
So, it’s the first day of grad school. You don’t recognize anyone here until you randomly sit down next to one another in an orientation session. How did it unfold?
Shamaal: I ran track all through high school and I was semi-successful, and then I went to the University of Pittsburgh and I walked on to the team. I was a 400 and 800 runner. So, I made the team my freshman year and for one of our meets we went to the William and Mary Invitational. My coach put me in the 400 hurdles kind of as a training/joke because I’m not a hurdler at all and I remember me and my teammate talking to Nadeem on the starting line saying “this isn’t really our event, we’re not really taking this that seriously, we’re probably going to do really bad.” And so he remembered us saying that specifically. So, we ran and Nadeem kicked our butts. Four years later, here we are sitting next to each other at orientation. I was right in front of him and he asked me if I did any sports at Pitt and when we finally made the connection he said “oh, I think I have a picture of you on my Facebook!” And there it was—a picture of us running against each other at that meet. The world is so small. What are the odds?!
Nadeem: I’m from Delaware and I went to the University of Delaware and usually if you’re from that state, that’s where everyone goes to school, so I’m so used to running into people that I know. But when I came here I said “okay, there’s nobody here from Delaware and everybody that I’m going to meet is going to be new.” It’s funny because the notion that I got in Delaware, I got a little ounce of it here in that run-in with Shamaal. I pulled up the picture and I was just like “that’s wild, there’s no way!”. It was crazy!
Do you remember the actual meet and running against each other?
Shamaal: Yeah, I do. It was a really eventful meet. I remember somebody broke their arm in the steeplechase and they finished the race with a broken arm, so that was gruesome to watch.
Nadeem: I remember the high level of competition. It was very very competitive. I was a hurdler, but I did the 110 meter hurdles, the shorter distance ones, so doing the 400 meter hurdles, I was training for it so I figured I’d do it there. And I think your teammate actually beat me and then it was me and then you. I was so glad to be done with that race.
And I just thought it was funny because on that first day of orientation, it wasn’t even like you sat somewhere else in the room. I just sat in one chair and you sat right in front of me.
Shamaal: Very random. Very coincidental.
So, what are you both studying at Mailman?
Shamaal: I’m going to be an MPH student in Health Policy Management.
Nadeem: And I will also be an MPH student in Health Policy Management.
Nadeem: What’s your certificate?
Shamaal: I signed up for Global Health, but I may switch.
Nadeem: I’m Health Policy Analysis.
Shamaal: I’m thinking of doing Health Policy Analysis, too.
Tell me a little bit about what inspired you to seek public health as a career.
Shamaal: For me, it was in my study abroad experience and the more I learned about the social determinants of health. I studied health systems in Costa Rica for a summer and just learning about their policies and their health system, they really try their best to target the most marginalized communities in the country. It’s something that really inspired me to shift my focus from clinical medicine to public health and policy. So, that’s how I ended up here.
Nadeem: Coming into college, I always had the notion that I wanted to help people. I just didn’t know what major to pick. I started out as psych and I found myself taking other social science courses. I liked biology, but I didn’t want to pursue something so science-heavy and somewhere along the way, I found public health. I eventually discovered a lot of interest in enforcing and evaluating primary intervention as opposed to tertiary intervention, which I think is one of the biggest issues in public health and healthcare, especially in the United States.
Shamaal: Having that experience abroad, I think it just helps in a variety of different ways. It definitely changed my perspective going into my undergrad and now here at Mailman.