Journeys Into Public Health
Nine graduating students reflect on what inspired them to seek out a life in public health, some of the surprising lessons they took away from their experience at the Mailman School, and their aspirations for the years ahead.
Among others, you’ll meet a former high school teacher who excelled in the lab while working to overcome the “imposter syndrome”; a Texas native intent on improving the odds for young women’s access to reproductive health in her home state; an aspiring physician who hit on the winning formula for compassionate care; and a scholarship-winning MHA grad set on making his mark at the Mayo Clinic.
Kathy Colon’s Future Is High Tech Health
Soon after completing her Executive MPH last fall, Kathy Colon was recruited to join IBM Watson Health, where she helps academic medical centers use the Jeopardy-winning technology to improve cancer outcomes for their patients. For Colon, the future of health is in technology.
“By the time I finished with classes, I had multiple job offers. I decided to go with the one I felt would make the biggest difference. … Watson is a cognitive system that reasons and learns. It is continually growing and evolving. Physicians are using it to match cancer patients with clinical trials. I see it as a partnership between humanity and technology with the goal of transforming health.” Read More
Medina Jackson-Browne: Doctor, Not Imposter
Medina Jackson-Browne calls herself a survivor of the “imposter syndrome.” But the former teacher at a high-needs Bronx School showed authentic determination in her desire to understand the toxic exposures driving high rates of asthma in the community as a PhD student in Environmental Health Sciences.
“For anyone, navigating a first year of doctoral study can be extremely scary. Doing this at an Ivy League School is even more intimidating. I spent my whole first semester suffering from ‘the imposter syndrome,’ when you’ve achieved a kind of greatness but don’t allow yourself to acknowledge it.” Read More
JongJin Jo: Gotta Have Faith
Health, family, and faith have always been interconnected for Population and Family Health graduate JongJin Jo. This trifecta drove JJ to public health. Now it empowers him to build new pathways to improve the health of underserved populations in New York.
“My passion is for underserved populations overall, but having three children gave me a special appreciation and personal experience to support my interest in child health. ... I’m very happy with the choice I made to come to Mailman. My family provided the extra strength and incentive to carry out my dream.” Read More
Jordan Mueller Reinvents Himself
The Mailman School MPH was worth much more than the skills acquired in the classroom for Jordan Mueller. New York City gave the Sociomedical Sciences graduate a perfect launching pad for a career in healthcare consulting.
“I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what would happen when I came to New York, but I knew the experience would give me opportunities I couldn’t have anywhere else. ... Now, at the end of my two years here, my resume looks completely different then when I started. I transitioned from on-the-ground work with nonprofit organizations to more high-level policy experience. You could say I reinvented myself.” Read More
Chey Onuoha Says: Don’t Mess With Texas
Like many of her classmates, Onuoha has been weighing post-graduation options. One big question: stay in New York or return to her native Texas. On April 14, the soon-to-be Sociomedical Sciences graduate got a whole lot of advice—from more than 2,000 people on Facebook after she was profiled on Humans of New York (the top comment reads, “Please come back to Texas! We need you!”) In a conversation with, Transmission she shared some background on her public health journey.
“After graduation, I want to continue in sexual and reproductive health so I can work alongside communities to find solutions that bring immediate and systemic change. Ultimately, I know I will return to Texas, my heart and home. … I am eager to use the skills and knowledge I gained at Mailman to improve lives of my fellow Texans whose access to care has been stifled.” Read More
Fatima Riaz: Keep Fighting
Environmental Health Sciences graduate Fatima Riaz is the only one in her department to go for a Global Health Certificate—but she’s no stranger to forging her own path. As an undergraduate student in her home country of Pakistan, she fought against norms to help establish the country’s first student-led public health organization. At the Mailman School, she found inspiration and a community of peers to lean on.
“I don’t really feel qualified to impart wisdom—I still get toothpaste on my shirt in the morning—but life has taught me one invaluable lesson: when the urge to quit becomes overwhelming, that’s your cue to keep going.” Read More
Betsy Szeto Finds a Framework for Compassionate Care
Aspiring physician Betsy Szeto hit on the winning formula for compassionate care. Growing up in a Chinese immigrant home in Toronto, Szeto was called on to translate for family members visiting the doctor. The experience sparked an interest in medicine while highlighting the importance of cultural competency. Before she goes on to medical school, Szeto shares some of the most valuable experiences from her MPH in Epidemiology, including her role as a teaching assistant and working effectively with a multidisciplinary research team studying inmate health on Rikers Island.
“I put my epidemiologic skills to use to assist with studies on sexual behavior and drug use among incarcerated populations and an HIV risk reduction intervention for previously incarcerated individuals. … I gained the leadership and managerial experience needed to work effectively in any interdisciplinary healthcare team.” Read More
Jean-Claude Velasquez Stands on the Human Side of Healthcare
Jean-Claude Velasquez is a member of the first Mailman School class to graduate with a Master of Healthcare Administration. As he continues his training with an administrative fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, Velasquez explains he will bring both the business skills to help run a large healthcare organization and the individual and community perspective to treat everyone with dignity.
“The MHA was attractive for me because it’s like the MBA of healthcare. It gave me the strong analytical framework, like how to analyze data to ensure patient safety and satisfaction, which is indispensable for any healthcare administrator. At the same time, I got to see the human element of the business.” Read More
Jasmine Williams Is Living the Dream
Growing up in New York City and fascinated with math, Jasmine Williams thought that Columbia University was the perfect school for her, so when she found out about the eight-week Columbia Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics (CSIBS), she immediately applied. Prior to earning an MS in Biostatistics on a Theory and Methods track, she reflected on how close she is to the future she’s wanted since childhood.
“Now that I’m near the end of my time at Mailman, I appreciate the fact that I’m here and I’m proud that I’m about to become a Biostatistics graduate. I’ve wanted to come to Columbia since high school and my friends tell me all the time, 'You made it happen.' I’m living my dreams right now.” Read More