Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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The scholarship difference

Funding helps attract the brightest, most committed students

By Sylvia Wrobel | Illustraiton by Robert Neubecker

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What do some of the most outstanding students at Rollins have in common? Scholarships. Scholarships enable Rollins to attract top-flight students and give those students the flexibility to pursue their ideal practicum experiences and careers. Here’s a look at some of the standout students who have been awarded scholarships.

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Angelica Chima | Tackling health disparities

Born and raised in South Los Angeles, one of four children of Nigerian immigrants, Angelica Chima early in life noticed the differences. If your neighborhood was primarily low-income people of color, the health of the community was significantly neglected. As a child, she didn’t understand the causes of such disparities, but she knew she wanted to correct the problems.

Chima entered Harvard as a premed student, planning on becoming an ophthalmologist—but her direction quickly began to shift, beginning with a freshman seminar called Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired. Learning about the history of health disparities, especially for Black Americans, was “eye opening,” she says. It provided her with the first inkling about public health and the impact on health possible through large, population-wide, institutional, systemic changes.

She interned at Black Women for Wellness in Los Angeles, where she did community assessments and focus groups with teens, centered on topics like sexually transmitted disease prevention and mental health awareness, and at BronxWorks, located in one of the biggest food deserts in New York. There she conducted nutrition classes for children, helped run a farmers market where families could buy fresh food, and participated in an intervention program encouraging local bodegas to carry more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although Chima would graduate with the full contingent of science courses needed for medical school, she realized she wanted to be in public health, tackling systemic causes of health disparities and protecting health at a community and global level. It was just a question of where she would go for an MPH.

Why Rollins? She wanted to be in a city filled with social and cultural resources. She wanted it to be diverse and international. And she was ready to leave the frigid New England weather for a warmer clime.

The school also offers the training she wanted in nutrition and food access and in women’s health and reproductive justice. It’s rich in the global skills she will need to work with Nigerian immigrants, as part of her interest in working with Black Americans, or if she decides to work in Nigeria.

But what really tipped the deck in favor of Rollins was a “Visit Emory” weekend where she was able to meet faculty and students and, especially, to interact with “so many other Black women who loved what they were doing. I felt as if they were already building a community for me at the school.”

It also helped, she said, when Rollins offered her the James W. Curran Scholarship. “That gave me peace of mind to pursue my educational dreams without the financial burden attached,” she says. “It also reassured me that I was on the right track.”

Chima is entering her second year in behavioral, social, and health education sciences. Because Rollins lets students tailor their experiences, she is thinking of getting a certificate in social contextual determinants of health, which she believes will help her understand how health disparities arise in the first place. She is now working for Emory‘s Diabetes Training and Technical Assistance Center as a graduate research assistant, and she has begun sorting through the many postgraduate possibilities for which Rollins has prepared her.

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Janice D’Souza | Putting together the pieces

Janice D’Souza is a longtime jigsaw puzzle fanatic, with a complex puzzle always taking shape on the dining room table. Before beginning graduate school, she was part of a puzzle club whose members competed to see who could finish their puzzle first. She often won. That skill, together with a fierce commitment to learning everything she needs in order to change women’s health, is how she views her life. It’s also what brought her to Rollins to prepare for a career in global health.

Born in India, D’Souza was the first in her family to finish college. Berea College offered her a full scholarship, including airfare from hometown Mangalore to Kentucky. When she arrived, she didn’t know what feminism was. By the time she graduated, inspired by the social activism of a faculty adviser, she knew she wanted to work with women in marginalized communities.

After a stint in Chicago with the Episcopal Services Corps, D’Souza was awarded a Clinton Fellowship that took her back to India for a year, traveling to numerous villages and towns, interviewing girls to find out why they were dropping out of school after the eighth grade. It all came down to menstruation, she says, and the taboos related to menstruation. The book she wrote for young girls tries to remove some of this stigma, a stigma she understood from her own Catholic childhood in India when, she says, vaginas were referred to as “shame-shame.” Talking to the girls also made her realize the challenges they encountered related to good hygiene caused by limited water availability, an issue she would see again and again in poor global communities.

Returning to the states, D’Souza began working with reproductive health issues in Kentucky. She also served as a consultant on the intersection of sexual reproductive health and religion with the Interfaith Youth Corps, for which she still gives training and talks at events across the country.

The more she worked with reproductive health issues, the more she wanted to know. While she was still living in rural Kentucky, a friend introduced her to Roger Rochat, professor of global health and epidemiology. It was a match. “He invested so much time with me,” she says, “even though I was not a student at Rollins. He knew things I wanted to learn, and I knew that he wanted me to be the best I could be.”

In 2018, she and her husband Jordan, an American with expertise in sustainability and environmental health, moved to Atlanta where D’Souza began working on her MPH in global health as a merit scholar. Her concentration is sexual and reproductive health, but her program is decidedly and intentionally “very intersectional.” She’s pursuing WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) certification. She has taken courses in Emory’s Goizueta Business School in supply chain management, wanting to understand how to get, pay for, and store things involved in global public health programs. As another facet of learning how money flows, she has worked with CARE’s foundation relationships office writing grants. To get hands-on experience in policy, she now works with the Global WASH policy coordinator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A typical day for D’Souza before the pandemic might consist of an early WASH class, testing water in ice machines across the Emory campus; an afternoon reproductive health course, including lectures and experiences like placing IUDs in ripe papayas; an evening class across campus in the business school; dinner with her husband and golden retriever; and time to work on a presentation/webinar/talk she frequently gives through the Interfaith Corps. (Like culture, she says, understanding religious perspective is yet another part of the puzzle when it comes to improving sexual and reproductive health for women.)

D’Souza spent the summer of 2019 in Bangladesh, working with Ipas, an international organization focused on expanding access to safe abortion and contraceptive care. Everything she had learned seemed pertinent, including the scarcity of clean water that sometimes made it difficult for doctors to wash their hands before and after procedures.

D’Souza now works as the evaluation coordinator for an adolescent sexual health program for the NYC Department of Health.

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Mariah Landry | Understanding the starting points

When Mariah Landry applied to Rollins’ environmental health and epidemiology program, she felt she was “shooting for the stars.” She didn’t have a strong background in mathematics. Her undergraduate school—the University of Miami in Florida—had not offered courses in public health, and she had no experience that could clearly be labeled that way.

Would the admission committee at Rollins place much stock on what she did have? A double major in nursing and environmental studies, including a summer in Kenya doing wildlife management. Seven years as a nurse, much of it in a Level One Trauma Center in Virginia. Stints as a school nurse and taking care of patients with extreme substance abuse disorder in California and terminally ill patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. Volunteer work in Latin American including travels with a nutritionist to remote areas in Guatemala.

Landry also had a firm conviction that she should be in public health, an interest first ignited when a college professor gave her a copy of The Coming Plague. As a clinician, she realized she was caring for patients who came in with the same problems again and again. She wanted to understand and do something about these problems on a broader population level. She wanted to do public health.

The up-in-the-stars schools to which she applied—Emory and Hopkins—both said yes. She chose Rollins because its comprehensive program combined her own interests in the broken relationship between human and environmental health and public health initiatives that could change the outlook for patients. She also was impressed that Rollins’ partners like the CDC offered students hands-on experiences.

Being accepted as Rollins was one of the biggest surprises of her life, she says. The second was the merit scholarship. In fall 2019, Landry began working on an MPH with a concentration in environmental health and epidemiology. She’s also pursuing a graduate certificate in humanitarian emergencies, a unique program offered by Rollins in partnership with CDC’s Emergency Response and Recovery Branch. Humanitarian issues encompass general global health concerns as well as security factors unique to emergencies, like water and sanitation; immunization programs; control of diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infections, and malaria; public health surveillance; reproductive health; war-related injury; and mental health. The humanitarian emergencies program gives students the skills they need to be able to do no harm, work in challenging environments and resource-poor settings, quickly see what needs to be done, efficiently and effectively develop solutions, and provide good evidence to inform decision makers.

Landry loves the courses she has taken so far and looks forward to what the coming year has to offer. She still practices as a nurse, working on weekends in the ICU “float pool” at Emory Healthcare. There she often sees in her patients the endpoint of things people encounter, whether environmental exposures or disparities in access. Now, she’s learning why these things can happen. Her favorite course so far—toxicology—explores the harmful effects that chemicals, substances, or situations, can have on people, animals, and the environment and how to prevent those effects in society.

She has seen how what she is learning in public health plays out in the people she saw as a volunteer at the Ventanilla de Salud (or Window to Health), where many of the people arrived at the office having environmentally-related problems and limited access to health care and prevention. The program is designed to promote the health and well being of Mexican nationals in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. For the past five years, it’s been a successful partnership between the Consulate General of Mexico and Rollins, which helps administer the program and encourages interested students to volunteer. Landry signed up soon after she arrived. These days she is working virtually, doing phone surveys to describe certain aspects of the COVID-19 experience in the Mexican community.

What are her plans postgraduation? “It would be awesome to go into research,” she says, but right now she is just enjoying learning everything she can.

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Max Spiewak | Mental health policy

As a college student, Max Spiewak planned to become a clinical psychologist. But a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer—then another year as a full-time employee—in the South Carolina Department of Mental Health changed his mind. He saw the power of data-driven mental health policy.

As a VISTA volunteer, he became a data specialist, analyzing and communicating the impact of community programs. The reports he generated helped increase public understanding of both mental health care and its need for public support.

At the end of his VISTA volunteer year, the department hired him to create systems to develop stronger community relationships. He increasingly realized that what he was doing was public health. He wanted to learn more. He applied to the very few top public health schools with specialized programs in mental health. He was accepted at all of them, but Rollins’ offerings seemed designed exactly to his interests.

In fall 2019 Spiewak began a four-semester program leading to a master’s of science in public health policy research, a degree option somewhat more focused on research than the traditional MPH. With mental health policy expert Benjamin Druss as his mentor, he is writing a thesis based on analysis of health services data. Druss’s expertise on mental health policy was one of the big draws of Rollins for Spiewak, and he knew that he had made the right call that first semester, sitting in Druss’s seminar on the interface between medical and mental health policy in the United States. He also quickly realized that other faculty shared his interest in mental health. He was home.

In addition to classes, Spiewak secured a position working for the Southeast Mental Health Technology Transfer Center located in the school’s Department of Health Policy and Management and funded by a $3.7 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The only one of the 10 regional centers to be based in a school of public health, the Rollins center promotes uptake of evidence-based practices for people with serious mental illness and partners, for research and training, with a wide variety of area mental health organizations. Spiewak’s job is to develop materials to make sure state agencies have the policies, materials, and resources they need to implement best practices in mental health practices.

Being awarded the Robert W. Woodruff scholarship “changed the calculation” of what work Spiewak will do after graduation—and where he will do it. He says that students with sizable student loans are often under pressure to find jobs paying enough to make their monthly payments. Spiewak’s goal is to work in the “not so lucrative” public sector, helping communities develop policies and strengthen programs and connections in mental health. Thanks to a Rollins MSPH, he’ll know exactly how to do that. Thanks to a Woodruff scholarship, he will be free to do it where it’s most needed.

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To learn more about how to support future public health students through scholarship funding, visit links.emory.edu/RSPHScholarships.

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