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Convocation 2014: Meet Some of the Graduates

By Kate Chisholm, MPH student, University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

The Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public will celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2014 at Convocation on Saturday, May 17 from 8-10 a.m. at Centennial Hall in Tucson. Meet some of the graduates.

Jean Chang (B.S. in Public Health with Honors)

B.S. Public Health, Class of 2014

Jean Chang, Co-Chair of the 8th Annual Social Justice Symposium at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health in March.

Ever since she was a teenager, Jean Chang has been working to save money for college. This year, her dream of graduating from college will come true.

Chang was born in Pusan, South Korea, where she describes a turbulent childhood. Her family was constantly moving and living in different cities.

She moved to the U.S. when she was 13. As a teenager, she was placed in foster care. Forced to drop out of high school she began working in emergency care while studying for the GED. All the time Chang remained determined to go to college and get an education.

“I worked in the emergency department for the next five years, saving up money to go to college. My life experience taught me first-hand how social disadvantages such as poverty can create health disparities.”

Five years later she enrolled at the University of Arizona to study public health.

“Being a public health major allows me to expand my view of the clinical field. As a future physician, a background in public health will allow me to bridge the gap between patient and community by considering the broader implications of care.”

For her honors thesis, she published a manuscript on diabetes as a first author with the help of Scott Carvajal, PhD, MPH, associate professor of health promotion sciences at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

“This article allowed me to collaborate with other researchers to produce seven other publications. The experience taught me different writing styles and analytical methods, how to pick quality research partners and projects, and how to appeal to journals,” said Chang.

She credits her work with Dr. Carvajal as the catalyst to more opportunities to develop her career in public health.

“I have five more manuscripts pending approval and I presented my research at the APHA (American Public Health Association) conference in Boston in 2013.”

Chang currently is reviewing four academic journals, including Preventing Chronic Disease, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As a reviewer, I have been exposed to a variety of analytical methods and techniques in public health research. Being on the other side of the academic publishing process, I learned what reviewers are looking for, why they accept and reject manuscripts and how to provide more effective constructive criticism. Reviewing has also taught me to not take criticism to heart, but instead to view it as an honest attempt at helping motivate/guide better quality research.”

After graduation, Chang plans to stay in Tucson and continue her employment as a research specialist at the Arizona Prevention Research Center in the UA College of Public Health. She also plans to continue working on research projects with the UA Department of Trauma, Critical Care, and Emergency Surgery. Chang would ultimately like to return to school to become a physician.

Rietta Wagoner (B.S., Public Health)

On her website, Rietta Wagoner calls herself a girl from a tiny town in Northern Arizona (Holbrook) “where I grew up ranching cattle alongside my family.” She will graduate this weekend with a B.S. but Wagoner is not leaving Tucson. She begins the master of public health program in environmental and occupational health this summer. But it won’t take her two years to get an MPH degree.

Wagoner is the first student to enroll in the UA College of Public Health’s accelerated 5-year BS to MPH program in environmental and occupational health. A year from now, she will be graduating with a master of public health.

Along with starting graduate coursework this summer, Wagoner will be working at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona with the health and safety team as an industrial hygiene intern. The Mirror Lab currently is building the largest telescope in the world, and Wagoner is enthusiastic about providing health and safety assistance to personnel.

Abdul Wali Yousufzai (MPH, Public Health Policy and Management)

Class of 2014

Abdul Wali Yousufzai

Abdul Wali Yousufzai has spent his life dedicated to bettering the lives of those around him through education in health and medicine. Born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, Yousufzai always has been driven to receive an education despite the difficult circumstances in his home country.

During his high school experience in the International Afghan-Turkish Friendship High School, Yousufzai volunteered as a supervisor for the Expanded Immunization Program as part of a national immunization campaign. It was during this time that he realized that Afghanistan’s population was suffering disproportionately from preventable diseases and a lack of access to basic health services.

Inspired to make a difference after this experience, Yousufzai enrolled in Balkh Medical University in Mazar-I Sharif, Afghanistan to spend the next seven years studying medicine to become a doctor. After graduating with his degree, he worked for a local NGO specializing in technological advances in health-care delivery.

Hoping to help close the gap between the services of national and international health organizations, Yousufzai joined the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to work as a medical counselor to provide psychosocial support for victims of serious trauma. After this experience, he became interested in learning about the holistic approach of public health and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to earn a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Health Policy and Management.

He plans to take the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) and apply for a medical residency program to reach his goal of becoming a gastroenterologist. Yousufzai will remain in Tucson while he prepares for the licensing exam. At the same time he will shadow gastroenterologists at The University of Arizona Medical Center, and continue volunteering at the UA College of Public Health for a research pilot project related to gastrointestinal cancer‎.

Courtney Slanaker (B.S., Public Health, Spanish minor)

Buena Vista, a small town outside of Antigua, Guatemala

Courtney Slanaker (second from left) with residents of Buena Vista, a small town outside of Antigua, Guatemala. Rufino (center) suffers from ichthyosis, a skin condition that causes dead skin cells to build on the surface of a person's skin. Slanaker was able to raise funds to diagnose and help treat his medical condition. In turn, he inspired Slanakar to start the non-profit Walk-With©.

When Courtney Slanaker elected to spend the fall semester of her junior year abroad at the University of Arizona’s program in Antigua, Guatemala, she had no idea that she would extend her studies to stay there for a full year. She also had no idea that she would found a non-profit that would later become her full-time job.

Slanaker had never seen poverty as severe as the kind that afflicts Antigua’s surrounding rural villages. While she studied abroad, she saw villagers suffering from preventable diseases, and when a man with a disfiguring skin condition approached her for help, she decided to do something more that could help the whole village.

Slanaker, a Tucson native, founded Walk-With©, a non-profit dedicated to community development in Buena Vista, Guatemala, one of the many rural villages that she became deeply connected to while she studied abroad. The organization aims to assist villagers with agreed upon project proposals for sustainable development.

After graduating, Slanaker will return to Guatemala to support Walk With full-time. She has partnered her non-profit with the organization Healthyouth, whose mission is to support healthier communities by promoting the health and well-being of youth. Healthyouth will make it possible for Courtney to receive assistance from university volunteers in completing community projects.

The current goal of Walk With is to raise $50,000 to construct a desperately-needed community center for the town of Buena Vista, which Slanaker says the majority of the town’ s citizens will help to construct. Slanaker will use the knowledge gained while earning her Bachelor’s degree in Public Health and a minor in Spanish to continue moving the organization forward and changing the lives of the villagers with whom she works.

The University of Arizona