What are you doing for others?

The following is the interest statement I submitted as part of my application to the Public Health program at my school. I was asked to address my experience in Public Health, career goals, and my strengths and weaknesses as a student.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not long into the Fall semester of my freshman year at UNC Asheville I discovered that I was on the wrong path.  I was a journalism major, and while my grandparents follow my blog religiously and English is one of my favorite subjects, I realized that journalism is not a career that I would ultimately find fulfilling.  Like the quote above indicates, I had a desire to do more.  I had a desire to make more of an impact than I felt I could accomplish through writing alone. That Fall, as I completed my application for transfer to UNC-Charlotte to pursue a career in public health, this quote is what I was thinking of. Building on previous experience in public health, my decision to change course was firmly rooted in a longstanding desire and determination to help others.

I was introduced to the field of public health just before attending college. I graduated a year early from high school to shadow a midwife through Duke Midwifery. As a volunteer, it was my job to help lead discussion groups following the Centering Pregnancy Model, a model that promotes a core value of public health: community. The Centering Pregnancy groups were composed of young expectant mothers, usually ages 18-22, living in low income, high crime, minority neighborhoods of Durham, North Carolina. We talked about the basics of pregnancy and birth, breastfeeding, and nutrition. Due to the socioeconomic status of the moms-to-be, we also discussed domestic violence, community crime, and government aid. It was through this volunteer opportunity that I discovered my passion for public health, more specifically maternal health. Contrary to my time spent pursuing journalism, every time I left our discussion group at the Durham Health Center, I not only felt as if I was making a difference, but I also left profoundly changed. I learned so much about what it means to be brave and humble from these moms willing to step forward and say, “Hey, I need help.” This group embodied the aspects of public health that stand out to me: community, relationships, and willingness to take a risk.

During this period, I was taking an online Art History class.  One of my assignments was to create my own piece of art and present it to the rest of the students online. I decided to interview each expectant mother and to take a picture of her from the chest down. When I asked, some of the women’s hands immediately flew to their belly, and they excitedly talked to me about baby names and nursery color schemes. For others, they became quiet, shy, and simply dropped their hands to their sides, waiting for me to take the photo. Their reaction to the picture and their pose demonstrated to me a lot about their feelings towards pregnancy and their reservations behind it. This insight is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to bring my camera to the discussion groups, eager to integrate my love for photography with my passion for women’s health. My interest in film and photography began as a hobby, but with its integration with my interest in public health, it became one of the ways in which I understood and connected with the community in which I worked.  

Accepting the Best Documentary Award

Accepting the Best Documentary Award

Initially in high school, I became very interested in filmmaking, photography, and web design. My sophomore year I filmed and edited a documentary entitled “Three” which showed a day in the life of a toddler. This documentary won the Best Documentary Award in my county, an award voted on by teachers, staff members, and students from both county schools. I began filming more and more and my camera never left my side. Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of volunteering and collaborating with many wonderful organizations ranging on a wide spectrum, from the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Geography Department. I hope to use the lessons and tools I’ve learned through this hobby to broaden the skillset available to me to understand and serve the communities in which I work.

In addition to my experience with the midwife, I also have substantial experience working with young children.  During 2013-2014, I served as a nanny for a family with newborn twins, a 13 year old boy, and an 11 year old girl. I worked three or four days per week, running errands with the babies and their mom, doing laundry, picking up the oldest two children from school, carpooling, and learning the ropes of having a family. This family is still extremely close to me today, and I learned so much from watching the twins grow. Once in Charlotte, I became the nanny for a family with a 3 year old and 2 year old.  I am currently serving in this capacity two or three days per week.  Through these experiences working with children I have learned invaluable lessons.  I’ve learned to be patient, forgiving, and I’ve learned how to roll with the punches.

[Tweet “I’ve learned to be patient, forgiving, and I’ve learned how to roll with the punches.”]

I’ve also been able to use my experience as a nanny to reflect on my experience with the Centering Pregnancy group.  These families experience a very different socio-economic reality from the women in the Centering Pregnancy group. These families drive nice vehicles and live in affluent neighborhoods. The parents of these families enjoy security in their jobs.  I am happy these parents can afford the basics for their children plus so, so much more.  However, I’m also angered by the inequality and the significant lack of resources and education available to those who live in the neighborhoods and communities of the women I worked with at the Durham Health Center. Why should an expectant mother have to choose between groceries for her family or services relating to the health and well being of her baby? Why is it that one of the primary concerns for the mothers in this group was whether or not her partner would stay out of jail? While not condoning the decisions behind this likelihood, there was an acknowledgement that some of their partner’s decisions were made from lack of choice or opportunity to do otherwise. How can I sit silently after a mother-to-be confesses she’s never heard of The Pill or even been taught about birth control properly in school? Because the answers to these questions remain complex, the core discipline of health behavior stands out to me, and of the core functions, communication. Despite my time spent in the field, I do not desire to be a midwife. While I have interest in maternal care, my interest is directed more at the community than the individual patient. Because of this my future career goals align more closely with discussion-based projects and occupations that require outreach and interaction with the community and smaller groups within. For example, after talking to one young woman about birth control and how it is taught in schools, I hope to one day reintroduce health education programs to middle and high schools with a curriculum that introduces all contraceptive options (not just The Pill, condoms, or abstinence only) to encourage safe and smart sex, and promotes resources that encourage healthy living, healthy self image, and healthy relationships.

After transferring to Charlotte Spring 2015, I immediately felt at home. The class sizes are perfect, the teachers are welcoming and kind, and the campus is beautiful. My first semester at UNC Charlotte was very successful; I did well in all of my classes, I made lots of new friends, and I took a class that helped me later declare my minor in Applied Anthropology. When Fall 2015 semester started, I enrolled in 19 hours of classes.  My earlier success led me to believe I could handle the heavy load, including a course in an unfamiliar format, Elementary Spanish, which was a hybrid course.  With six years of language experience with French, I believed I could handle the fast pace of the course. The hybrid class had expectations I could not follow due to the rigor of my other classes, which included Biology and Statistics. Therefore, I made the decision to withdraw from Spanish in order to focus on my other classes, especially since Spanish was not a required course.

Unfortunately, I also encountered a very challenging personal issue halfway through the semester, adding further to the semester’s difficulties. My grade in Biology slipped because it was hard to balance Biology, Statistics, and my other courses, along with these personal challenges. I take pride in thinking logically and practically, and I believe that I am a very organized person. I am detail oriented, deadline driven, and give my absolute best to everything I am faced with. However, despite my efforts in Biology, I was not meeting my own expectations. I think that one of my weaknesses is balancing my academic and personal life, and this showed. My decision to withdraw from Biology last semester was a reluctant one, but ultimately I decided that it was in my best interest to do so. Instead, I am currently retaking a non-lab credit science course, General Psychology.

[Tweet ““Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’””]

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” By pursuing a career in public health and integrating my skills in digital technologies, I believe I will have the opportunity to answer this question in diverse ways. I am a very motivated student with unique goals and big dreams. I don’t always balance my school and personal life as well as I would like, but I am learning to do so.  I have the motivation and determination to overcome any obstacle thrown my way. Whether I work towards creating a health education program better suited for today’s youth, film a video for a health center, or serve as the photographer behind a public health campaign, I believe that I have the ability to do and learn so much. It is my skills, wide range of experience, love for public health, dedication to my career, and passion for serving others that will enable me to answer affirmatively to Dr. King’s most persistent and urgent question.

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  • Kayleigh

    This is written so beautifully and has such great insight. I never really think about what I’m doing for others honestly, but I really feel like you aren’t fully living if you don’t live to be helpful in some way.

    • Savannah Ward

      Kayleigh, thank you so much! I think a little goes a long way when it comes to helping others. If you stop and think its awesome to notice the little things on a day to day basis that you do to help others or instances where you get some help in return.

  • This post was so inspiring and motivating! I can’t wait to help others as a speech-language pathologist. It sounds like you are pursuing a career in public health for all the right reasons. You go girl!

    Kayla | kaylablogs.com

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks Kayla! I’m super excited for you to work as a speech language pathologist too — I want to read all about it!! :]

  • You have such a caring and sweet soul Savannah. You are a perfect candidate to work in public health.

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey Jordyn, thank you!! Right back at ya — you have the kindest soul and I LOVE reading your blog and following your journey. Happy Saturday, pretty girl!!

  • What a beautiful essay. I agree that it’s so important to focus on helping others.

    • Savannah Ward

      Thank you so much, Elana! Happy Saturday! :]

  • Thanks so much for sharing this journey! When I was graduating from high school, I thought that I was going to be a journalism major, but when I enrolled, I changed my mind, and then changed it two more times. You are such a strong and beautiful person inside and out, and through reading your words I can tell that you’re so compassionate about the dream you’re pursuing. I know that you have so much more to give to the world, and I’m excited for you to share that journey with the rest of us.

    • Savannah Ward

      Wow you rock. Seriously thank you SO much. I’m so lucky I’ve met you through this crazy blogging world! You are the sweetest.

  • Ashley

    What a beautiful post! You are definitely an inspiration! The public health profession is lucky to have you!

    xo Ashley

    • Savannah Ward

      Thank you so much Ashley!! I really appreciate it! I hope you’re having a great weekend! :]

  • What a wonderful post. I love helping others and my future career will focus on that, too.

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks Bella! Hope you’re enjoying your weekend!

  • Ashley Vickney

    Rolling with the punches is definitely something I’ve worked on! Helping others honestly makes me feel so much better about myself and the world! This is a great journey you’re on, and you’re sure to find something that helps other people. You have such a good soul!

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey Ashley, I agree – helping others is the greatest feeling! Thank you so much for your sweet comment :] <3

  • I volunteered at a hospital in Greensboro, NC for 3 years in the labor and delivery unit. I orginally went to school for nursing and want to still pursue that in some capacity. I’m thinking getting my license to be a Doula. I loved reading this about you and your passion for public health really shines through!

    How 2 Wear It [] http://how2wearit.com

    • Savannah Ward

      WOW no way!!! I started training to be a postpartum doula but couldn’t make it to the workshops required since my schedule was so crazy. I’m thinking of training again at the end of the summer. That’s SO cool that you’re interested in that as well, I’ve never met someone close to my age that is interested in doulas!

  • What an awesome post! I am currently a nanny now, and it takes A LOT of patience at times. I also studied nursing for 3.5 years before I decided it just wasn’t for me & started over as an education major. Sometimes I still want to go back and finish up to work in Labor & Delivery. We’ll see!

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey Alex, it definitely takes a lot of patience and a lot of deep breathing hahah some days are just a blur. My aunt is a Labor and Delivery nurse!! I think they’re great. BUT my parents are professors so teachers are pretty awesome too :] I know you’ll be amazing at whichever career you choose!

  • Sara Kate Steadman

    Wow!!! So incredibly well written. I am so excited that you have narrowed down your calling and will help other people in the process. So inspiring.

    Sara Kate Styling

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks Kate!! I really love helping others others – hopefully my school will give me the chance! :] I check my inbox SO much during the day to see if I have an answer from the program.

  • What a beautifully written post! I feel like I just learned so much about you. I’ll be sending prayers your way as you apply to the program 🙂

    XO, SS || Seersucker Sass

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey, thank you SO much! I definitely appreciate all of the prayers and good vibes :]