On a mission trip to El Salvador, 16-year old Marina Novaes met families struggling to find food, housing and health care.
“In a country smaller than the size of Massachusetts, residents living in the outskirts of El Salvador who needed to go to the hospital or see a doctor waited two weeks for a school bus,” she says.
The experience changed her life, encouraging her to pursue a career in health.
“I learned how important access to quality health care is and how health status can influence a person's opportunities, access to education and quality of life,” says Novaes.
Two years later, she enrolled in UML’s nursing program. But during her sophomore year, she had a change of heart and switched to public health.
“I realized that I didn't want to treat people for health issues as much as I wanted to help prevent them,” she says. “Now that I've found public health, I feel passionate about the work I'm doing and the content I'm learning. It's the perfect fit for me.”
Novaes’ experiences at UMass Lowell extend well beyond the classroom. She’s engaged with programs through her sorority, Alpha Sigma Tau (AST), and the peer-education group Campus Advocates for Prevention Education (CAPE).
“I've been so happy with my experiences here at UML,” she says. “I joined Alpha Sigma Tau to be a part of something bigger than myself. Through my sisterhood, I've learned about the importance of women empowerment, I’ve developed important leadership skills and I’ve had many opportunities to fundraise and volunteer in our community.”
Novaes joined CAPE because she was angry and disheartened by the stigmas surrounding mental health and the prevalence of sexual violence.
“I wanted to turn that anger and sadness into real and effective work to make a change in our community,” she says.
Through her membership in both organizations, she revamped AST's annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event. Men put on red high heels and walk a mile to bring attention to sexual and gendered violence. But often, they’re unclear on what the walk is about.
Working with student activities, CAPE and the Center for Hope and Healing in Lowell, Novaes created three educational activities to help students understand the prevalence of sexual violence, misconceptions about rape and ways in which they can be active bystanders.
All of these experiences motivated her to expand her knowledge in public health. She applied for, and was accepted into, UML’s Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master’s Public Health program with a focus on population health. Next year, when she’s a senior, she’ll take four classes that count towards completing both her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“I want to further my knowledge in public health and to specifically gain more knowledge in social policy and learn more about how to use behavioral and social sciences to improve population health,” she says.
Novaes says she’s inspired by faculty who are equally passionate about public health and the success of their students.
“The thing that I appreciate most from my professors is their personal dedication to see us succeed as public health professionals, as well as informed, empathetic and compassionate individuals. The experiences and real-world examples they bring into class shows just how dedicated they are to improving the health of our communities, as well as training us to be the next generation to do the same.”