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This personal statement was in support of a candidate for a Masters program. The candidate was accepted into the program, in part on the strength of this statement.

To be honest, I was not completely sure what public health meant prior to sophomore year of college. I had just declared a geography major and was eager to explore the interdisciplinary nature of the field, so I signed up for a medical geography class. I was confused the first day when the professor started throwing around words like “public health” and “social determinants of health” because I hadn’t heard them before, at least not in other geography classes. Within a few weeks, though, I had talked to my advisor about the possibility of declaring a Community & Global Health concentration. During my undergraduate career at State College, I researched how people’s health can vastly differ depending on where they live. The term medical geographers use to describe this phenomenon is “place effects on health.” For example, built environment variables such as tree cover, pollution, transportation infrastructure, or where hospitals are located in relation to their patients can all influence a person’s health and well-being. Some of my major projects on place effects on health included research on asthma in urban areas, heat vulnerability as it differs by neighborhood in St. Louis, cervical cancer in South Africa, and industry’s effect on how people in Louisiana’s Petrochemical Corridor view their health. 

As I dove more into the field of medical geography and reflected more on my own experiences, I realized my interest in health disparities began much sooner than I originally thought. I grew up in Town, Illinois, a small city in western Illinois still suffering from the economic decline that began when a major factory closed nearly two decades ago. The town is not large but still noticeably segregated by race and class. I lived in the northern and more affluent area, where public schools were better, streets were maintained more often, and new businesses were located. South of downtown, buildings were less well-preserved, local stores did not sell healthy food, and an aluminum plant and one of North America’s largest rail yards contributed to air pollution. However, even the more affluent area was sorely lacking in health services. In the late 1990s, the county where Town is located had the highest rate of teen pregnancy and STIs in Illinois. I believe that one reason for these problems is the ineffective health and sex education taught in Town's only public high school. These classes were taught not with scare tactics but with indifference. My high school health class lasted for only one semester, and my teacher was primarily the driver’s education teacher and girls’ softball coach. He didn’t cover subjects like consent, contraception, or even menstruation. These topics were briefly addressed in the textbook or in videos, but we never discussed them. I knew even then that this strategy was not effective for teaching children about health. 

The Masters Program is a good fit for my interests because it works well with so many aspects of my life thus far. Not only is my undergraduate degree in geography and public health, but much of my professional experience involves working directly with children. My incomplete education inspired me to pursue an internship with the health education department at myHealth for Teens & Young Adults in Hopkins, State during my senior year of college. I had the opportunity to travel to high school health classes in Hennepin, Scott, and Carver counties to help the clinic’s health educators teach topics I wished we had covered in my own health class. I learned the proper inclusive language to use when teaching, how to field anonymous questions from students, and how to demonstrate the process of using an external condom. One of my favorite events was spending a Saturday teaching parents and children about puberty and growing up. The young people got to express what made them nervous and excited, and parents learned to create space so their children could talk to them about it. My internship added another layer to my ongoing consideration of place effects on health: people’s knowledge about their health also depends on where they live. That is, those in these counties had a much better health education than those in Town. 

I completed my Bachelor of Arts at State College in Cities. The surrounding metro area was often used as a case study in my classes, so I became very familiar with the area. I conducted fieldwork assignments, performed GIS analyses, and read reports all centered on conditions in these cities. Through my internship, I learned more about how health education is different throughout the metro area. I learned, for example, that different organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Family Tree Clinic, and Annex Teen Clinic are responsible for health education in different sectors of the Cities. Because they have teaching approaches similar to myHealth, I assumed they were all disseminating the same information. However, while preparing for my internship, my supervisors told me that some schools allowed them to teach certain subjects but not others. In fact, in some places, the only health-related topic we could discuss was stress management. My internship deepened my interest in place effects on health: people’s knowledge about their health also depends on where they live. The Cities is truly a diverse and dynamic place, and it’s somewhere I had the privilege to grow as a person. I hope to return and keep growing, both as a person and as a professional. 

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