Leah Nason resolved to turn her burgeoning passion for public health into a career after witnessing an inspiring collaboration between public health practitioners and social workers during an undergraduate internship.
While working for Action for a Better Community in Rochester, N.Y, she saw what was possible when professionals across the system pooled their expertise and joined forces to promote child development. This gave Leah all the motivation she needed to pursue her own interdisciplinary path via a dual degree at the Brown School at Washington University.
Leah was drawn to the Brown School for its ability to integrate public health, social work, and policy in one three-year program, extending the kind of cross-sector collaboration that had solidified her commitment to the field. By now, she had completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Rochester and taught sexuality education in Botswana as a member of the Peace Corps. These credentials helped her gain a highly influential fellowship with the Brown School’s International Center for Child Health and Development (ICHAD), which works to reduce poverty and improve health outcomes in under-resourced communities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing nations.
Through ICHAD, Leah studied the impact of economic savings accounts on children living with HIV or AIDS in high-poverty areas of Southern Uganda. In addition, she helped create group counseling materials focused on improving mental health for stigmatized populations.
Her Kahn Leadership Program Scholarship made it all possible. “I would not have been able to afford WashU had it not been for the Kahn scholarship,” Leah says. “It allowed me to pursue my passion for social work public health and develop the tools necessary to enact change. Along the way, I met great mentors and friends who have inspired and encouraged me.”
I would not have been able to afford WashU had it not been for the Kahn scholarship. It allowed me to pursue my passion for social work public health and develop the tools necessary to enact change.Leah Nason
A signature component of Leah’s program was the chance to translate knowledge into action, and to inform action with human-centered data. In addition to her role at ICHAD, she gained hands-on training through three different practicums. She worked with Gateway to Hope, dedicated to removing barriers to affordable breast health care; the Brown School Evaluation Center, helping local organizations evaluate their social impact; and the BJC Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, addressing St. Louis-area health disparities while working to create an inclusive climate for all BJC staff.
“When I reflect on my experiences at the Brown School, I often come back to these practicum experiences,” Leah says. “I’ve been able to assist some incredible community-based organizations.”
She is equally enthusiastic about the connections she’s made inside the WashU community. “What really stands out to me [about my program] are the relationships I’ve had the opportunity to build with other students doing really impactful work,” she says. “I get to see what they’re doing and be inspired by it in this collaborative environment.”
The work of her peers reflects the Brown School’s interdisciplinary aspect. “At the Brown School, you’re surrounded by people who are committed to equity, but they’re all pushing on different levers in society to make that goal happen,” she says. “Seeing [these different approaches] in class every day has been really, really awesome.” After graduating with her master’s degrees in social work and public health, Leah hopes to land a role in program development or evaluation that incorporates social work, public health, and ample opportunities for community interaction. “I recognize the power of my education,” she says. “I want to open up this space for other people as well.”
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