The Charger Blog

Chargers Awarded Scholarships for Commitment to Public Health

Five of the University’s Master of Public Health candidates have earned prestigious scholarships from the Society for Public Health Education that will enable them to attend a conference this spring, supporting their continued education and important work in the field.

February 2, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

L to R: Ruth Kameswara Rao ’23 MPH, Sri Prathima Kanneganti ’22 MPH, Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH, Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH
L to R: Ruth Kameswara Rao ’23 MPH, Sri Prathima Kanneganti ’22 MPH, Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH, and Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH

When Ruth Kameswara Rao ’23 MPH was an exchange student studying in the Netherlands, she says her experience changed her perspective toward the education system in her home country of India. Believing the system in India to be overly focused on grades and test scores, she was inspired to help change that as she began focusing her studies on public health.

As a student in the United States, Kameswara Rao discovered social and emotional learning (SEL), and she was inspired by its focus on self-awareness, emotion management, empathy, and autonomy. She believed SEL had the potential to help mitigate some of the gaps she perceived in the Indian education system, while helping to improve students’ wellness. She now hopes to enhance students’ educational experience in India by advocating, in particular, for SEL in the schools in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Kameswara Rao’s passion for public health was recently recognized by the National Office of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), which awarded her a 21st Century Student Scholarship.

“This scholarship validates my passion and inspires me to continue to strive toward my goal,” she said. “The MPH program at the University has changed the way I look at the world. It shaped my mind to look at challenges with hope and to stand firm for what is right. The real-life experiences of my professors have highly inspired me to pursue my passion.”

‘An opportunity to better understand the public health challenges’

Kameswara Rao is one of three Chargers to receive the 21st Century Student Scholarship, and one of five to receive a SOPHE scholarship. The awards will enable them to attend SOPHE’s Annual Conference, Health Education: The ARCH of an Era, in March.

Sri Prathima Kanneganti ’22 MPH, also a native of India and a 21st Century Student Scholarship recipient, is looking forward to attending the conference. A COVID-19 health ambassador for the University who completed her Pharm-D in India, she is looking forward to the opportunity to network at the conference and to learn about the most recent developments in the field.

"The scholarships awarded represent the unwavering commitment and diligence of our students to their training as emerging public health professionals."Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH

“This scholarship has had a great impact on me,” she said. “It gives me confidence and it helps me deepen my research knowledge. Without this scholarship, I probably would not be attending the conference, and that might be a disadvantage for me as an individual who seeks more knowledge in research. This means a lot for me in terms of my knowledge, career, and skills.”

Fellow 21st Century Scholarship recipient Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH says that her work serving as a member of the Health Equity and Advocacy Fellowship led by Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, was a transformational experience. She was one of nearly a dozen students who traveled to Washington, D.C., in the fall to meet with Connecticut lawmakers to push for proposed public health legislation and to receive SOPHE advocacy training. She looks forward to advocating for more legislation promoting health equity.

“The scholarship will provide me with an opportunity to better understand the public health challenges prevalent in the United States,” she said. “It will also help enhance my advocacy skills, and enable me to become a more successful communicator, promote equity, and address issues related to social determinants of health. The experience I will gain from this opportunity will help me understand and deal with societal issues that affect vulnerable communities and bring a positive change in their lives.”

‘This is one of my biggest accomplishments’

To be eligible for these scholarships, students needed an endorsement from a current national member of SOPHE. Dr. Tran, the students’ professor, says he was glad to endorse them.

“Our MPH students continue to achieve great milestones,” said Dr. Tran, interim director of the MPH program and an assistant professor of public health. “The scholarships awarded represent the unwavering commitment and diligence of our students to their training as emerging public health professionals. As their professor and mentor, I am overwhelmingly proud of their accomplishments and am looking forward to seeing more success come their way.”

SOPHE also awards three Vivian Drenckhahn Student Scholarship Awards annually and two of those were awarded to Chargers. As the recipients of the prestigious award, Dhaani Dhaani ’23 MPH and Mabintou Darboe ’22 MPH will be recognized at an awards ceremony as part of SOPHE’s upcoming annual conference.

Passionate about advocating for maternal and child health as well as healthcare accessibility, Darboe hopes to learn innovative programming strategies she can use as an aspiring health educator.

“This is one of my biggest accomplishments thus far,” said Darboe. “I am beyond excited. I remember screaming and jumping out of excitement when I read the email. Moments like this serve as proof that nothing is impossible to achieve. It inspires me to continue my advocacy and health education work in my community. I look forward to continuing to do what I love, health advocacy, as an aspiring medical student.”

‘I am still on cloud nine’

The financial awards are presented to full-time undergraduate or graduate students who are national SOPHE members and who have demonstrated a commitment to addressing public health through a career in health education and who have excelled academically. Both Dhaani and Darboe were also recognized for their commitment to public health and advocacy last year, earning scholarships from SOPHE. They encourage more Chargers to apply for SOPHE scholarships in the future.

Passionate about advocating for sexual assault prevention, as well as addressing domestic violence, the stigma of HIV, and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, Dhaani says receiving the scholarship was “like a dream come true.” She is grateful for the support, which she says will be invaluable as she applies to doctorate programs and attends more conferences to help her continue her education and advance her professional growth.

"I am still on cloud nine,” she said. “This scholarship will help me in so many ways. It will strengthen my doctorate application and open numerous career opportunities in the future as an emerging public health professional. It will support me in continuing my education after graduation and strengthen my curriculum vitae.”