Student Profile: Eden Ketema
Eden Ketema is a senior majoring in Public Health Sciences. She is one of the inaugural recipients of the Corinne A. Johnson Memorial Scholarship, which was first awarded by the School of Public Health and Health Sciences in 2010.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Eden Ketema. I’ll be graduating in May of 2012 with a BS in Public Health Sciences and a minor in Microbiology. I was born in Boston and raised in a nearby suburb. My family is from Ethiopia, and I’ve had several opportunities to visit and experience life there. I think that’s had a large impact on my life and who I am and what I want to do in the future.
Why did you choose public health as your major?
I came to UMass Amherst with the intention of majoring in biology/pre-med and eventually going on to med school. I wanted to be a doctor and go back to Ethiopia and heal people. But as I started taking classes and thinking more about it, I realized I wanted to be able to help more people than just the ones I’d be seeing on a daily basis as a clinician. Being a doctor still isn’t out of the question, but I wanted to have more of a public health background and understand the bigger trends in health. I wanted to understand how to teach people about public health and how to be a resource for people with health problems.
And are you thinking of doing something in the public health field in Ethiopia?
Absolutely! I’ve volunteered at an HIV orphanage in Ethiopia since I was 16, so I really want to be able to do something about the HIV epidemic there. One day I plan to enter a PhD program in public health or a PA/MPH program so that I can really go back there and get my hands dirty and do what needs to be done. It seems like a lot of people who go there do so for a short period of time, and not many people dedicate their entire lives to that issue. I want to try to do that. But I’ve also learned that as you go on you start to figure out what’s right for you, and what you can and cannot do.
How is the SPHHS helping you to achieve those goals?
I love the public health major here. I’ve taken classes in community health, epidemiology, biostatistics, and more. I’m really getting to know what I can do in the field of public health. I also like how small the major is. I know the goal is to grow the program, but I like how small it is right now because it’s so easy to meet other students – especially grad students. A lot of them were working professionals who came back to school and they’re able to talk to you about their experiences.
Winning the Corinne A. Johnson Memorial Scholarship also really helped me. It helped finance my study abroad experience this past spring semester. That was a true blessing, and I’m so thankful for the scholarship. I got to work at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Not many people get to do that. That was a really unique opportunity.
What did you do for the World Health Organization?
I worked in the Tobacco Free Initiative, interning with them part-time every week. I was working with a program coordinator on a project for a tobacco resource center in Africa. It’s the first of its kind. I did a lot of the logistical work. We had proposals from different schools and institutions that were looking to host our resource center. We had seven proposals when I started and they had narrowed it down to one by the time I left.
Did you take classes in Geneva as well?
I did. The program was actually built for political science and economics students. At first I was nervous about it being an econ or political science program but it all worked out really well. We had to complete different projects and presentations, so we’d use our internships and the resources we had there and introduce them into the classroom. It was a nice way to integrate what I’d been doing the whole semester and understand how all these things relate to each other. And they really do. The World Health Organization is a very political organization, so understanding how it works and how the countries are expected to interact with each other and work together was really interesting.
What made you choose this particular program over other potential study abroad programs?
I wanted to find a program that would allow me to have an internship. It was going to be my first internship, so I was really trying to find the right one for me. I came across this program in Geneva. They had a long list of places where people had interned and the World Health Organization was on that list.
I chose that program and applied for the internship and paid my deposit and I still didn’t know if I had it or not. I was up in the air about it – I didn’t know if I had the internship and I didn’t know if I wanted to go without it – and it wasn’t until finals week in December before I got the email saying I got the internship. So, I thought, “Okay, I can breathe now, I’m going to Geneva.”
You mentioned you were thinking about graduate school. Have you narrowed down your field of study?
(laughs) I wish. I really haven’t.
I really love epidemiology. I just spent two weeks at the Harvard School of Public Health in their summer epidemiology program. It was a nice way to learn what grad studies in epidemiology are like and what you can do with epidemiology. I took an Intro course, which I’d taken before, but it was nice to have a refresher. It was taught basically the same way as it was here. It’s always reassuring to hear the same thing in a different place. I thought, “Okay, so this applies all over the world. Or at least in two different schools in Massachusetts.”
I met lots of professors and learned about what they were doing. I learned not only about infectious disease, which is what I’m interested in, but also nutrition, which I’d never really thought about before. I learned how important nutrition really is to one’s general health.
I thoroughly enjoyed the program, but it was very research-focused. I felt like it was more about figuring out what the problems are and maybe not so much how to solve those problems. So I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I want to do. But I’m thinking about getting involved in an epidemiology study after I graduate. I think I’d like to get some work experience before I apply to grad school.
There’s time to figure all of that out.
What have been your favorite experiences here as a student?
In general, I love how big and resourceful UMass is. I love that nothing is handed to you. I know that at a lot of small schools, people hold your hand the entire way. UMass has been more reflective of the real world. You can do all these different things, but you have to go out and look for them. It’s made me really independent. I’ve really had to do things on my own – whether it’s studying abroad or figuring out what I’m going to do on a Wednesday night. There are lots of different social and academic activities that you can be involved in. There are different ways to get involved in the community, to interact with professors. I really like that about UMass.
Overall, I’ve had a really good experience. I was just talking to my friends about this the other day. I love UMass. I wouldn’t change anything about it or about my experience here.
What do you have lined up for this coming school year?
I’m a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, so we have a lot planned in terms of social events, academic or educational events, and volunteer work. I’m a part of the African Students Association. I’ve volunteered at Cooley Dickinson since my sophomore year, so I’ll probably go back and do that once a week. It’s always nice to get away from campus and see other people. And I’d really like to get involved with the Public Health Club. I was never able to do that before because it’s always conflicted with my schedule. I really think that’s a great way to network here, so that’s definitely one goal for this coming year. I’m really trying to dip my fingers in everything before I graduate. I’m not really sure how I can do it all and fit everything in. I’m also working in a microbiology lab. I’ll be continuing my research there and writing my capstone on it.
Sounds like you might need to pencil in sleep every now and again.
I was thinking about that. I don’t know if my UMass planner is going to be sufficient. I might need a more heavy-duty one.
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