Elona Hoffeld ’21 is a recent graduate who completed her bachelor of science degree in Public Health Sciences as a member of the Commonwealth Honors College. Her focus area in the major was in social justice.

What made you interested in public health?

I find public health to be the ideal intersection of medicine and activism. Public health addresses social factors like race and economic status as large contributors to the health of individuals. Public health as a field tries to address health inequities and discrepancies in treatment of individuals, and I want to help do that as well.

Tell us a little bit about your public health journey so far.

In terms of my education, public health has been pretty incredible! I transferred into the major from biomedical engineering in my freshman year and became really invested by my sophomore year when I studied abroad in Cuba. I got to speak Spanish, meet with Cuban health care professionals, and live on a tropical island. It was an amazing experience, and one of the faculty-led study abroad programs at UMass. The trip was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, a real public health crisis that we have all been living through. It was one of the first times I really saw the size and effect of public health need in America. Inspired by the financial distress of the pandemic, I wrote my honors thesis on the research I did on the use of social media and fundraising websites during the pandemic to help people pay for their health needs. The thesis is called "How to Ask for Money From Strangers: A Qualitative Analysis on Crowdfunding Through Instagram Posts." While working on my thesis, I spent my junior year as a TA for Public Health 200 (now SPHHS 150). I worked with professors I met during my time in Cuba and got to teach new public health students.

What do you hope to do in the public health field in the future?

I currently work in health administration for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. I would like to do something similar after graduating to further my experience in medical environments, with the ultimate goal of working to improve health care access. The American health care system is flawed, and boxes out people without the skills or funds to navigate it. I think I would like to work at the policy level to help expand what services are available to people who are part of low-income households. I would also like to work directly with people and families to help them navigate health care systems and to get them access to the services they need.

What advice do you have for current students in the Public Health Sciences major?

I can think of so many things I would say to other public health students, but the biggest thing I would say is to really explore the major. There are so many amazing professors and classes available; don’t get stuck just following the obvious path. Public health is a wonderfully broad field, and you would be surprised by how many other fields we overlap with. Since the major is designed with the focus area and a degree of individual development and exploration, you should really use that to your advantage, and think outside the box!