Hello, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kathleen L. Wright and I’m a first-year student in the Health Services MPH program, on the Maternal and Child Health track. I joined the Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health team after responding to a posting for a practicum position but being a part of this global project has become so much more to me than just a degree requirement.
I am the only child of two retired Department of Defense civilian contractors, one of whom served in the Army. I was born and raised in southern Illinois, but due to my parents’ careers and my own natural curiosity, I have always had the urge to travel. I was also passionate about current events, health, and human rights from a young age. I remember trying to get my bewildered 7th grade classmates to care about the genocide in Darfur and feeling like a total outsider when no one else understood how much it mattered. After graduating high school, I moved to Manhattan and started school at New York University. At that point I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a pediatrician, so I was on the pre-med track.
Students on the pre-med track have to satisfy a social sciences requirement, I chose sociology, as well as a public health course. By the end of my freshman year at NYU, it felt like my mind had exploded. I had never thought about society or humans that way—I had never thought that way at all. A new worldview was blossoming inside my head. I was hooked. Here I was, 18 years old, in one of the best cities in the world, seeing everything with new eyes. Just writing this, reminiscing on that nascent transformation, makes me smile.
I thought that my combined passion for justice and health meant that I should become a doctor. Going into public health had never occurred to me, but from that point forward, I could not imagine doing anything else. My sophomore year, I went to my advisor and told her that I had decided on my major: Global Public Health with a concentration in Sociology.
Learning about public health meant that I learned about the injustices happening in the States and around the world, but I wasn’t a frustrated 7th grader anymore. I became an activist. I believe that good public health is, at its core, activism—fighting for the vulnerable, combining people power and dedication with education and research.
I spent my junior year abroad, doing one semester in Prague and one in Sydney. I had always wanted to travel outside of the US, but I had never had the opportunity. It was at that point I realized I don’t want to travel—I need to travel. I once heard some advice about how to choose a career: pick something that combines what you love to do, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. I graduated with honors from NYU in May 2017 and started classes at the University of Washington School of Public Health in September 2017.
It feels great to be part of the DeRouen Center team and fulfilling to be working on a project that has the potential to improve the lives of children around the world for generations to come. I am encouraged by the progress we’ve made in the last few months, and I’m excited for all of the new experiences, connections, opportunities to help, and chances to learn that will come my way.
Where will this all take me? After I graduate, I hope to join the Peace Corps. And after that…I’m not sure yet. And I’m not too worried. I want to keep helping people and learning for the rest of my life; where or with whom is not what matters. Public health is my passion, and I will go where it leads me. Thanks for reading and have a great day.