Dreams Come True

Although critical to the health and well-being of billions, public health is not always a lucrative field—which makes the case for scholarship support all the more urgent.

Rebecca Ahmad
Summer Enrichment Program ('13)
MPH/MSW candidate ('16)
Dean's Scholarship

Bronx-born Rebecca Ahmad realized early on that "school was one of the places I could go where adults would actually pay some attention to me." Ahmad's mother died when she was born, and Ahmad herself entered kinship care at age five, after her father went to prison. She bounced around from one troubled family member to the next, all the while dreaming of an escape—and working hard to make that dream come true.

Her efforts paid off. A prestigious scholarship enabled her to attend Swarthmore College, where she studied psychology, education, and biology. Hoping to add health care management skills to her portfolio, she enrolled in U-M's Summer Enrichment Program, which gave her the chance to complete an eight-week paid health care internship in southeastern Michigan. Ahmad discovered she was less interested in health care management than in aspects of health care that harkened back to her upbringing. With combined scholarships from SPH and the School of Social Work, she became a dual-degree student at Michigan.

"Without this support, I would not have gone to grad school at all," she says. "A lot of circumstances have to come together for a person like me to make it to a place like this. Much of that support is financial." Ultimately Ahmad wants to get a doctorate in education and run a national nonprofit to provide sexual and mental health and educational resources to urban African-American and Latino adolescents. Her mission? "I hope to connect young people with the resources I lacked growing up."
—Nora White

Pierre Muhoza
MPH candidate ('15)
Hunein F. Maassab Scholarship

In 1994, Pierre Muhoza and his family spent three months living in a refugee camp in Zaire (present-day eastern Congo) to escape the civil war and genocide taking place in their native country, Rwanda. Muhoza recalls the deadly outbreaks of cholera and dysentery that plagued the camp—and Doctors without Borders' subsequent missions to contain them. He and his family ultimately settled in Kenya, but memories of his time in the camp stuck with him. He eventually went to the U.S. and studied biotechnology and biochemistry at Rutgers, with the aim of helping to prevent the spread of life-threatening infectious diseases.

Today Muhoza is pursuing an MPH in hospital and molecular epidemiology at U-M SPH—a program deeply aligned with his professional interests. "I wouldn't have had the courage to transfer into this program and pursue my real passion had I not had U-M's funding," he says.

Muhoza's story comes full circle, as he hopes to establish himself with Doctors without Borders, or a similar international public health organization. "My goal," he says, "is to assist underserved populations and reincorporate the human element back into my work to improve human health."
—Nora White

Heather Boyd
MPH candidate ('15)
Dean's Scholarship

By her own account, second-year SPH student Heather Boyd grew up "very poor." In her teens she effectively became homeless and spent a number of years living on friends' couches and at one point spending nights in unlocked cars in a parking lot. "I'm an anomaly," she admits. "Especially at the University of Michigan."

But even as a small child, Boyd saw that education was the key to escaping poverty. With scholarship aid, she attended Eastern Michigan University, where she majored in biology and anthropology. She trained as a doula and began working with low-income mothers. The experience taught Boyd that while she could help women through labor and delivery, if they lacked the resources to care properly for their babies—and themselves—the odds were against them. So Boyd started her own nonprofit, Students for Midwifery, which collects household goods for new mothers and their infants.

Boyd's focus at U-M SPH is maternal and child health in global settings. She recently completed a summer internship in Kenya. Without a Dean's Scholarship, she says, it would be nearly impossible to pursue an MPH. She's been supporting herself since she was 14 and still carries undergraduate debt. At times she worries that her good luck will unravel. But at her most optimistic, Boyd is exuberant.

"I think I'm going to change the world," she laughs. "One person at a time."