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Arnold School of Public Health

Public health major Ghia Ulrey wins scholarship to support career helping children and families

October 17, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, 

When people ask Ghia Ulrey to explain her major, she is momentarily at a loss for words to describe public health. Then she looks around and sees something like a bike helmet or a ‘no smoking’ sign.

“That there is a result of public health,” she tells them of the ubiquitous field. “You can focus on people, management, policy, advocacy, research. There are just so many paths you can take, and that’s the amazing thing about it.”

Though it took Ulrey a few major changes to get it right, she has now found her calling. After her 2018 graduation, the Save the Children Action Network Student Ambassador plans to serve in the AmeriCorps doing community health work before joining the Peace Corps with the goal of improving maternal and child health in Southeast Asia. Next she would like to pursue a dual master’s degree in global health and social work—though she’d rather be out in the field helping people and traveling around the world.

It’s a familiar lifestyle for the experienced traveler who spent her high school years on a military base in Japan and has lived in many other locations. Growing up, she observed her mother, a registered nurse, work at a local community health department. “Asking her now about how she was able to help new, young mothers inspires me,” Ulrey says. “My mom is the best person I know, and I want to be like her.”

Ulrey’s desire to help people was recently recognized by the Institute for Families in Society at the College of Social Work when she won the Michael Daniel Smith and Alexander Tyler Smith Scholarship. This award, which is funded through an endowment created by Mr. Robert L. Thomas in memory of the Smith boys, provides $1500 in tuition support to a full-time undergraduate student who shows outstanding promise as a helping professional for children and families in need. 

“Ghia has a fundamental knowledge of planning effective prevention programs to address the needs among underserved populations,” says health promotion, education, and behavior instructor April Winningham. “Her skills and experiences will serve her well in a public health career dedicated to identifying and addressing the needs of children and families, both domestically and internationally.”

Outside the classroom, Ulrey has gained experience as an intern with Policy 2 Practice in Youth Programs and through her work with the Save the Children Network. As an ambassador, Ulrey attended the organization’s Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C. and is currently in the process of establishing a Save the Children Action Network Club on UofSC’s Columbia campus. She also participates in the Peace Corps Prep program and tutors refugee children through the Carolina Survivor Clinic.

Someday she’d like to combine the USC classroom with her work as a public health professional. “My first public health class was with Dr. Winningham, and it set me off with the best start for my career path that I could have asked for—her enthusiasm and drive is contagious,” says Ulrey. “I hope to one day be able to Skype into her class from Cambodia and tell her students about the amazing experience I’m having in the Peace Corps.” 

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