October 25, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Not many people have roots in South Carolina yet have lived abroad as many times as Grace Cooney. The public health major is originally from Greenville, but she spent part of her childhood in France and part in Canada – courtesy of her dad’s job with Michelin.
When it was time to apply to college, Cooney was back in Greenville and already familiar with UofSC because her older sister was an alumna. She was also offered a Carolina Scholarship and the opportunity to join the No. 1 ranked public honors college in the country. To top it off, Cooney was one of just three Top Scholars to receive enrichment funds from the Stamps Charitable Foundation.
Interested in a career in health care, Cooney chose public health for her major in order to gain a macro perspective. French was a natural choice for her minor as it built on her previous international experiences.
“Other health-related majors tend to be very focused on the mechanisms of human body, which is interesting, but I liked the idea of learning something completely new and developing skills I could use as an undergrad,” say Cooney, who still gained enough experience to direct undergraduate anatomy labs while an undergraduate herself. “The French minor came along because I already had the background and I plan to work internationally someday, so it was in my best interest to keep up with it.
Cooney has continued building her international resume during her time at Carolina through two study abroad experiences. She spent half of the summer after her freshmen year in Tours, France. The following year, Cooney spent the spring semester is Meknès, Morocco, where she completed an internship learning about health systems and maternal/child health.
“The programs were widely different but they both taught me to value of cultural competence and learning about issues through experience,” she says. “I believe it is difficult to understand what we have not experienced, so the best way to build community and understanding is through respectful exploration of other cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.”
While Cooney enjoyed engaging in these explorations through travel, she believes there are many ways people can expand their perspectives. For her, that has included an array of experiences stateside as well. Since 2015, Cooney has spent every summer as an intern with Prisma Health Upstate’s MedEx Academy. She has also volunteered with refugees at the Carolina Survivor Clinic, transcribed emergency department patient/medical information for Scribe America, and directed fundraising and finance for Timmy Global Health. On campus, she has conducted research in communication sciences and disorders professor Kenn Apel’s Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab, and currently serves as vice president of finance for UofSC’s chapter of the Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity.
These experiences have helped prepare Cooney for her next educational/international adventure: a Master of in Migration, Culture, and Global Health at Queen Mary University of London. Her program will be funded by a Rotary Global Grant, which aims to increase international understanding and positive relationships among people from different countries and geographic areas by encouraging person-to-person diplomacy and community service work. Cooney is the 89th Rotary Scholar at UofSC over the past 25 years.
“I chose this program because it includes all the classes in a typical master of public health, but it takes an interdisciplinary look at the intersection of culture and health in migratory populations,” says Cooney, who will build on her work at the Carolina Survivor Clinic by partnering with a London organization that specializes in the treatment of refugees. “In addition to public health principles, it incorporates aspects of economics, geopolitics, sociology, anthropology, and other areas to provide a holistic view of the relationship between culture and health outcomes in migratory populations.”
Cooney leaned on health promotion, education, and behavior senior instructor April Winningham for support throughout the application process. Winningham had guided public health student Ryan Anderson through the Rotary Scholar application process in 2017 and was happy to mentor Cooney as well.
“Dr. Winningham was really helpful in helping me choose a program and compile my application,” Cooney says. “More than that, though, she has been extremely generous with her time and network of contacts in helping me see what a career in public health looks like and the variety of opportunities within the field.”