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Arnold School of Public Health

Columbia resident earns public health degree to improve health, well-being of local communities

December 21, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

Alexandria (Alex) Taylor takes a holistic approach to health. That’s why the field of public health is perfect for her goal of helping communities prioritize the health and well-being of youth and adolescents.

“I believe that it is important to think about the person as a whole: mind, body, spirit and social,” Taylor says. “When one part is off, it can throw an individual out of balance, making all parts of you important and in need of care.”

Originally interested in nursing, Taylor knew she had found her path when she discovered the Arnold School’s B.A. in Public Health program. It helped that the school’s namesake shared her passion for holistic care. When Norman J. Arnold experienced his battle with cancer, he was inspired to form a $10 million endowment (and later gift an additional $7 million) to support the school and its students.

“I always wanted to be in the health field but realized my passion was for creating and fostering healthy communities,” says Taylor, who was born and raised in Columbia and is committed to her Soda City. “Public health allows me to be everything I am and everything I want to become. I’m able to be a creative, a builder, a health professional, a problem solver and a server to those in need.”

One of the ways Taylor plans to advance health in her community is by looking at how an individual’s environment affects health outcomes. This interest led her to health promotion, education, and behavior associate professor Andrew Kaczynski’s Built Environment and Community Health (BEACH) Lab, which examines how community elements (e.g., sidewalks, access to food, parks/green spaces) impact the health and well-being of residents. In addition to her advisor Kara Montgomery, the lab introduced Taylor to another mentor in Shirelle Hallum – both of whom played important roles in her undergraduate experience.

“We are products of our environment, and I think it’s important to understand how we can design or change the environment to influence our behaviors and outcomes,” Taylor says. “Even though the built environment is made mostly of fixed structures, I want to create spaces that are fluid and inclusive.”

By taking the Community Centered Leadership and Innovation course, Taylor gained additional hands-on experience in understanding community planning and dynamics. Focusing on Five Points, her class engaged community leaders and stakeholders to identify opportunities for improvement and strengthening the collaborative relationship between the university, Five Points and the surrounding neighborhoods.

As an intern with the Mayor’s office, Taylor spent 18 months interacting with citizens on issues related to maintenance and growth, supporting policy staff with research, conducting needs assessment surveys and planning community events. She coordinated the Senior Wellness Network (a COVID-19 aid initiative) and implemented a mentorship program between older adults and high school students. [Fun fact: Taylor overlapped with Arnold School alumnus and former UofSC Student Body President Taylor Wright during her time with the Mayor’s office.]

These experiences culminated with Taylor achieving Graduation with Leadership Distinction in Community Service, an honor bestowed at the university level and one in which the Arnold School leads in participation rates. After graduating this month, Taylor, who has worked full-time throughout her studies, will continue working as an administrative coordinator for Together SC, a nonprofit organization aimed at strengthening other nonprofits and the philanthropic community. She also plans to earn a grant writing certification and complete dual master’s degrees in public health and urban planning. Long term, she hopes to become a social entrepreneur, helping underserved communities achieve health and wellness.

“The lines are imaginary, there is no box, just open space for you to completely take up,” Taylor says to current and future students. “Public health is everywhere, and it is in everything. The principles, methods and concepts can overlap with so many other disciplines which gives you more options than those in your immediate viewpoint. Some days it may feel like you’re small, but you are a single thread in the pattern of a grand design, what you do matters, even if you don’t fully see your purpose. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the adventures of the process.” 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.