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Arnold School of Public Health

Recent alumnus kicks off five-year plan as Rotary Global Scholar followed by return to UofSC to study medicine

January 10, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Jared (JD) Dawson already has the next five years figured out, but that’s not a surprise to those who know him. Born and raised in Greenville, UofSC was just 90 minutes down the road from his beloved 864 area code and offered the multitude of opportunities Dawson was looking for in the college experience. His interest in helping others was shaped by his parents, a mother who immigrated from India and a Black American father from southern Georgia.

“On the first Sunday of each month for my entire childhood, my family and I volunteered at our church’s soup kitchen, often serving people who were without housing,” Dawson says. “I met so many interesting people and listened to the stories they told me about their lives. From a young age, I began to ask questions about why some people seemed to be struck by misfortune and what someone like me could do about this.”

Dawson’s Capstone Scholars program mentor, Patrick Hickey, suggested he study public health and his experiences only expanded from there. As a research assistant for the Arnold School’s NIH-funded NEW Soul Study, Dawson worked closely with assistant research professor Mary Wilson, who helped him understand the power of using nutrition (e.g., plant-based diets) to fight chronic disease among African Americans.

More than just a college major, public health offers a lens through which to understand society’s problems.

-JD Dawson, B.S. in Public Health 2021

“Food and nutrition have become some of the most fascinating areas of public health for me,” says Dawson, who also found mentors in Lee Pearson, Myriam Torres and David Simmons. “This research experience as well as my own plant-based eating journey really opened my eyes to the power that food has as medicine, and my Arnold School courses showed me how food insecurity is one of the most fundamental public health challenges of our time.” 

Dawson had already witnessed food insecurity through his volunteer work. His international travels allowed him to observe it and social determinants of health on four different continents.

During the first of three trips abroad, Dawson participated in a Costa Rica Medical Mission Trip with the Capstone Scholars Service Program. He then traveled to Japan with the Moore School of Business, finally rounding out his experience with a Health Science Semester in in Spain through the Education Abroad Office.

“Each trip further developed my global perspective of public health,” Dawson says. “The societies I immersed myself in had their own unique health culture and public health infrastructure, showing me the inextricable relationship between environment, behaviors and health outcomes.”

Across his tenure at UofSC, Dawson put his international experiences and Spanish minor to work as a volunteer and translator at the local Good Samaritan Clinic. On campus, he shared his experiences and advised his peers as the resident mentor at the International House at Maxcy College and founded Black and Abroad Gamecocks – a student organization that provides educational resources, mentorship and financial support for underrepresented students interested in study abroad programs.

“More than just a college major, public health offers a lens through which to understand society’s problems,” Dawson says. “I found that every inequity in our society – economics, education, housing, the environment – expresses itself through the health conditions that people show, usually the result of the unequal distribution of social resources. Public health became my framework to understand the world.”

Dawson graduated in May of 2021 with the UofSC Outstanding Senior Award in hand and a $50,000 Rotary Ambassadorial Global Grant to earn a Master of Public Health degree at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. His program begins next month, but Dawson hasn’t been just sitting around counting down the days until his departure.

He spent the summer participating in a partnership program between Morehouse College and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholar.  During his internship evaluating the CDC Library’s marketing strategies, he even got to sit in on meetings with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and former President Barack Obama.

Since August, Dawson has been working at another health-focused powerhouse in Atlanta: Emory School of Medicine. As a visiting research fellow at the Health DesignED innovation center, the Fulbright Scholarship semi-finalist fills many roles (e.g., grant writer, data analyst, start-up consultant) to overcome unequal access to healthcare (e.g., geographical barriers) by facilitating the global expansion of telehealth and other innovative practices.

Dawson will continue his public health journey through his Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University of Cape Town, where he will research chronic disease and HIV/AIDS within Black rural communities. The lessons he learns from these experiences will be directly applicable in South Carolina, which faces similar challenges related to health disparities, geographical access and care delivery. In addition to his studies and research, the next 18 months spent in Cape Town will be filled with plenty of exploration, cultural immersion and personal growth, as he learns what life is like in South Africa.

After graduating from his MPH program in 2023, Dawson will return to UofSC. This time, he will join the School of Medicine Greenville’s Class of 2027 as a Levi S. Kirkland Scholar. Though he is keeping his options open in terms of a specialty area, Dawson is certain he will employ the public health and international perspectives he has built over the years.

“As a public health physician, I will continue my research into food insecurity interventions as a way to address chronic disease, maternal health and child health, and I hope to incorporate health promotion into all of my clinical work, especially for those who speak languages other than English,” says Dawson, who plans to practice in South Carolina and help develop the state’s public health infrastructure. “As an aspiring physician, I realize that without understanding this broader view of health, I could never truly serve patients in the way that they deserve. Rather than just becoming a doctor who treats people’s symptoms, public health will equip me with the understanding of how to develop strategic, community-based interventions which address the root causes of health disparities.”


Related:

Public health senior wins Rotary Grant to pursue master’s degree in migration, culture, and global health

Public health senior wins Rotary Scholarship to support master's degree in his quest for universal health equity


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