Graduating CHHS Seniors Reflect on Community Engagement.
Students who pursue public health-related fields are working to make an impact in their respective fields of study as well as their local communities. By applying skills they learned in their coursework, many students in the College of Health and Human Services work and volunteer for local organizations that support health, wellness, and social justice initiatives.
Tristan Corbett, a Bachelor of Social Work student, explains the importance of giving back to the community. “As a CHHS student, you learn across multiple classes [on] how important environmental influences are to both the health and well-being of an individual,” said Corbett. “It is easy to go about life and be a recipient of the benefits from the environment and [community], but I find it important to contribute to them as well; it is a group effort to sustain and improve our community, for our community.”
As a student studying social work, Corbett became involved with a local nonprofit, FACETS, while completing his practicum. “There are many opportunities to contribute to the community [at FACETS], from Hot Meals - a food distribution program for the local homeless population around NoVA - to the Education and Community Development branch, which seeks to enrich the lives of the subsidized housing communities around their offices.”
Many students find community engagement opportunities as a way to gain real-world experience by problem-solving, communicating, and collaborating with others to address issues facing their community.
For Pratishna Thapa, a Bachelor of Social Work student in the College, giving back to the community is a way for her to help individuals through challenging situations while she earns her degree at Mason.
“I have had the privilege to work with different communities -- from working with children and adults with disabilities, organizing disaster relief programs for people affected by natural disasters, strategizing ways to enhance the well-being of marginalized women in developing countries, advocating for victims and witnesses of domestic violence to assisting formerly incarcerated women to get back into the society,” Thapa said.
Thapa has worked with the Alexandria Victim Assistance Program, a Virginia organization staffed by Crime Victim Advocates who provide support and services to crime victims during the aftermath of a crime and throughout the criminal justice process. While working as an advocate in the organization, Thapa attended court with individuals who have survivors of crimes and organized vigils for those who have died due to domestic violence.
Currently, Thapa serves as a case manager intern for Friends of Guest House, where she provides emotional support and coping strategies for formerly incarcerated women.
“My daily responsibilities entail helping the women identify their stressors, identify coping plans, document case notes for my clients, and lead psychoeducational groups like Interpersonal Skills and Seeking Safety weekly,” Thapa said.
Through her advocacy work, Thapa was inspired to pursue research opportunities relating to women's experiences in the prison system. “I have observed an inconsistency in the demographic of women being rehabilitated versus the actual prison population,” Thapa said. “This has piqued my interest in researching the gaps within the prison system while pursuing my Master's in Social work through the Advanced Standing Program at Mason.”
Kendal Chase, a student in the School of Nursing, also has a mission to help others in her community. Chase’s community engagement began at the macro-level by serving her country in the United States Army.
“I proudly served 8 years of Active-Duty service as a Pharmacy Technician,” Chase said. “I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, serving in both field exercise and hospital settings.”
While serving in the Army, Chase became the liaison for Fort Belvoir’s Hazardous Waste Program, where she educated healthcare professionals on the importance of medical disposal practices. This experience led to more opportunities to help others when Chase transitioned into a career outside of the Army.
While serving as an Outreach Coordinator for Fairfax County, Chase implemented strategies to help the community safely dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs. “I focused much of my work on researching and designing a pilot Drug Take-Back program for privately-owned pharmacies,” Chase said. “This program was then presented to the Virginia State Wastewater employees at the WaterJam conference in 2019.”
When she was accepted into the School of Nursing, Chase continued helping others by joining Mason’s Student Nursing Association (SNA) board. “My primary motivation for applying for the SNA board was to provide a better avenue for communication for the students and faculty,” Chase said.
As a board member, Chase helped navigate the group through a challenging year due to COVID-19. However, the pandemic didn’t stop Chase and her fellow board members from helping other nursing students.
“[Working together] during a COVID environment has proven to be difficult, but I’ve learned it’s only made us closer as a group, as we have to be creative, innovative, and dedicated to making it work,” Chase said. “It was because of our continued teamwork that our club was turned into a constituent at the national level. We’ve conducted coat drives, food drives, and promoted a mentorship program for pre-nursing and nursing students, to name a few [projects].”
Due to the global impact of COVID-19, there is a strong need for community engagement initiatives to help with the local implications of the pandemic. Mei Qiu, a Bachelor of Social Work student in the College, continued serving her community and expanding her professional skills by connecting others to helpful resources throughout the pandemic.
“During quarantine, I was able to help volunteer at many facilities to help detect COVID-19 in the Prince William county area with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps,” Qiu said.
For Qiu, getting involved in community engagement is an important component of her future career. “It’s important to give back because, as a future social worker, I need to familiarize myself with my community and what resources and services are needed,” Qiu said. “Volunteering my time helps give me a purpose and improve social inequalities that are occurring in the area.”
In addition to working as a research assistant, Qiu has also focused on helping others who face food and housing insecurity. “Most recently, I have been volunteering my time with the Hot Meals program at FACETS as a driver and to help give out meals to people who are homeless in the Fairfax county area,” Qiu said.
Community engagement has offered these seniors opportunities to make meaningful contributions that improve the lives of those around them while completing their degrees. Through this type of advocacy work, Mason’s future leaders in public health are well-prepared to serve their communities and continue to better their communities.
Before graduating in May, Corbett, Thapa, Chase, and Qiu were honored as Community Engagement Medallion Awardees by Mason’s Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL) organization.