April 22, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Megan Austin knew she wanted to pursue a career in health but recognized she did not want a career in the clinical/treatment side of care. She began her B.A. in Public Health program at UofSC with an open mind freshman year and quickly confirmed she was in the right place.
“In high school, I became aware of the differences in my health experiences compared to some of my friends’,” Austin says. “In my first public health classes, I realized this was the path that was meant for me since it could combine my interest in health and allow me to focus on alleviating the disparities I had witnessed with my friends.”
After taking her first health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) course junior year, the University Ambassador knew she had found her future career. She considered various master’s programs but was drawn back to the Arnold School’s HPEB department.
In my first public health classes, I realized this was the path that was meant for me since it could combine my interest in health and allow me to focus on alleviating the disparities I had witnessed with my friends.
-Megan Austin, B.A. in Public Health, 2020; MPH in HPEB, Graduate Certificate in Health Communication 2022
Its inclusion of promotion, education and behavior was unique compared to the other programs Austin considered. As a South Carolina native (Rock Hill), she loved the idea of working to improve health in her home state. She credits several mentors (April Winningham, Casey Goldston-Giraudy, Katie Annan) with helping her find her calling and deciding to pursue a graduate degree in the field.
During her Master of Public Health in HPEB and Graduate Certificate in Health Communication programs, Austin led various initiatives for her department’s Student Engagement Committee and served on the Dean’s Student Advisory Council. She also co-chaired the student section for the South Carolina Public Health Association.
Austin found additional mentors during this time as well. “Dr. Rachel Davis has pushed me in the classroom, and she has helped me make a name for myself in the department and improve the program for future cohorts,” she says. “Dr. Debbie Billings, who has taken me on for research and helped me grow as a student and a professional, is always encouraging me and helping me learn I can do more.”
To gain hands-on experience, Austin interned with Wholespire, a non-profit organization that works to advance community wellness. Not long after beginning a graduate assistantship with Smokefree SC at the start of her master’s program, Austin was promoted to communications coordinator – supporting the South Carolina Tobacco-Free State Plan and Vape Talk Program.
Over the past two years, Austin has refined her interests to focus on maternal and child health, specifically the racial disparities in teen pregnancy and infant mortality rates in the American South. She explored these interests further with a Group Care Global research assistantship observing a group model of prenatal care training for midwives in China and an internship/practicum with Fact Forward to advance teen pregnancy prevention and STI awareness in South Carolina. After graduation, Austin will begin her doctoral studies in the Ph.D. in HPEB program.
“When considering a program, don’t hesitate to reach out to faculty or students to see if the department is the best fit for you,” Austin advises prospective students. “Then make the most of your program by seeking opportunities for involvement, which can lead to work experience, networking, resume building, social connections, and more. You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do; you still have time to try different things and get experience with multiple options during your program.”