Back on the school train–this time, in public health

nora-whiteHave you ever jumped into something feeling like the old dog in the fight?

While I’m not yet towing around a walker studded with tennis balls, at 28, I’m one of the older members of this year’s UM SPH incoming graduate student class. This has come as a surprise—the average grad student age hovered somewhere between the late 20s/early 30s while I was in architecture school at the University of Virginia, but that was also prior to the economic tumble of 2008 that inspired so many jobless grads to hop back on the school bus for higher degrees.

Being out of the loop of full-time school, it’s been more of a challenge to get back into the round-the-clock grind of juggling classes, readings, volunteer activities, enjoying a drink and a dance party with friends, and now a part-time job—in contrast to the “real world,” where it’s a black and white flip of the switch from job mode to whatever you want to do at the end of the work day.

I’ve spent these past six and a half post-graduation years vetting how I could translate my personal interests in design, agriculture, food, and health into professional opportunities. I’ve worked as an intern landscape architect, gardened at Monticello, been a harvest intern and tasting room manager for a couple winemakers, worked the garde manger station at two now-defunct fine dining restaurants in Washington, DC, and served in a jack of all trades public relations/food/administrative position for the chef/owner of the country’s first certified organic restaurant. Part of that job also involved my navigating the goings-on of my boss’ six environmental board organizations, and being privy to her 36 years of experience in laying down extensive networks with the local organic farmers who supplied the restaurant, and also how she had helped start a chain of farmer’s markets across the DC metro area.

These collective experiences helped shape my “you are what you eat” vision, and after spending the last three years taking 50+ credits in part-time classes to get the life sciences background I missed out on in undergrad, I’m now here at the University of Michigan working towards a Master of Public Health in Human Nutrition/Dietetics (a subplan of EHS, Environmental Health Sciences). Ultimately, I aspire to apply a food as medicine framework in educating patients about food quality, preparation, and its role, in tandem with lifestyle change, in reversing chronic disease. My desire to solve spatial problems—which is what initially led me to architecture—has now been repurposed towards solving integrated problems of health, drawing in many of my personal interests along the way. It only took ten different stabs at careers to carve out my more interdisciplinary direction ahead!

“Life blends together, if you live long enough,” Howell Raines writes in Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis. That’s the beauty of returning to school as an “older” graduate student—you’re able to draw on various academic, professional, and life experiences to enrich this next level of education. And they’ve even been able to teach an old dog new tricks—just last weekend, this football know-nothing learned the meaning of a down.

So that said, feel free to ask anything—questions specific to the MPH in Human Nutrition/Dietetics, the School of Public Health, the University of Michigan, life in the Midwest compared to the East Coast (strangers saying hi to strangers—what is this place!?), if I’ve learned that the fluorescent line on the TV football field is not real…and fingers crossed that I’ll periodically get to escape the academic world and post glimpses into life in Ann Arbor.

Til later!

Nora

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