…but the size of the fight in the dog.
This quote from Mark Twain is something I have taken to heart ever since hearing it back in junior high school.
Growing up, I never had a “natural” gift like some of my friends. You know the ones… the kids who were in the super-speedy 2nd grade reading group, or the ones who got to play with the more high-tech calculators (albeit…still solar-powered, we ain’t talkin’ the Ti-83s here, yet!) in the “math challenge” group. Nope, that was never me. I always wished to be a part of those smarty-pants groups, but my teachers never “dubbed” me as one of those lucky ones.
I used to think that my half-brother, 12 years older than me, got all of the “naturally gifted” genes. He and my dad were one of a kind – always engrossed in reading material whenever I saw them. In fact, after achieving a perfect-score on the SAT (back when that equated to a 1600, my how times have changed!), my half-brother received a full scholarship to MIT for both undergraduate and graduate school.
I was the other extreme.
I had to work hard to do well in school. And so from the very beginning, that is what I did.
To be honest, I have no idea what drove little 6-year-old me to strive for good grades. Even though I had to work hard to learn things, my mother never once had to ask me to sit down and do my homework.
I was always on the ball about getting my homework done before heading outside to play. In fact, I remember being in 1st grade and trying to figure out the best way to finish up my vocabulary homework. Our class used one of those workbooks that had contextual sentences in paragraph form with blanks for the missing words. You had to pick the correct word out of a word-bank to fill in the blanks so that the sentences and paragraphs made sense. Well, being the efficient smart-ass that I was (and still am) I thought I’d work my hand at beating the system by choosing a word that fit the length of the line of the blank. So naturally, the short blanks got the shorter words, and the long blanks got the longer words. Genius, right?
Mmmm… not so much.
All that led to was a parent-teacher conference… and a tutor. Ah, well, I thought it was a good attempt at being effectively efficient.
No worries, though. The tutor (and my momma) set my skewed vocabulary-answering-ways straight, and soon enough I was learning new words and breezing through those workbooks in no time.
Another thing I vividly remember from 1st grade is kicking myself up into a handstand on the coach (using the back cushions for support, of course) to learn my weekly spelling words. My mom would sit next to my upside-down little self and help me learn how to spell them. I have no idea in the world why this worked for me… but it did. (Maybe I should bring this little trick back for my biostats final next week… ha!). I remember my teacher gave out extra credit if we choose to learn an extra word that wasn’t on the weekly list. One week I choose to learn how to spell the word “encyclopedia” (probably because I saw my dad and my half-brother reading through them so much…). I think I blew my teacher out of the water when she saw that long-ass word on the answer sheet, spelled correctly thanks to my awesome handstands. I bring this little story up because I think it was this moment when I realized that if I work hard at something, I can achieve it. (And thus, the [over]achiever in me was born!).
I’ve never felt bad about being a “different” learner. Over the years, I’ve come to accept within myself that I do best by learning in small student-to-teacher ratios. These types of settings allow me the opportunity to ask questions and get extra help when I need it. Some would call me a teachers pet, but I blame it on my drive of wanting to excel and master the material.
In junior high and high school, I was never placed in any of the advanced classes. Nevertheless, I excelled in the “college-prep” classes and my friends always looked to me whenever they needed help. Now I know I said that things didn’t come naturally for me, but people took notice at how driven I was. I worked hard and achieved good grades, and those good grades paid off. Come junior year of high school, I was elected into the National Honor Society and even placed into my very first advanced class – AP History.
My AP history teacher never expected me to do well, though. She never blatantly came out and told me that, but her actions were enough. I did just fine on the essays and homework, but when it came time for the practice exams, I always *always* struggled with the multiple choice questions. When the actual AP exam rolled around in May, I was head in the books studying. I wanted to pass the exam so badly because if I did, I could obtain college credit. In order to get college credit I needed to score at least a 4 on the exam (on a scale of 1-5). During the school year, I had only been getting 2s and 3s on the practice exams. So everyone in the class pretty much had zero hope for me.
Well, I took the exam that May and when our teacher received our scores back, she was blown out of the water by my accomplishment. Not only did I pass, but I passed with a 5—the highest score possible. Hello, college credit.
Junior year is also the year I took one of the most challenging courses I can remember – physics. Of course, I placed in the college prep level for this course, but that didn’t matter — it was still very challenging. I would go in before school and stay late after school before track practice to get direction and help from my physics teacher, Mr. Clark. You’ve all heard me say this before, but I can not reiterate it enough – math is just not my thing… especially when it comes to blowyamind-scientific-ideas like physics. Nevertheless, the help I got from Mr. Clark always made things instantly *click* in my head… and unlike my AP History class, I actually performed fairly well on my physics exams. (Ohhh the feeling of achievement after working so hard for something is indescribable…).
Anywho, at the end of each academic school year, my high school always held a big assembly and recognized students for their academic achievement. Teachers from each grade would select a “Student of the Year” award for outstanding students… and the recognized student would come down and get little plaques/pins/medals. So during this little ceremony back in 2003, I sat with my fellow classmates, waiting for the assembly to end. It was finally the Juniors turn for recognition, and my physics teacher, Mr. Clark got up to the microphone stand and started talking about his “Physics Student of the Year.” Having sat through this awards ceremony for the previous two years as a freshman and sophomore, I knew that only Advanced Placement or Honors students received this award. Mr. Clark began speaking about the award and how there was a particular student who he thought was more deserving than any other Advanced or Honors student he’d ever had – dedication and drive to excel trumped any class status level. He went on to say, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” that truly mattered most. And the next thing I knew, my name was being called as the recipient of the award. To say I was stunned is a complete understatement (I mean seriously, it’s 8 years later am I’m blogging about this… it obviously had an effect on me!). I thought I’d misheard him, because everyone in the entire school knew that the Physics award only goes out to AP smarty-pants students. But no, it was my name he said. So I walked down there and got my award. And ever since, I’ve believed I can conquer anything I set my mind to.
As corny as that high school ceremony was, it was a defining moment for me. I no longer felt like just an average student. I felt that maybe, just maybe… I was capable of achieving great things. So that’s what I sought out to do my senior year of high school.
When it came time to apply to college, I set the bar high for myself. Too high, some thought. But I wanted to do it anyway. I applied early-decision to a prestigious school in the South – my “reach- school” if you will, and got accepted.
Hello, Furman University…
Sold (on the prettiness). I’ll take it.
This whole setting-the-bar-high stuff really does work. I became a Furman Paladin and spent an amazing four years learning from some of the best academics I’ve ever come across. (Confession: I totally had to google what a Paladin was before attending.)
And not only did I do just “okay” at Furman, but I excelled. I worked hard, played hard (hollllaaaa to any Chi Omega’s out there!), spent a year studying abroad in Australia and came out graduating Magna Cum Laude with an almost perfect GPA, as well as a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Nevertheless, my senior year of college was a bit stressful (pretty sure most people can relate). I had tunnel vision for the first of half of the year and was set on getting into a top MPH program. I wanted to get into the Health Behavior Health Education program at UNC-Chapel Hill, the second best Public Health School in the country. When I went home for Christmas break that year, I spent a great deal of time on my application and submitted it with high hopes of getting in. While on break, though, my mom had her friends Ross and Libby come over one evening. I should have hidden in a closet, because I hated talking about the “unknown” after graduation and what my (non-existent) plans were. The fact that Libby and Ross were two retired graduate school counselors didn’t help my case, either. You bet your ass the majority of the evening was spent talking about my future plans, (or lack thereof).
Over dinner, they suggested something I had never thought about before. They suggested I take a break from school before I headed off to pursue my graduate degree. They reasoned I had been going to school for 20+ years, so why not take a break and see what else is out there? Well I’ll tell you why not – because at that point in time… there was no room in “my plan” for breaks! And I sure as hell didn’t want to hear that kind of input at such a delicate time from anyone else, especially if it meant putting off graduate school. So yes, I was pretty peeved (although I gracefully kept this feeling on the inside during our conversation that night) that they thought the application I sent in about a week prior was not worth my time. But alas, they had planted the seed. And over the course of Christmas break, I began to wonder what other paths I could take. (Hm. Maybe I’m not so type-A after all…[haaaa if Ryan is reading this, I bet good money he’s rolling his eyes right now! Oh well, I own it!]).
When I drove back to Furman that January, I casually began exploring some options of non- graduate school ideas. One of the things I came across was AmeriCorps – it’s like the Peace Corps, but stateside. I decided to apply to a few of those programs, and got accepted into two of them immediately – the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), and a literacy program down in Palm Springs, Florida. I applied to a third AmeriCorps program — the National AIDS Fund– but did not hear back from them as quick as the first two. This bothered me, because that was the program I wanted to get into the most (in good time, I’ll explain why – there’s a huge backstory on this). So while I was waiting on hearing back from the both the National AIDS Fund and UNC, I realized that maybe taking a break from school would, in fact, be the right thing for me.
And just like that, I made a decision.
Before I even heard back from UNC, I decided that I’d defer one year if I actually got into that MPH program. Funny how things work out, because a month later, I actually received word from UNC that I was denied. Of course, hearing the news stung a little, but it was not the end of the world. I was already accepted to two AmeriCorps programs, and was waiting on hearing back from a third. And just a few days after that, I was accepted into that 3rd AmeriCorps program – the National AIDS Fund.
As soon as things were finalized with the National AIDS Fund, I let the other two programs know I would not be joining them. I was told my AmeriCorps placement was stationed in Charlotte, and that I should move there as soon as I graduated.
So, that’s what I did. On May 31st, 2008 I graduated Furman…
…and on June 1st, 2008 I moved to Charlotte, a city where I knew no one.
And that brings me to now (give or take, a little…).
For the past (almost) 3 years, I have been living in Charlotte.
The first year I worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer providing medical treatment and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS down at a medical clinic in Rock Hill, South Carolina (hello, 1+hour commute one-way, I soooo do not miss you!). I also worked some oddball jobs during that year to help pay my rent — such as bartending, working weekends at the Panthers Stadium and working the fitness floor at the local YMCA . You read that right, people — 4 jobs. It was *exhausting,* but well worth it.It was also during that first year in Charlotte that I met and fell in love with my boo, Ryan (somehow I managed to find spare time outside of my 4 jobs…).
I obviously was meant to have that conversation with my mom’s friends during my senior-year-college Christmas break, because it sparked me to look into AmeriCorps, which led me to Charlotte…and ultimately led me to Ryan and the life I have today. And I wouldn’t have things any other way.
My second year in Charlotte my AmeriCorps stint ended, and I picked up another position at the Y, this time, in financial development. It was a wonderful experience and I learned quite a bit, but I used the connections I made in that position to get my foot in the door where I felt I truly belonged—the Wellness Center. And the Wellness Center is where I work today, as a Health Educator!
During my time in financial development, I got the itch to go back to school. So I looked up some more public health programs, and settled on applying to two – the first being a residential Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) program at UNC-Charlotte, and the second an online-distance Master of Public Health in Public Health Leadership Program (MPH) at UNC-Chapel Hill. My dream was to get into UNC-Chapel Hill, as like I said earlier, their School of Public Health is ranked second in the country (Johns Hopkins is #1, and Harvard is #3). Obviously, UNC would be a longshot for me, another “reach-school”… but I thought I’d give it another shot. Of course, I wanted to have a back-up plan in the case that I didn’t get accepted to UNC, so I choose UNC-Charlotte as my second-choice because it would allow me to stay in Charlotte.
After waiting 5 months, April of 2010 rolled around and I finally got word that I had been accepted to UNC-Charlotte. What a great feeling that was… to finally be accepted somewhere! But to be honest, I wasn’t satisfied.
Around the middle of April I finally heard back from UNC-Chapel Hill. The director of the MPH PHLP program called my cellphone midmorning while I was sitting at my desk at work. He said that my application was astounding and my academic achievements were spectacular, but the committee had decided I did not meet the criteria for their program. I knew getting accepted into this program was a long-shot from the very beginning, as the distance-learning format was the equivalent to an executive masters program and tailored to folks who’ve been out in the workforce for 8-10 years. Most of the applicants I was up against were 30+ years old, and with my lack of “real-world” experience, I just didn’t make the cut. Nevertheless, the director wanted to keep me on the line.
He went on to say that there was something he thought I could pursue that would help my chances of getting into their program for the following year, if I wished to give it another shot. Ohhhh boy was I all ears! (In fact, I still have the sheet of paper I scribbled all of my notes on, ha!). He told me about this 1 year-long, distance-learning Certificate program, the Certificate of Core Public Health Concepts. He went on to say that if I pursued that option, I’d be taking the same exact (online) classes as the 1st-year students in his MPH program. In fact, some of them would even be my classmates! He also said that if I did well in the Certificate, the chances of being accepted into his MPH program for the Fall of 2011 would be much higher, as his decision committee would know I’d be able to handle the material. He said there was one catch, though – “the deadline for this Certificate is tomorrow.” Right. No pressure. He then went on to tell me that he had already called the folks over at the Certificate program informing them that I might be calling them later that day to inquire more. Do I even need to say that after I hung up the phone, I gave those folks a call? Yeah, didn’t think so. Y’all are such smarties.
So after the work day was over, I zipped home and got busy whipping up my application for the Certificate program. After hours of hunkering over my laptop, I had finally completed my application and personal statement (with the help of Ryan, of course. This boy seriously deserves a medal for everything he’s been through with me!). By 2AM everything was finally finished and submitted online.
Enter: Round Two of the Waiting Game.
Luckily, it only lasted a week this time. And it ended with positive news—I was accepted into the Certificate program, and my first (online) class was starting in six days! Holy-WHAT?!
My thought process went as follows: “Alright, cool… I’ve been outta school for 2 years, and I just got accepted into a program… and the class starts in less than a week. Let’s do this!”
So I did it.
And I’m still doing it.
And my second to last class (biostatistics) ends on May 3rd. [[Uhh, and my marathon is on May 1st]]. And my last Certificate class (Epidemiology) starts on May4th (quick turn-around, huh?) and goes through August 6th. (Sidenote: after my last Certificate course ends in August, Ryan and I are totally jetting off to some undetermined locale (but probably BOSTON!) for a much-needed and long summer vacation!!!)
During all of that craziness of getting into the Certificate program last spring, I had to tell UNC-Charlotte that I would not be attending their program in the fall. It was actually a pretty hard decision to make, because by saying “no” to UNC-Charlotte, I was pretty much setting myself up to start from scratch with the whole application process. I knew I was going to have to reapply to UNC-Chapel Hill all over again for a 2011 start, and if I wanted to ensure myself a “back-up” plan, I’d have to reapply to UNC-Charlotte again as well because they do not allow deferrals. So yes, that was a tough mental battle to work through. But I finalized my decision and started the UNC- Chapel Hill Certificate program and never looked back.
Three weeks into my first Certificate class, I got a phone call from the director of the UNC-Charlotte program. Turns out, the director of the MSPH department thought I was such a strong candidate for their program that he “created a case” for me and took it to the Dean of the Graduate School, and they granted me a deferral for one year. Um, What?! I didn’t even know that could happen! Needless to say, I was beaming when I received this news. Pretty sure I cried, too… as I no longer had the added pressure of reapplying to my backup school in addition to UNC-Chapel Hill.
The fact that I was a guaranteed “in” at UNC-Charlotte for the Fall of 2011, and knowing that two of the five Certificate classes from UNC-Chapel Hill Certificate program would transfer over to UNC-Charlotte if need be… has made this past year a whole lot easier on my anxiety-ridden mind. It made the thought of not getting into UNC-Chapel Hill this second-time around a whole lot easier.
This past November, I whipped up my application for UNC-Chapel Hill’s distance-learning MPH Public Health Leadership Program, (the same program I applied to, and was denied from, last year) and submitted it right before my 25th birthday in early December.
Enter: Round Three of the Waiting Game
As I mentioned in this post, I’ve been working my little behind off in all of the Certificate courses for the past year to prove that I can handle the material. It’s actually worked, and I’ve been able to secure the highest grade possible (High Pass) in each course I’ve taken so far. I must say, I have surprised myself in doing that, because I know how hard these classes are.
To say I’ve been sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear about a decision from UNC-Chapel Hill is quite the understatement. Ever since February, I’ve been checking the “application status-checker” on their website, and rushing to the mailbox to see if a certain piece of snail-mail has come along (I may or may not have also mobbed the mailman a few times — don’t judge). Well you know what they say… a watched pot never boils…. (don’t they say that? And someone please tell me… who is this “they” that says that… because I need to knock some sense into them and tell them how much the waiting game suckssss! Okay, just had to throw that out there. Ending rant… now).
Well, the waiting game is officially over, and I have some exciting news to share.
I finally received word from UNC-Chapel Hill this past Friday. Turns out, my leap of faith paid off, and I have officially been accepted to the Fall 2011 Cohort of UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPH Public Health Leadership Program!!!
AND I AM ECSTATIC!!!!!!!!!!!! And feel so happy, excited, blessed, grateful, and relieved to finally have a decision…
A lot was riding on this little decision. It determined whether or not I could keep my job at the Y. If I ended up at UNC-Charlotte in the fall, I would’ve had to resign from my position due to the varying hours of all of the on-campus classes. I am so thankful that I’ll be able to continue to work my way through obtaining my masters. And I can’t wait to take what I’m learning in the classroom and apply it to work. I have LOVED doing that so far this year, and I am so glad I get to continue!
Oh, and the best news about this? I’m officially 1/3 of the way into the coursework! That’s right, by the time August rolls around, I’ll have the entire first year under my belt. (As well as a Certificate in Core Public Health Concepts to add to my resume. Snazzy.)
So now that I’ve achieved this goal of mine, it’s time to set a new one! Hmm… maybe I’ll run a marathon? Oh wait, I’m doing that next week . Looks like I need some time to brainstorm on where to set the bar next! Any and all ideas are welcome!
Have you all ever set far-fetched goals? How did you go about achieving them? What did you learn along the way?
And in case you all want to look into the other top Public Health Graduate Schools in the country, here are the top 25 with links to their websites (and their scores). They’re all wonderful programs, so if you’re interested in public health, check ‘em out!!
Top Public Health School Rankings, 2011
Ranked in 2011, USNews
#1 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD, 4.8
#2 University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 4.6
#3 Harvard University Boston, MA 4.5
#4 University of Michigan–Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI 4.3
#5 Columbia University New York, NY 4.2
#6 Emory University Atlanta, GA 4.1
#6 University of Washington Seattle, WA 4.1
#8 University of California—Berkeley Berkeley, CA 3.8
#8 University of Minnesota–Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN 3.8
#10 University of California–Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA 3.7
#11 Boston University Boston, MA 3.4
#11 University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 3.4
#13 Tulane University New Orleans, LA 3.3
#13 Yale University New Haven, CT 3.3
#15 University of Texas–Houston Health Sciences Center Houston, TX 3.2
#16 George Washington University Washington, DC 3.0
#16 University of Alabama—Birmingham Birmingham, AL 3.0
#16 University of Illinois—Chicago Chicago, IL 3.0
#16 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA 3.0
#20 Ohio State University Columbus, OH 2.8
#21 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 2.7
#21 University of South Florida Tampa, FL 2.7
#23 University of Arizona (Zuckerman) Tucson, AZ 2.5
#23 University of South Carolina Columbia, SC 2.5
#25 Texas A&M Health Science Center College Station, TX 2.4
PS. Sorry (I’m not sorry) that this post is so verbose, but I’m feeling…ohhh, you know, a little bit on the academic side
PPS. If you made it to the end of the post, bless your heart for reading. I know it was long…but I’ve been waiting for this for ages and just had to share!