Oh boy. I’m back from my latest trip (that’d be HLS, if you’re keeping track…) and I must say, I am in awe.

I am in awe of all of the wonderful people I came across.

I am in awe of all of the different things I learned, and all of the historical sites I visited.

But most of all… I am in awe of the the amazing blogging community I have found myself submerged in.

Talk about some good stuff, people.

(I’m also in awe of the fact that during the duration of my 12-day summer, I somehow managed to take three trips… you know, just throwin’ that out there).

Nevertheless, I am thankful that my life has settled down a bit and things have returned back to normal. This past week has been super busy at work (our wellness office is moving upstairs!) and my two UNC classes are officially underway for the Fall semester. And if y’all follow me on FaceBook or Twitter, you’re probably well aware that my life was nearly turned upside down yesterday. But I’ll get to that in another post. (All you need to know right now is that all is well in my world, and all family members are safe sound).

So while I’m still trying to wrap my head around a way to sufficiently recap my experience at the Healthy Living Summit, I figured I’d go ahead and recap one of my other trips. Because as you know, I do things my way—and recapping things on my own timeline is one of them.

So with that, I present to you: My UNC Orientation Adventure…

My oh my.

I had such an incredible weekend up in Chapel Hill, I have so many things to say about this trip… I don’t know where to begin! Or how to do the experience justice Smile with tongue out But I guess since it’s been over a week since I’ve been back from this trip, I’ll at least give it a shot.


The people I met during my orientation – my fellow cohortians (aka…classmates, in laymans terms Smile with tongue out), my professors and advisors –  were all so inspiring. I came out of this trip feeling so empowered.

Each and every class I selected for the remainder of my MPH academic track are classes that I am excited to take. They aren’t just requirements to fulfill my degree (nudge, nudge, smokers-couch, nudge… I’m talkin’ to you! Biostatistics and epidemiology!).  I am also looking forward to making some long-awaited changes to my own career path (more on that later, though!).

For now, I’ll give y’all a little recap of my experience.

It all started Friday when I arrived at the Aloft Hotel and met up with my roommate for the weekend, Rachael.


She’s a darling public health young professional from Michigan, living and working in the pharmaceutical field  in Cleveland, Ohio. We’ve been in contact for the past few weeks, so it was very exciting to finally meet her in person!


The hotel Lobby


The snazzy hotel bar


A couch at the pool? Talk about my kind of style.


Pretty decent exercise room!




The room we stayed in exceeded my expectations. For $89/night we each got our own bed, free wifi, amazing amenities, a shuttle service to and from campus, and free coffee/brekkie. Not too shabby, eh?


I like.

Oh, and the beds were like a pillow heaven. I slept so peacefully both nights I was there.


Mooooving right along.

Once we checked in, Rach and I made our way to UNC’s campus and set up shop at the Gillings School of Public Health.


This is where the magic happens


The architecture in this building was unreal… I loved it! Apparently, it was built only a few years ago.



So fresh so clean!


PHLP= Public Health Leadership Program, in case you were wondering

We reached our final destination around 1PM and met up with the rest of Cohort ‘11. It was so neat to finally meet in person some of the professors and adviors I’ve been emailing back and forth with for the past year or so. The internet sure is an amazing thing! And so is distance-learning. (Seriously, if you have any questions about obtaining a credible degree on-line, hit me up at happtalesblog(at)gmail(dot)com. I cannot say enough good things about this avenue of higher education.)

After registration, we were all split up into different groups to work together throughout the semester, and spent the majority of the afternoon getting to know each other and creating team-norms, expectations and discussing our strengths and weaknesses.


Team EverGreenz. Symbolishm at it’s finest.

Ironically enough, good ‘ole Bobby is a member of my team for this semester!


Oh hayyyyy, stranger!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Happy and Dakota have more play-sessions in the near future…

In fact, our entire team is from the state of North Carolina. We are quite lucky that we don’t have to work across different time zones, as one of the other teams includes members from 4 different time-zones.


Love these girls! Sara Beth (a fellow Charlottean!) and Rachael.

After a long afternoon of team-work, we were served a delicious spread of  Mediterranean food.


Hummus = Yummus

I was one happy girl after that meal…baklava and hummus are the key to my heart. (Well, that and chocolate…and peanut butter. And doughy bread).  Thankfully, the following meals throughout the weekend included all of the above.

After our bellies were full, our cohort parted ways for the night. Not wanting to turn in for the night quite yet, a group of us ventured off to explore UNC’s campus!


Off to Franklin Street…


…and on to campus


We stumbled across the Old Well, one of the famous symbols for UNC, and I immediately knew I wanted a photo-shoot with the thing. I mean heck, everyone I know who’s gone to Chapel Hill seems to have their picture taken here, so of course, I wanted a picture of my very own.


You and me, baby. It’s picture time.

Except… I didn’t know why this dang thing was so special. Hrmph. (I guess that’s a downside to the whole distance-learning thing?). Thankfully, Bobby put his thinking cap on and whipped out his iPhone to Google the meaning behind it.

Thanks to wondrous world wide web and portable technology (ahem, the smart-phone), we were able to figure out it’s symbolism on the spot.

See that water fountain-like thing behind me in the picture below?


Oh yes, it’s about time for some Bubbly

Turns out, students who drink out of that water-fountain on their first day of class achieve academic greatness. Lucky for us, it was our first day of official school.

Not so lucky for us… there was a cesspool of stagnant water sitting on top of where the good ‘ole H2O bubbled out. In fact, the water wouldn’t even bubble high enough to break the surface. In a word, it was sick-nasty.

Being the public health students we are, we used our problem solving skills to slosh away the water to a depth that allowed the bubbly to break free from the surface, exposing (hopefully) clean(ish) water.

Now, I honestly have no idea if UNC students actually drink out of this water fountain, (my guess is… they don’t) and we probably looked like straight-up fools. But we wanted to do it anyway.  Screw the germs — we’re public health students. We’re immune to that shiz anyway, right? I mean we’re distance students for heaven’s sake, so when in Rome… ya drink the damn bubbly.

So, Sarah Beth (SB) went first. And I followed suit. Yeesh.


Ohhhh the germs.

After surviving the germ-infested waters, we bebopped some more around campus.




Eventually, we found ourselves at Top Of The Hill – “Toppo,” according to the locals. I’ve heard epic stories from past roommates, co-workers and pretty much everyone else who ever attended UNC. I told my groupies it was time for a pitstop. So, pitstop we did.


Somehow, a table overlooking Franklin Street magically opened up right when we arrived. Of course, we grabbed it… and enjoyed a wonderful view for the remainder of the night.





After a round of drinks Rachael and I made it back to our hotel. I gotta say, I was SO excited to hit the hay… and homylanta that bed was like heaven. I slept like a baaaby. In fact, I hardly even moved in my sleep, which is unheard of for me. (Seriously, just ask Ry… I’m like an octupus and flail around in my sleep. Pillows have been known to end up across the room. And it’s a rare occasion that the sheets stay semi-normal and tucked in. TMI? Whatevs. Deal with it).

So this image below? Is a miracle.


That is the bed of a girl who hardly moved an ounce. Incredible. I took a picture because I knew Ryan wouldn’t believe me if I didn’t have proof. (And I’m sure my mom is looking at this in disbelief, too).

Anywho, day two, Saturday, started bright and early with an arrival at 7:45AM.


Coffee was necessary

We spent a majority of the day sitting in on lectures and working more within our teams. At one point, my advisor, Lori, gave a speech on public health project-management.


She started by saying how she’s always viewed life as a project (and I sat in the audience nodding my head to every single word she said). You know why? Well, because I  have always viewed my life as an ongoing project… with decision-making, evaluating/assessing, implementing new avenues/ways to do things upon assessment, reassessing etc etc.).

I pretty much had an epiphany during her talk and realized the direction in which I want my career to go: Public Health Project Management. I am all about diving into a community, talking with the people, listening and assessing their strengths, weaknesses and what issues they are having. I do this at the Y all the time with our medical referral programs. What I don’t do, however, (because it’s not yet a part of my job description, aaaand… because, well, the budget isn’t there [wahh]) is create interventions to address said issues. Currently, I only put already-existing interventions into practice. Of course I LOVE doing that, but I want to take some time to be a part of a team that actually develops the intervention.

I want to be a part of the team that identifies the different socio-ecological determinants of behavior and creates avenues to allow those people I’m aiming to help make lifestyle changes because they want to… not because some doctor, family member, personal trainer, or governmental policy… told them to do so. I want to be a part of the team that assesses these programs, and figures out where they went wrong, and help figure out ways to change these programs to make them better for the future.

Anywho, I’m sure you get the idea. I’m way excited about this. And I was just so taken by Lori’s speech. I’m sure the folks behind me noticed me wiggling in my seat from excitement.  BTW, have I mentioned that this woman was paired with me to be my advisor? And  that I’m am actually taking a class this semester called “Program Planning and Evaluation.” Yessss.  I’m in love already.



Grid of courses

Later on in the day, we took a type of “strengths” test. (Y’all know how much I love learning about my strengths and weaknesses!).



Dr. David Steffen: The man who showed me the light back in April, 2010

I turned out to be a tie between Collaborating and Compromising…


And somehow, that equated to a fox and a honey-bee.


A foxy-honey-bee? Sure, I’ll take it.

Later that evening a few of us met up for dinner at Lime and Basil on Franklin Street.


It was a wonderful evening getting to know my fellow classmates, and hearing stories about their careers and what drove them to head back to school for an MPH.

I’m so amazed by the people in my cohort—we have professions ranging from VPs of entire Hospital Systems, veterinarians, Military, surgeons, bio-technicians, doctors who own their own private practices, pharmacists, ex-lawyers, all the way to… well, me: a wee little YMCA Health Educator. I’d say it’s quite a well-rounded group. And what’s neat is that we come from all over the US, and even the world (as although most are based in the States, some travel internationally for months at a time). Seriously y’all, distance learning is the way to go. Click here if you want to learn more about my MPH program… and as I mentioned earlier, if you have any questions, by all means, shoot me an email!).


Love these ladies!


Some of the dinner crew


Back at the Hotel

Back at the hotel, Rachael and I were intrigued by the floor of our elevator. The blue squares were made of some type of gel/liquid that would squish wherever we stepped! I’m glad Rachael is in-tune with her inner-child, just like me. We sure did have a field-fest, stomping around on the elevator before we arrived to our floor.


The next morning, I woke up early and met Sarah Beth (SB) in my hotel parking lot for a nice run to campus. This run was epic, y’all, and I think I’ve found a new life-long friend in this girl. She is seriously the biggest sweetheart, and I am so glad that she is located in Charlotte! She’s training for a November marathon, too, so I’m sure we have plenty of runs in our future (as well as study and puppy dates!).

After showering and packing up the car, Rachael and I headed back to campus for one last time. There, I met with my adivsor (Lori!) and talked about my career aspirations, and what courses would be a best fit for my academic plan.


My mentor


After putting it all down on paper, Lori and I realized that I’d be graduating next December.


Two weeks later, and I am still shocked by this news.

Shocked… in a good way, of course.


I guess I always pictured myself graduating sometime during 2013. Now… don’t get me wrong –if work or school (or both!) begin to be “too much” then I’ll definitely re-evaluate, take a step back and slow things down and change my academic plan and take one course a semester. But for now, I’ll be taking two courses this fall, two courses in the spring, my Practicum in the summer, my Masters Paper next fall (along with another course) as well as my comprehensive exams. We’ll see how it all rolls out (see what I mean when I say that I view my life as a project?).


Sealed. Stamped. Delivered.


After I met with my advisor, I had an hour break before they rolled out lunch. Lucky for me, Jordan, the hilarious blogger behind Food Sweat and Beers wanted to meet up with me to keep me company. This girl is AMAZING and I actually got to hang out with her even more at HLS this past weekend in Philly. She had me laughing for a full-hour straight. Seriously, this girl is epic. And she’s tall. Like me Smile


After lunch, came the closing sessions for our Orientation weekend. I gotta say, I was sad to see everything coming to an end! And by the look on SB’s face… she was too Smile with tongue out




Our team drafted up a final veriosion of our “Team Charter” and got it ready to turn in. (Yes, our team name is the “EverGreenz”).


So clever

We all signed our John Hancocks… and that was that!


Officially official

Finally, everything came to a close, and most people parted ways. No worries, though… we’ll all be meeting up again in April for another weekend of fun 🙂

Lucky for me, a group wanted to continue the fun, and joined me for a walk to the BookStore.


aaand we’re off!

Did you really think I was gonna leave campus before getting my hands on some UNC apparel?

Priorities, people!


Of course, I acted as the official photographer, and snapped more pictures of campus (thoroughly embarrassing Bobby in the process. Gotta love being the friend of a blogger).


Blue skies


We made it!

Once inside the bookstore, we promptly took the escalator and made it to the floor with “the goods” (aka, the floor without the books that instead housed tons of clothing articles and a countless number of other things you don’t need).


Like this stuff…


And this…





Except, I totally ended up buying that mug. And have probably used it every day that I’ve been home since.

What can I say? I’m damn proud to be a Tarheel!

Have you ever thought about changing careers, or going back to school? Would you ever consider an online degree program? Were you a proud fan of your school?



Filed under goals, graduate school, Happiness, my story, public health, recap, roadtrip, school, Travel, UNC, YMCA

15 responses to “Empowered

  1. Running with and talking with you at HLS really changed me…I wanted to say thank you so, so much for being amazing.

  2. Yayy!! Congrats on everything, and great job in epid, too!! I know you are going to take the public health world by storm!!! Any chance you are attending the APHA conference in DC??

  3. Agh! I’m so excited for you and this next step to your dream career! It sounds like you had a fun time!

  4. So fun!! I love starting a new semester. There’s something about that back to school time…I don’t know, maybe I’m just a dork 🙂 Oh, and I took a Program Eval class for my PhD at UVa and I really liked it!

  5. You are awesome, girl! So proud of you for chasing your dreams 🙂 SO inspiring! And hummus does = mucho yummus!

  6. Carly D. @ CarlyBananas

    This post makes me so happy Allison! You’re going to do such amazing things 🙂 I can’t wait to hear how your last year of school goes!

  7. Life's a Bowl

    That’s awesome news, even better that you’re able to graduate sooner than expected- congrats! I just graduated in May and I’m already starting to think about master’s programs, haven’t given much thought to an online program, not sure if they’re even available for education degrees?!

  8. Liz

    This is so exciting, I’m going to live vicariously through you! And yes, I’ve thought about going back to school… time will tell!

  9. thebeautynotebooks

    This is a beautiful post! I LOVE reading about people who are in the midst of following their dreams! 🙂 You inspire me!

  10. Pingback: What I’m Falling For | Happy Tales

  11. I love this UNC post, so many great memories for me. You are in for a good time and a fantastic academic experience. All the best of luck!

  12. I’ve stayed at that Aloft before! How funny! Your post is making me excited to take my GRE in two short weeks and hopefully get into an MPH program myself. Thanks for the inspiration, lady!

  13. Pingback: Grateful | Happy Tales

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