Student Profile: Ugochi Chinemere (BS, Public Health Science '19)
The University of Maryland President’s Commission on Women’s Issues honored senior public health science major Ugochi Chinemere with a Woman of Influence award, given to campus leaders dedicated to improving women’s lives, at the campus Celebration of Women on March 27.
Chinemere has fought for the health, wellbeing and achievement of multi-ethnic women both on campus and globally. In the process, she said, she aims to exemplify the leadership skills she hopes to nurture in other women.
“I want to be a mentor to women like me,” Chinemere said. “As a first-generation, low-income, Nigerian-American woman, I understand the issues these women face.”
She has served as the senior president for Sister to Sister, a campus organization supporting the academic achievement of multi-ethnic women, since 2016, and she works with Project Girls for Girls, which fights for women in public leadership domestically and internationally.
Her work has taken her to India and Sierra Leone, where she has proposed research on body image and perceptions of obesity among women through the McNair program and conducted health workshops on chronic disease, nutrition, handwashing and other topics through Public Health Without Borders.
Weaving women’s issues together with public health has become the theme of her undergraduate work.
She has collected experience from across the public health field, serving as a program assistant for the TOGETHER program and the Department of Family Science, an intern at Medstar Franklin Square Hospital and an experience leader for an Alternative Spring Break trip focused on food insecurity in Atlanta.
After graduation, Chinemere is pursuing an MPH in Global Health at Emory University and plans to later earn her doctorate. Ultimately, she hopes to serve as a director for a health center or organization improving health in sub-Saharan Africa.
“I want to give back to the place that gave so much to me,” she said.
What is public health to you?
My work in public health is based on my passions for global health and women’s issues, my experience as a woman and who I am as a person. Public health enables you to work toward resources you wish you had. It gives you a door to use your life experiences in your career and work toward better health for everyone, for the generations that come after you.
What inspired you to study public health?
I’ve always been interested in public health. Throughout my time at the University of Maryland, I kind of realized why that was, piece by piece. I was originally interested in community health, social justice and human rights. It all started as something very broad and generic. But it became more precise and detailed as I learned more about what public health is and who I am. I was taking public health classes, getting involved in organizations and surrounded by faculty using public health as a platform for the issues they care about. I started to understand that it was these global health and women’s issues that really drive me to do what I do.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
The public health issues that are interconnected with culture and human rights — those are the issues that are more challenging to address because of how deeply rooted they are in people’s lives and cultures. You don’t want to go into another country and have the mentality, This is wrong, we have to change this. There are rituals, rites of passage, social norms that are literally part of these communities. And that makes them difficult to address, because they’re things people might take pride in or believe are beneficial because they grew up with them.
Why did you choose public health at UMD?
I loved how diverse the SPH faculty is. Everybody is completely different: their backgrounds, race, ethnicity and research. There are people working in public health who don’t have public health degrees but use their unique backgrounds to contribute to the field. Before, I didn’t think that was possible. When I started out, I saw specific career paths public health professionals were supposed to pursue, like working in healthcare or being a communications advocate for an organization. But I didn’t realize that public health combines so many different fields; it’s so interdisciplinary. Everyone in SPH, even if they’re in different departments, are all connected. And no one has the same story — they’ve been able to focus on their passions and embrace a non-linear career path.
How has your degree program at UMD’s School of Public Health shaped your career goals?
I really liked the mix of topics and classes I got to experience as a public health science major. It’s been so beneficial for figuring out what my interests are. Classes I took on evaluating projects and programs helped me realize that’s work I want to keep doing, both in grad school and my career. I got to see public health from so many different perspectives, whether that be microbiology or genetics or environmental health, and to understand how multifaceted it is.
What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?
Every organization and ever person I’ve interacted with while I’ve been here has impacted my public health experience in some way. I’ve been able to connect with people in public health working on interesting research and learn about myself, and some of those people have become my biggest supporters as I applied to grad school and have progressed in my career.
Sister to Sister, though, was the first organization I was involved in when I got to UMD, and having a group of women who supported and encouraged me from the beginning was so beneficial to kickstarting my experience here. It gave me a community of women I didn’t even realize I needed in my life. I didn’t realize how much I needed that support until it was there.