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Student Profile: Darya Soltani, BS '21

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Darya Soltani, alumna of the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland

Darya Soltani

Bachelor of Science, Public Health Science

Darya Soltani, a senior Public Health Science major at the University of Maryland, has served as the project leader of the Peru team of the student organization Public Health Beyond Borders for the past four years. She is also involved in Padres Preparados Jóvenes Saludables, a USDA-funded Latino immigrant family-skills and obesity prevention research project. Through this initiative, she has helped to develop a youth curriculum and facilitate weekly workshops on Zoom with youth. 

Soltani works as a Contact Tracer for NORC at the University of Chicago. The remote position involves calling individuals who have been exposed to or tested positive for Covid-19 and alerting them on quarantining and other measures that they should be taking. After Soltani graduates in May 2021, she will begin her Master of Public Health program within the Department of Behavioral and Community Health.

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

It’s an interdisciplinary field, and it focuses on health promotion and the prevention of disease in populations rather than individuals.

What inspired you to study public health, and particularly, at UMD?

So particularly at UMD, just because it was close to home. But for public health, I kind of always knew I wanted to do something in the health care field. And so as long as I've known, I wanted to be a pediatrician, but I didn't really want to be a bio major in college. So I was looking for a major that would let me get those prereqs out of the way, but not be as science-heavy. So I stumbled upon public health, not totally sure exactly what it was at the time, but I fell in love with it, especially after joining Public Health Beyond Borders, traveling to Peru, and kind of just seeing how big of an impact it can have on people and communities.

What person or experience has had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?

Hands down, Public Health Beyond Borders. I actually joined my first semester of freshman year, so all the way back in 2017, and it's just been incredible. I've been able to lead groups of other students to deliver health education workshops abroad and our partner community component. It's been a great way for me to kind of put what we're learning in the classroom into practice and to practice my Spanish. 

It’s also an opportunity to do a lot of other things that I don’t think I would have been able to do otherwise like presenting my research at different conferences, completing the IRB process and going through the creation of a program and evaluation from beginning to end. I've also been able to just meet so many amazing, like-minded individuals from like students to faculty and professors throughout the organization. I'm very grateful.

How has your time at UMD’s School of Public Health shaped your career goals?

It has taught me a lot about the different things that I can do with my career. Through the Public Health Science program, in particular, I've been able to get rid of all my pre-med requirements for med school and learn about how public health has to do with the population and how it plays into the bigger picture. Through all of the different experiences that I've had, I’ve seen how diverse the field is and how many different things I can do, from education to working at the CDC and a lot of different things.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on? 

I think that one of the biggest challenges is the obesity epidemic. There's a lot of challenges, but this one is a big one, just because in my opinion, it is preventable with a good diet and exercise. I think implementing primary prevention programs in schools and focusing on the importance of a healthy diet and exercise are important because they can significantly decrease the risk of obesity and other non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension that come with it.

One of the research projects I’ve actually been doing, Padres Preparados Jovenes Saludables, actually focuses on obesity prevention in Latino immigrant families. I’ve been able to see firsthand the positive impact of promoting healthy lifestyles, diet and exercise. 

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