Coordinator of the Month: Deborah Chen | September 2018
Name: Deborah Chen
Hometown: Greenville, South Carolina
College Attended / Major: Emory University – Bachelors of Science in Anthropology and Human Biology, Bachelors of Arts in Human Health
HealthCorps School Placement/State/City: Knox Central High School and Barbourville Independent Schools Middle and High in Barbourville, Kentucky
Fun Fact: Growing up, I lived in a little town in central France called Clermont Ferrand for three years. Although my siblings and I attended an international school where most of our classes were taught in English, we were still immersed in a larger French one, and so I am completely fluent in French. However, since I learned French before my mom had us attempt to learn Chinese, when I try to say anything in Chinese, I have a French accent. Needless to say, I am much more comfortable carrying on a conversation in French than I am in Chinese!
Question #1: What led you to HealthCorps?
At Emory we have a required class called Health 101 which all students have to take their freshman year. By having students set SMART goals and understanding the pillars of health as well as having the class taught by upperclassmen, the goal is to allow students to gain a better sense of different aspects of their health and to equip them with tools to live a healthier life. That sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? The class is so very similar to what we coordinators do at our schools. In one of my classes talking about preventative health and how to reduce chronic disease and how to make America healthier, we were asked to come up with a plan to achieve these goals. My mind immediately turned to Health 101 because, while a bit dry at times, the impact the class has on health cannot be denied. My plan was to somehow, in a perfect world, take what we were learning and adapt it to high school and middle school students. Because behavior change starts young and equipping students early on with these tools, we can help prevent a lot of potentially detrimental behavior later on in life. So, after graduation when I was looking for a job in the realm of public health, you can imagine my surprise and joy at discovering that there was a program out there that was working in high schools – and beginning to work in middle schools – to bring a program so similar to what I had only dreamed could exist when I answered that question in class years ago. HealthCorps’ goals matched perfectly with what I wanted to do, and having gone through a program very similar to what I now teach, allowed me to take what I had experienced and be able to use those insights in my classroom facilitation. The student has truly become the teacher and in doing so, I’ve been given the opportunity to share what I’m passionate about and lessons and activities which are just a bit more exciting that those that I was taught.
Question #2: What has been the best part about your placement so far?
I adore working with the students and staff at my schools. An old saying goes, “train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This sentiment holds true when working with students. The ability to encourage and develop skills to live a healthy and happier life is such an important one, and seeing things “click” in students’ minds when they realize that they have control over their health and lives, is my favorite part of my placement here in Kentucky. What we’re doing and what we’re bringing to this area is so important and so needed, and hearing stories of how the students took what they learned in class, cooking club, Café O’Yea or any part of our programming and shared it with their families and friends never fails to remind me that this is why we’re here.
Question #3: What are some activities that you are involved with outside of the classroom?
I really enjoy cooking and baking and trying new recipes and adapting ones which might not have worked out so well in the past. I learned to crochet and knit when I was little, so every year I make a bunch of scarves of various designs and give those as Christmas presents. Writing has always been a way for me to process the world around me and what’s happening in my life, so I have various notebooks scattered around my house, car, and really, everywhere, with various plots and ideas jolted down with the intent of one day returning back to them to give them their proper attention. On the flip side, reading is one of my favorite things in the world, so more often than not you can find me with a book in hand or a book in my purse. However, what I love most is being able to catch up with friends and family and just listen to what they have to say and what’s been going on in their lives.
Question #4: What do you plan to pursue after your service to HealthCorps is complete?
I am actually currently in the midst of applying to graduate school with the intent of pursing an Masters of Public Health (MPH) in the area of Behavioral Science and Health Education. Having an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Human Health and being able to put those skills to use inside the classroom and outside, has truly allowed me to realize that this is an area I love. Macro-level change through policy is fascinating, but being able to put that into practice and see how it changes people’s health behavior on an individual level and really, has far reaching affects via their family and friends and those they interact with, is what I want to do. Not many people are able to say that they love what they do, yet I’ve been blessed to have a job where I adore when I do and have had the ability to figure out that work in the area of health education and behavior change is truly what I want to do for the rest of my life, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to work myself out of a job! However, if that means that the population is healthier as a whole and able to live their best lives, how could I ever complain?
Question #5: What is one thing you have learned from your placement that you will be able to carry with you as you move forward in life?
I’ve learned a lot in the ten months I’ve been here in Kentucky. When I graduated from college, never for once in my life – or more so, my parents’ lives – did I ever imagine that I’d move to rural Appalachia for a job. On the same token, never once did I ever think I’d fall in love with the area and the people here. I’ve learned from my time here, that sometimes you just need to jump in feet first and see what happens. No change will ever occur if you just sit on the sidelines and wait for someone to invite you in. Put yourself out there. The worst they can say is no, and it’s not necessarily a no to you personally. Nonetheless, you do need to learn about people and where they come from and about the culture and how that impacts and affects the way they interact with the world. You can’t go in leading a charge to change everything because somethings are so engrained and if you try to change those things without understanding them first, the backlash will be immense. But if you understand the area and people, change is far easier. Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be frightened. If you have a passion for what you’re doing, it will show and others will see it; don’t give up because it’s difficult, but keep going because, it is worth it.