Never underestimate the power of kind words. Just a few simple words of support made all the difference for Naglaa Rashwan, a graduate student in UNC Greensboro’s Department of Public Health Education.
When I came here, I was very challenged by the new environment and how health education is done in the U.S. I doubted my capacities a lot. I thought, ‘This is very overwhelming.’ I thought I may not be able to make it.
That changed during a conversation with her professor, Dr. Meredith Gringle, who gave her words of encouragement and empowered her to continue trying her best.
It’s hard to imagine Rashwan as anything other than confident and impassioned. She speaks about her studies with equal parts warmth and intensity. But the path to graduate school was not a linear one.
Rashwan was born in Egypt, where she finished a degree in medicine with a specialization in psychiatry. She practiced as a psychiatrist for six years before leaving to work with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, where she was a regional advisor for psycho-social support programs in the Middle East and North Africa. She eventually moved to the U.S. to start a family and stayed home for eight years with her three children.
A desire to return to professional life gnawed at Rashwan. She was volunteering with UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians when a friend introduced her to PHE doctoral candidate Nneze Eluka, and she couldn’t ignore the desire any longer. Eluka told her about the program and encouraged her to apply.
This is the place where your previous experience and future professional goals could fit.
Rashwan wanted to use her medical expertise and apply it to community health and wellness – She wanted to take a more preventative rather than patient-centered approach this time around.
She knew that her focus would be on mental health for immigrants and refugees because she knows from experience the hardships faced by this population.
Being an immigrant myself, I know how challenging and overwhelming it is to be living in a totally different culture. Adapting takes years, and the learning process is never-ending.
Rashwan’s involvement doesn’t stop in the classroom. Her list of accolades in the short time she has been on campus is impressive: She is a member of Eta Sigma Gamma, the national honorary society for health education; and the UNCG Graduate Student Association; she is student chair of the UNCG Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee; vice president of the North Carolina Public Health Association Young Professionals Group; a graduate assistant in the UNCG Center for Women’s Health and Wellness; and she has completed the bronze level of the UNCG Leadership Challenge program, and she is completing requirements for the Silver challenge.
The barriers faced by non-traditional students are not lost on Rashwan. She is working to establish a club where graduate students who are mothers can find support.
Rashwan is also using her voice to share her story. She was recently tapped as a participant in the upcoming TedX UNCG speaking event on March 18. Her speech, “The Power of Kind Words That Saved My Life and Empowered Me,” will be a recognition of the support she has received at UNCG.
After she graduates in May 2021, Rashwan hopes to apply her global health perspective to organizations working to improve health in developing countries and help immigrants and refugees assimilate into the local community, ensuring they have access to social support networks.
I know I’m here to get a degree, but I know being in a supportive environment will for sure guarantee my success. Here is a place where I not only enjoy the content of classes, but I get my professors’ academic and emotional support. That keeps me going.
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison, School of Health and Human Sciences
Photography by Frances Clerk, School of Health and Human Sciences