Meet Beau Sanchez, a graduate of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) online Public Health, MPH program. The University of Nebraska Online Worldwide had a chance to interview Beau about her thoughts on the program, online learning and how it impacted her career path.
What was the trigger that made you want to start your degree at the University of Nebraska?
At the time I just finished my undergrad at Illinois State for Dietetics and Nutrition, and after doing a couple internships as a nutritionist, I felt like I wasn’t helping the people that I wanted to help. I wanted to do something for people who were having a hard time feeding themselves and with my nutritional background, I wanted to make sure they were able to feed themselves in a healthy way.
The more I researched into it, I started realizing that Public Health was what I really wanted to do, so I started researching schools. I found the University of Nebraska Medical Center—it was especially attractive to me because I could start out as a certificate student first.
It was a little intimidating, at first to be applying for the master’s program. I was nervous about getting accepted into the program, so I applied as a certificated student. This gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet and helped me understand what Public Health was really about. By completing the certificate, I gained more confidence in knowing that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to get my master’s in public health and practice in the field.
What was the realization like when you found your calling in public health?
One thing that was very important to me was the subject of food insecurity. It was important to me because I immigrated to the United States when I was five. At the time, I didn’t realize that my family was food insecure. Oftentimes when people first come to the United States, they’re don’t know that there are resources for them such as food stamps or WIC to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle.
For example, I found out that my family was on food stamps, but we didn’t even know we were eligible for them for a good 5 or 6 years. So my goal is to open or become a part of an organization that helps people that are food insecure find the resources they need.
Food scarcity was a big eye-opener for me. After learning more about the topic through the certificate program and my family’s background, I knew that was what I wanted to concentrate on with my master’s program.
What was it like to be an online student? How did you balance your coursework with your career and other aspects of your personal life?
I was actually on-campus for a portion of certificate program, and then I moved. It was so convenient to be able to go online and continue my work with the same program. During my time in the graduate program, I worked a full-time job and maintained a full-time grad school schedule—40+ hours a week. It was very stressful, but I knew that if I just put the work and effort it would be absolutely worth it when I received my master’s. So I fit in my studies late at night, early in the morning and did so knowing that when I received my master’s in Public Health, I would be able to ensure that those people who were food insecure would get their resources It was stressful but I made it work and I have to say, I’ve never been more disciplined in my entire life than I was during my online courses.
What helped you learn that self-discipline?
The students. I was very surprised about how close I got to the students in my online classes. I even ended up becoming pretty good friends with a few. I actually had one student reach out and give me her phone number and we ended up doing our homework online together. It was cool because we had never met before but it was like we did know each other because we were in class. It felt like I was in the classroom the entire time.
What was your experience with your instructors?
I had some instructors that really took the extra step to reach out to me and become interested in me as a student—what my interests were and just making sure that I was understanding the material in class. They were very receptive and they just wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable in the online setting. They made time for you. I know some think that in an online class that they don’t make time for you, but I had a lot of professors at UNMC that just wanted to make sure that everything was ok and you were comfortable with the content that we were learning.
Tell us about a project that you are currently working on.
My project is on food insecurity. It’s called Robotics Retail and it’s going to be the first in the nation. There is an organization called Eat Greater Des Moines who helps with food insecurity in Des Moines, Ia. They work with resources, such as food banks, to help connect people with the resources they need. They had a grant to build this healthy vending machine. And by vending machine, I mean a 20ft by 20ft structure. It’s the size of a cargo truck and it’s going to be completely rain by robotics. It has a claw-like arm that can actual grab things like eggs. This machine accepts food stamps and WIC, and everything will be a discounted price. They are going to offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as dairy and toiletry items. When the products get near their expiration, they actually just go to a food bank so nothing is wasted.
My project involved visiting the potential sites of these machines and surveying the community to determine what they think of robotic retail, what products they want to see and if they would actually use it.
The whole project has been so cool. I almost jumped out of my seat when I first attended a meeting and I was like I want to be a part of this!
What does Public Health and your Food Insecurity project mean to you?
When I tell people I’m in Public Health, a lot of people think I’m dealing with things like Ebola—which is not correct. Public Health is so broad, for me, public health is finding my passion and going for it full speed.
Food insecurity is a huge issue that many people are not aware of. Oftentimes, the focus is on childhood obesity, but I think sometimes people forget that there are so many homes, there are so many children, that go hungry and then they do turn to unhealthy food snacks. By starting with hunger and making sure our communities are eating nutritiously at a young age, we will help decrease some of the childhood obesity issues we are facing. Everything comes full circle within Public Health.
What’s next for you?
I feel that I am fully-prepared to take a lead role in a metropolitan area that is food insecure. I’m ready to take on food insecurity and combat it the best I can. I feel prepared through my coursework and the experience I have gained while working full-time while pursuing my degree. There is a big market of food insecure citizens—which is an unfortunate thing, but I’m ready to make a difference.
There are people who need my help and I’m excited to offer it to them. I know I can help change lives and hopefully change the world. I really do believe that.
Is there any one thing that drew you to UNMC?
The one thing that drew me to apply for the master’s program, after working through the certificate program, was the faculty. The faculty cares about your future endeavors and passions. I had the best advisor who always wanted to make sure everything was going well. He was very understanding and offered support to me when things got stressful. He understood my life circumstances and the fact that life gets stressful and let me know that it was going to be ok. Overall, they really care about what you want to do in the future and they really want to make sure that you feel that you’re ready and you’re prepared to be in the real world.
Even though I was an online student, I was able to get involved on campus. I helped with a newsletter called The Groundbreaker and I was in charge of the student highlight section. It was a great way to get to know the students I was taking courses with. There are just so many opportunities out there for you at UNMC and I think once you find your niche as well, you’ll be very successful.