In February of 2020, before transferring to the University of Minnesota, Jaden Halabi was exploring majors and decided to take an introductory public health course. It just so happened to coincide with the biggest public health crisis in recent history.
The course examined epidemiology, the study of the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. And because the United States was going through a giant epidemiological event, Jaden decided to take an epidemiology course the next semester.
“It was then, in these Zoom lessons, that I realized how much I loved the class, the topic, the current events… I realized that I could help people. (It was) exactly what I was looking for.”
It Starts With Family
But it wasn’t just the courses that inspired him. Jaden’s family had instilled a deep sense of responsibility to others. “I always saw my family helping people, always asking if someone needed a hand, always telling me that if I needed anything that I could ask them,” he says.
His family opened their home to all of his friends who needed a meal or a safe place to stay. His grandma worked in a hospital as a dietitian and “dedicated her life to helping people figure out proper nutrition for their bodies.”
Jaden knew he wanted to help people, too, but the path wouldn’t become clear to him for years. “Where could I help them? How could I help them?” he wondered. “What are things that I am interested in that can help other people? Growing up, I had many answers to those first two questions, but none for the last.”
“I want to be a source of change.”
Jaden’s first college wasn’t a perfect fit, and he eventually found his way to the U of M. “I explored the website to find something close to (a public health) degree, which is when I found the major in Health and Wellbeing Sciences. I knew coming to the U I would get a quality education.”
Since the Health and Wellbeing Sciences major can be customized depending on your individual goals, Jaden created—with the help of his advisor Josh Borowicz over several “deep talks”—a course plan that would address his mission and academic interests.
"My story is my own and I'm writing it every day. Write your story.”
“I knew I wanted to focus in public health because I want to help fix the inequity in the world… So I stated my case in my degree proposal paper on why public health and social justice are interconnected. I was eventually approved, and I couldn't have been more joyous.”
While Jaden is only one year into his program, he already has a roadmap for future education. He hopes to earn a master’s degree in epidemiology, then maybe even a doctoral degree. Long-term, he'd like to conduct research at a university or a government organization and potentially teach a course on public health or epidemiology.
“If I can help people achieve a successful life and equitable life, I will be happy and fulfilled. I want to be a source of change and give people some hope for their future."
Major Takeaway from the Program
“A good takeaway from this program is it is designed to keep all students well-rounded in the core courses. This well-roundedness helps create a solid base for courses that are taken in my focus area. I feel like being well versed can help people be solid when they get to their careers or other end goals.”
Pro Tips for Students
Find a good place to study. “I find that if I go to a consistent place to do work, I feel more productive and it feels like my brain turns to work mode.”
Stay organized. “Look at the syllabi of a course and write down the due dates. Keep papers organized. Use Google Calendar/Planner to lay out your day. I have a spreadsheet that I enter all the assignments from the syllabi for my courses. This is a great way to know when assignments are due and how to budget my time. I also try to arrange my plans a week out so I can mentally prepare myself.”
Carve out personal time. “Constantly worrying about school, grades, due dates, etc. is incredibly taxing mentally. Find activities that allow you to (momentarily) take time off of only school.”
What Jaden hopes you’ll take away from his story…
“There isn't one path to follow to get your degree. You don't need to have a plan right away. Your plans can change. Your story will be different and unique to you. Make the most of it. When I was looking at colleges the first time, I didn't even consider the University of Minnesota, but I ended up here. I didn't know what I wanted to major in, but I found my passion and designed a degree that I wanted. I took time off; I transferred schools. I discovered strengths and weaknesses. My story is my own and I'm writing it every day. Write your story.”
Photos of Jaden courtesy of Jasmine Smoter.