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School of Public Health
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School of Public Health

After Starting her Degree During COVID, Graduate Reflects on Time at Rutgers

Graduate holding a medal and an award in front of a banner.

Chawla is a 2023 Master of Science in Health Outcomes, Policy, and Economics graduate and Stanley S. Bergen Jr. Medal of Excellence recipient.

“Every challenge we faced was also an opportunity to grow and learn,” said Sana Chawla, 2023 Stanley S. Bergen Jr. Medal of Excellence recipient, at the Rutgers School of Public Health’s graduation ceremony on May 17, 2023. Her remarks, as the school’s student speaker, were a display of her and her fellow graduates' hard work and resilience during their academic journeys at the Rutgers School of Public Health.

Chawla, an international student from India, began her journey in dentistry. Her clinical work was the catalyst for her interest in public health.

“It was heartbreaking to see the poor access to health care in rural India and the prevalence of oral cancer. My clinical experience sparked my desire to want to help the community at large. I didn’t want to do one-on-one health care—I want to do one-at-large.”

Chawla began her time at the Rutgers School of Public Health in September of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, while still in India. Despite occasionally waking up as early as 4 a.m. to attend lectures via Zoom, she was undeterred and highly engaged, participating in every student organization meeting, career panel, and other virtual offering that she could, while in India. “It was a challenge handling two separate time zones in one human body, but I still felt like I was a part of the Rutgers community even though I was so far away.”

As soon as she received her visa, she immediately moved to New Jersey. While it was a challenge to make a significant move, Chawla knew she had made the right decision because of the beauty of the Garden State and the community she quickly built.

A lot of the community that Chawla built in New Jersey was at the Rutgers School of Public Health. She lauded the diverse faculty, practical applications of her coursework, and unmatched career support. “I have spoken to friends at other schools of public health, and the experience that I got at Rutgers [School of Public Health] was unmatched.”

She is particularly thankful for the support she got from Claire Brown, assistant director of student support services, and Michael Vega, assistant dean for student services and alumni affairs. She is also grateful for the mentorship and guidance that she received from Jaya Satagopan, professor and associate dean for faculty affairs.  

Chawla’s advice for students?

“Find a good community. That community can be your classmates, neighbors, and even professors. Don’t hesitate to reach out. It all starts with a conversation.”

“This unique journey has also been a great privilege,” concludes Chawla who received her Master of Science degree in Health Outcomes, Policy, and Economics degree this May.