Hometown: Epworth, Iowa
Degree: BA, Health Promotion, global health emphasis
Megan Maahs is both typical and not-so-typical as a UNI May graduate-to-be of the UNI College of Education.
From rural Epworth, Iowa, she came to UNI as a biology major -- and will complete her bachelor’s degree in health promotion (now called public health and education.) She’s excited about this milestone -- but not fully ready to leave, as a fifth year on the UNI women’s basketball team awaits.
Life and routines changed as COVID-19 disrupted her final senior semester. She and her basketball teammates began running “together” via Zoom to stay fit. But for her, this crisis also served as a learning opportunity.
Finding the right internship
Last spring, while taking the seminar prior to a required internship for graduation, she began setting her sights on a career in healthcare administration. She always had an interest in medicine, but has found herself more drawn to the business side, versus clinical care. She began looking for internships. But where?
As it turned out, connections count. Maahs heard of the People’s Community Health Clinic through a teammate who had worked on an earlier community health project there and a team physician who also practiced there. This federally funded clinic in Waterloo serves a diverse population, matching well with Maahs’ emphasis on global health while giving her a view into how health care operates.
“As I started to research jobs in healthcare administration, I came across a job that interested me: a CEO,” Maahs says. “I knew the People’s Clinic served the Waterloo population with some of the best care in the area. So I reached out to their CEO (Christine Kemp) in hopes that she could lead me to an internship opportunity. And she did.”
Balancing this commitment with basketball and classes was a challenge, but Maahs was prepared. From the first class she took in the summer before freshman year to help student-athletes get acclimated, to her own penchant for “to do” lists, managing her time was just part of campus life.
“I feel great when I get to check something off the ‘to do’ list,” she says. “Then when I started to do an internship, I just sat down and planned out my week. Sometimes you have to say no to the fun things, but all in all, if you’re happy with what you did for the day and you gave it your all, that’s a good day.”
She went to the clinic for four or five hours a day when possible. Kemp invited Maahs to sit in on numerous meetings. “I hardly talked, but the amount of information that was shared throughout each one hleped me not only in learning important tools for my future job plans, but also life lessons as well,” Maahs says.
She also assisted with preparations for a site visit that was part of compliance for a grant, helped write another grant, and began doing research for a community health needs assessment.
Until COVID-19 happened.
Interning in a world with COVID-19
Now, her meetings included managing and preparing for a pandemic.
“COVID-19 was new for everyone at the clinic. For me, I know that I was there just to learn and help. Things were changing so fast. As part of my role, I took it upon myself to come up with different ideas to spread positivity throughout the clinic, to let the staff know that we appreciate all that they were doing and we know that times are crazy, but we just want to give you electronic hugs and send some positivity their way.
“I knew how tiring and exhausting it was for the staff and the stress was building up here and across the country,” she says. “One of the ideas was a positivity wall, so I put that together for the clinic. Right now, I’m working on some signs we’re going to hang up, with sayings like ‘Hands down, you’re the best around.’ Just simple fun ideas.”
Maahs stayed on site until early April. She continued to work on projects remotely.
“I didn’t want to leave, because the clinic had put in policies and procedures to protect their staff, so I never felt I was at risk. It was hard for me to leave, I enjoyed being right there in the middle of it all,” Maahs says. “I couldn't have asked for a better internship or experience. I learned something new every single day. I hope to put what I learned in my back pocket to pull out while working in healthcare administration someday.”
With change, opportunity
Her experience at the People’s Clinic reaffirmed her choice to change majors. She recalls her first exposure to public health quickly awakened a new passion that fit.
“I think my most memorable academic experiences were taking my first classes with professors for health promotion. They’re just great and really care,” she says. “I loved going to class, so I knew that I made the right switch, when I loved doing homework and learning about health promotion.”
COVID-19 wasn’t the only challenge for Megan, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her left leg during her junior season, earning her a medical redshirt. She recently applied for admission to the UNI College of Business Administration’s Master of Business Administration program to continue her education while completing her basketball career.
While she regrets the loss of formal spring commencement ceremonies, she says, “I think I’d be feeling differently if I wasn’t continuing into a master’s program. Since I do have another year of basketball, I’m OK, but my heart does hurt for all those seniors who have honestly worked for four years for this moment, and it’s just kind of gone.”
A self-identified “large family girl” from rural Iowa, Maahs remains strongly connected to her Iowa roots, but she’s staying open to what the future brings.
“UNI has been great, amazing, not only from a basketball standpoint, but educational, too. All the classes I’ve taken, from implementing to evaluating health promotions ideas, it added different pieces into my puzzle. Hopefully I can use those tools for the future,” she says.
“UNI has also allowed me to open other doors to other things in my life that I would never have gotten exposed to. I think that’s how I ended up making the choices I did.”
*Effective Fall 2019, the B.A. in health promotion became a B.A. in public health and education. Learn more.