Senior Profile: Emily Dvorak, A Passion for Public Health

Hometown: Carroll, Iowa
Degree: B.A., Public Health and Education: Global Health and Humanitarian Assistance 

Emily Dvorak public health, community gardenAs Emily Dvorak receives her degree from the UNI College of Education this December 2019, her experience reflects those of many students. She selected a major, and then changed it. She found a passion and explored it through experiences on, near and far from campus. Her thoughts as she concludes this chapter on her journey:

How did you end up at UNI? 

I always say that I didn't choose UNI; UNI chose me. I visited UNI during my junior year of high school, coincidentally soon after having a very impactful service experience at a hometown human services agency. I remember walking the campus for the first time and feeling lost. Without an idea of what I wanted my major to be, the admissions counselor I met with that day encouraged me to search through Majors at UNI. I found the leisure, youth, and human services (LYHS) major. I immediately knew I had a starting point in coming to UNI. 

How did you choose your degree? 

I was loving my major courses my freshman year. But I kept noticing this trend: Every issue I was passionate about was related to public health and to working internationally or with people from around the globe. After again visiting the list of majors, I found health promotion (now public health and education), with an emphasis in global health and humanitarian aid. The name says it all. I knew I needed to change my major to get what I was really longing for out of my education. 

What’s your best memory of your time at UNI? 

During my fall semester of my sophomore year, I dove deep into all the health promotion program had to offer me. Despite taking a full course load, primarily major courses, I decided to take a risk and leave for three weeks during that semester to do disaster response in the U.S. Virgin Islands with the Red Cross after Hurricane Irma and Maria. I was able to put everything I had been learning directly into practice and my professors worked with me on catching up with my assignments that I had missed in the classroom. This is by far my most cherished memory at UNI, as it significantly changed the trajectory of my life. 

A year later, after returning from a summer internship in Washington, D.C., Emily realized her passions involved serving people and the planet. Following up from an invitation from Kamyar Enshayan, the director of the UNI Center for Energy and Environmental Education, she secured a position as a student employee assistant to the community food security AmeriCorps VISTA member. Along with public health graduate student Rose Simon-Ressler, she was part of the initial team which created a community garden next to the People’s Clinic in Waterloo, Iowa. The idea: provide free produce to clients when they visit the clinic, helping increase their intake of vegetables while saving on groceries for 600 families in the first season. In June, Dvorak took over the full-time role as community food security AmeriCorps VISTA member. 

What did you learn from participating in the project? 

I had never gardened before, so this was all completely new to me! I Seeing what a small piece of land can produce (nearly a TON of produce this year!) was such a profound experience. I knew that food access and food insecurity was an issue throughout Black Hawk County, but through my experience, I was able to learn about the depth of human and environmental injustices that occur throughout the many levels of our food system (production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management). This experience also allowed me to feel the importance of connecting to our source of life, the earth that grows our food, in an ethical and sustainable way. 

How did UNI and your degree program prepare you for post-graduation? 

My time working for the UCEEE has also doubled as my internship experience required for my public health major. My term as the AmeriCorps VISTA member continues until the following June. It has been the perfect transitional experience between my time as a student and soon as a young professional in the field. Community engagement has been at the forefront of my entire education experience at UNI, and UNI has done a phenomenal job at connecting me to community resources and helping me to create a home here in the Cedar Valley. 

What’s next? 

My education in public health and work/internship experiences have led me to pursue my master's degree in environmental studies and sustainable food systems. I currently am deciding between moving out to Colorado in June to work and gain residency for a graduate program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, or I may remain in the Cedar Valley to continue my current work while pursuing a graduate degree online. Either way, I hope to end up in the Cedar Valley, and I plan to dedicate my life to building local food systems and resilient communities! 

Any advice for future students? 

Remember that there is always someone who knows more than you. Stay humble and be eager to learn from everyone and everything.