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November 14, 2019

Happy fall to our IMPACT readers! This issue’s featured graduate student is Avery Rasmussen, a student in UVM’s online accelerated Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

IMPACT: Avery, tell our readers where you are from originally and what you studied as an undergraduate student. 

Avery: I’m originally from a small town about 20 miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I always knew I wanted to leave Minnesota to explore another region of the country for college. Seeing as Vermont is basically Minnesota with mountains, I figured it would be a nice way to dip my toes in the East Coast without jumping all the way into a city like Boston or New York. An invitation to the Honors College community was the final push I needed to put my deposit down and start frantically researching everything I could about my soon-to-be home. I chose to major in Neuroscience because, to put it simply, brains are undeniably cool.

IMPACT: Brains are undeniably cool, for sure. What inspired you to go to graduate school at UVM?

Avery: I was attracted to UVM's MPH program, with its accelerated option for UVM undergrads, and the flexible nature of the online curriculum. I’m committed to the idea of living and working in the Burlington community after graduation, so UVM’s well-established program was my top choice for continuing my education and building a professional network in our community.

Avery on rice terrace in ChinaMy extensive family experience with the healthcare system put healthcare quality improvement at the forefront of my career aspirations since I was a child. It was not, however, until I came to UVM in the fall of 2015 and started working at the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program (VCHIP) as a work study student and summer intern that I discovered my interest in pursuing a public health-related career. This interest was further amplified into a decision to pursue a graduate degree in public health while I was researching public health in Kunming, China, during the fall semester of 2017.

IMPACT: Tell us about your experiences in grad school as an online student.

Avery: I was apprehensive about pursuing my entire graduate degree online, because I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to learn in an online format. However, innovative new discussion forums (like YellowDig) make it easy to engage classmates in robust dialogue about the coursework and also offer a platform for sharing insights and questions about current events in public health.

The online format also provides the flexibility for me to pursue my graduate degree while working at the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program here in the UVM Department of Pediatrics.

IMPACT: As part of your curriculum, you do a capstone project. Tell us about yours, if you can.

Avery: I’ll start my yearlong cumulative team-based project next fall, at which point I’ll have more details!

IMPACT:  Fair enough. Are there any faculty members in the Grad College that have been particularly important to you, and why?

Avery: As a work study student and summer intern at the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program throughout my four undergraduate years (and first year of the MPH program), Dr. Valerie Harder was an incredible mentor to me. Working on the Health Services Research Team led by Dr. Harder was my initial motivation to consider applying for the MPH program. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with MPH program faculty (specifically, Dr. Thomas Delaney and Dr. Valerie Harder), both in my capacity as a student and an employee. My favorite class so far in the program has been Epidemiology.

IMPACT: Let’s switch gears. You are the Vice President of the Graduate Student Senate (GSS). Tell us about the GSS and what that organization does for graduate students at UVM.

Avery: The purpose of the Graduate Student Senate is to cultivate both the academic and nonacademic activities of the graduate student body and enhance all aspects of graduate school life at the University of Vermont. We advocate for graduate student voices and perspectives, and act as a liaison between the University of Vermont’s administration, faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students.

In addition to our senate meetings (open to the UVM community), we hold professional development, social and cultural exchange and community service events every semester specifically for graduate students. This semester, our senate has grown to a total of 61 senators representing 28 different graduate programs.

We hold focused open forums -- the first of which took place on November 7 -- to create additional space for graduate students to voice their perspectives, which inform our advocacy priorities. Personally, I love having a platform to connect with graduate students from different programs who, especially given the online nature of my program, I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet.

IMPACT: I’m sure that the grad students appreciate your service. Tell us where you are in your graduate education and what you plan to do after graduating. 

Avery: I’m in my second year of the program, but this is my first year taking only graduate courses. If all goes according to plan, I will graduate in the spring or summer of 2021. I hope to use the knowledge, skills and experience gained through the MPH program to better serve the greater Burlington community and eventually apply to medical school at UVM. My career aspiration is to work at the intersection of clinical care, public health and quality improvement at a program like VCHIP.

IMPACT: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?

Avery: The first thing that comes to mind is my frequent use of my dog-petting mittens necessitated by my allergies as I am a die-hard dog lover but can’t even look at one too long without my eyes swelling up. My icebreaker fun facts include, but are not limited to, my decade-long stint as an aerialist in the circus back home or that I have no cartilage in my nose so I have to hold my nostrils anytime I go underwater. I love experimenting with new hobbies and tinkering with old ones, which include things like exploring new recipes and knitting in my spare time.

IMPACT: Avery, thank you very much for sharing your experiences with our readers and best of luck in your program!

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