Student Spotlight: Chidalu Mbonu, MPH'23
In a recent discussion with The Dartmouth Institute, MPH candidate Chidalu Mbonu gave a glimpse into her experience as a student here, her public health career aspirations, and how she brought a UNICEF chapter to our Hanover, New Hampshire campus. Mbonu was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S. in 2016. As an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, Chidalu studied public health science before attending Dartmouth’s 11-month accelerated MPH program.
It was a rainy Monday afternoon in Hanover when we spoke, but Mbonu’s sunny disposition shone through Zoom and our buzzing computer screens. We began our conversation by discussing what led Chidalu to study public health. Was there a seminal experience or person who influenced her professional path? “It’s funny you ask that,” Mbonu chuckled, “because I love to tell this story.” After moving to the U.S. to continue her education, Mbonu started college, where she felt lost as a biology major. “I didn’t feel called to study biology but didn’t know what I wanted to pursue.” She made an appointment with her academic advisor, who gave her a thick, alphabetized booklet of all the school’s majors and told her to see if she was moved toward one of them. “When I got to the “P” section and read through public health, I realized how much public health I was already doing and had been doing in my life.” After returning that booklet, she began her education at the University of Maryland in the School of Public Health and “never looked back.”
“Every day, I feel blessed that I am forging a path for myself in this field,” she said. “I believe that it’s honorable and humbling work – with jobs that are necessary to ensure that every person has the right to healthcare and access to equitable care.” After graduating from Dartmouth, Mbonu aspires to practice as a clinician in a physician assistant (PA) role. She is drawn to the possibility of collaborating with physicians in different health sectors–whether in the clinic or hospital or assisting in surgery.“I aim to be an equitable and accessible practitioner who takes inspiration from my public health background to bring value to the communities I will serve.”
Mbonu's interests lie in preventative care and chronic disease, and her long-term goals include working with vulnerable communities not only in the U.S. but across the globe and in her home country of Nigeria. “I want to observe and understand different cultures worldwide and connect communities through improving health outcomes.” She wants to leverage her public health degree to advocate for health education and preventative medicine – reducing the burden on individuals and communities through work in disease prevention.
This interest in helping global communities, along with her passion for public health, led Mbonu to start a UNICEF club at The Dartmouth Institute – before even arriving on campus. The UNICEF club program describes itself as a grassroots movement rooted in the belief that students have a vital role to play as the voice for children everywhere. They partner with UNICEF USA to activate their local community by educating, advocating, and fundraising for UNICEF’s survival, protection, and development work for children in over 190 countries and territories.
“The club began the first day of orientation,” Mbonu says. She described how privileged she felt to be starting graduate school with students who shared her interest in public health and with the support of The Dartmouth Institute: “I started sending emails…and one thing led to another!” She created a form to gauge the interest of her cohort, and her classmates quickly signed on. “Every day, I would check the form and see one, two, three new sign-ups – and every time, it felt like a milestone.” Soon, her cohort committed to leading the UNICEF club alongside her as members of the e-board.
Mbonu stresses the instrumental support she received from faculty and staff for this venture. “Thankfully, Residential MPH/MS Program manager Roland Lamb MPH, Director of Admissions and Operations Courtney Theroux MS, Executive Director of Education Craig Westling DrPH, MPH, MS, Director of the Learning Environment Office Manish Mishra MD, MPH, and former TDI faculty member Kristina Wolff, PhD, MPA, MPH were all supportive.”
She describes how Geisel School of Medicine’s Associate Dean for Global Health Director of the Center for Global Health Equity, Lisa V. Adams MD, connected her with retired UNICEF executive Stephen J. Atwood, MD, FAAP, who spoke at the club’s inaugural general body meeting on September 20th, 2022 on the Dartmouth campus. Shawn O'Leary, director of Dartmouth’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, invited the club to Geisel’s student activities fair – beginning the conversation about expanding the club to all Dartmouth graduate students. “It’s turned into something much bigger than I anticipated, and I am so appreciative that one passionate idea was met by so much support and encouragement from Dartmouth’s faculty and staff.”
On her road to Dartmouth, Mbonu says “it was serendipitous”.
“When I came across Dartmouth's MPH webpage I turned to my sister and said, 'this is exactly what I was looking for – this program is speaking to me.'” Mbonu is grateful for the opportunities Dartmouth has and will continue to provide her as she moves forward with her public health career. “I am learning from and alongside individuals with vast knowledge and experience in the field,” says Mbonu. “My experience at The Dartmouth Institute has already demonstrated itself to be a supportive environment where you can forge your own path based on your interests – this is powerful because whatever you want to get out of it, you can.”
Written by Mia Pennekamp
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