Student Spotlight: Chidalu Mbonu
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 finding her way to Dartmouth’s 11-month accelerated MPH program.
When we spoke, it was a rainy Monday afternoon in Hanover, but Mbonu’s sunny disposition shone through Zoom and our buzzing computer screens. We began our conversation discussing what led Chidalu down the path of studying 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 I 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 towards 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.”
After graduating from The Dartmouth Institute, Mbonu aspires to practice as a clinician in a physician assistant (PA) role. She is drawn to the possibility of working in collaboration with physicians in different sectors of health – whether it be in the clinic, hospital, or assisting in surgery.
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 around the world, 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.
It was this interest in helping global communities, along with her passion for public health, that 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. “Everyday I would check the form and see one, two, three new sign-ups – and every time, it felt like a milestone.” Soon her cohort was committing to lead 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 The Dartmouth Institute’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 who have 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