Student Success

From Theory to Practice

Paola Nkwuzor gets real-life experience in public health

Woman standing in street

Paola Nkwuzor found a passion for public health in OU’s Master of Public Health, gaining abundant experience through assistantships in Pontiac.

School of Health Sciences

icon of a calendarNovember 23, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn

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Paola Nkwuzor says she “fell in love” with the hands-on community work involved in public health, and she found a similarly hands-on approach to studying it in OU’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

Nkwuzor, 24, discovered her passion for public health while taking an introductory course in the subject for her undergraduate studies in health administration. She was drawn to OU’s MPH program because of its emphasis on practical experiences working with nonprofits, health care agencies and corporations.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to study a subject I was interested in, but also get real-life experience while doing so,” Nkwuzor says.

She’s found that experience in abundance since she started the MPH program in 2018, with the bulk of it coming from her graduate assistantship with the OU Pontiac Initiative (OUPI). She says her favorite part of the assistantship has been working as a tutor lead in the Pontiac School District (PSD), supervising OU students who serve as tutors to Pontiac school kids. 

“We had to teach them with patience and grace. We had to teach them through modeling, not just talking,” she says. “And I was very, very proud of our Oakland University students because they did a great job of building relationships, even though maybe they never stepped into an urban community or never spoke to people of color before. It takes a lot to admit that.”

Through her assistantship, she’s also coordinated and implemented programming for Parent University, an OUPI program that helps parents learn to better navigate the school system. Her work with Parent University has emphasized getting more PSD faculty and parents involved in administration of the program.

“Everyone knows that parent engagement is key to supporting our students as well as our teachers in the classroom,” Nkwuzor says. “They were glad that someone took the initiative to begin that process.”

Nkwuzor says her graduate assistantship has been extremely “eye-opening,” causing her to rethink her basic perceptions of education. She’s learned to better communicate with students, determine their needs, and manage classroom time.

“I realized that Pontiac School District students were brilliant, but many of them had anxieties and fears that most young people have, and they did not know how to appropriately manage that and articulate that,” she says.

After she completes her degree in December, Nkwuzor aspires to continue working in K-12 education. She says the experience she’s gained through the MPH program has prepared her well for her new career.

“If you just learn the theory of something, you don’t understand how difficult it is until you actually apply it,” she says.

Learn more about community work through the Master of Public Health program.

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