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Public health fuels passion for Mercyhurst adult student

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” said adult student Cynthia Dunn `15, who will graduate from Mercyhurst University in December with a 3.8 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in public health.

Dunn and her husband, Bryan, a former human rights lawyer, came to the United States in 2010 as refugees from South Africa. They have three children, ages 8, 3 and 14 months.

Unable to find employment that fueled her passion for helping others, Dunn decided that earning a degree was her best option. She also wanted to set an example for her children, teaching them hard work, determination and perseverance.

“The world is so fast-paced. What you think you know now can change in a second. To keep up, we should all keep bettering ourselves,” said Dunn. “I definitely encourage other adult students to earn a college education. It’s going to be very challenging, but if you think that an education can get you where you want to be, then you should do it.”

Becoming a master of time management is vital to success.

“It’s a challenge to fit in everything that needs done in a day,” said Dunn. “There is never a perfect time to go back to school, but I know this sacrifice is temporary. It will pay off in the long run. Quitting is not an option.”

A philanthropist at heart, Dunn knew she wanted to pursue a career focused in charitable work, especially service to at-risk women and children. Being exposed to different cultures and getting involved in service from an early age helped develop her passion.

Several eye-opening experiences took place in high school. In 2005, Dunn’s class traveled to Botswana, Africa, to visit orphans and AIDs victims. The next year, she visited India where she witnessed the oppression of women.

“Those trips really stuck with me. They shook me up,” said Dunn, whose devotion to helping women and children earned her a scholarship in 2015 from P.E.O., a national philanthropic organization dedicated to helping women achieve their education goals. Dunn is also a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the adult honor society at Mercyhurst.

Dunn appreciates the opportunity to earn her bachelor’s degree, as well as gain critical hands-on experience during her four years at Mercyhurst. She calls the public health department faculty “fantastic” and “supportive.”

With the help of her advisor, she even landed an internship working with the clinical director at UPMC Hamot. She also had the opportunity to shadow personnel at several departments within the hospital.

“Cynthia is an impressive and inspirational public health student. She has contributed her experiences in overcoming challenges and obstacles in the classroom,” said James Teufel, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health and Dunn’s academic advisor. “She plans to pursue a career that is personally and financially rewarding.  She would like to decrease injustices in health by developing and administering innovative programs focused on cultural inclusivity and community engagement.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Mercyhurst, Dunn wants to pursue a master’s degree in the public health field. Her interests are currently in health care management, conflict resolution and advocacy.

Dunn’s big-picture goal is to evolve into a public health expert to work for a larger nonprofit organization or within the government sector for an agency like the USAID.

“In public health, you really need to separate yourself from other candidates. I don’t like feeling limited in any way,” said Dunn. “I feel that it’s necessary to earn a master’s degree in this field. When it comes time to find employment, I want to say that I have this experience to back up my credentials.”