Brown School Welcomes New Cohort, Students Share Self-Discovery, Plans for the Future

Public Health; Social Work; Students

Julia Schmitt’s first clue that her life was about to change – was the classical music streaming from the speakers of Hillman Hall’s Clark-Fox Forum.

“I was like OMG this is not undergrad anymore,” she recalled with a laugh. “At first I was a little intimidated, ‘like oh, oh everyone here is serious,’ but immediately someone slid over and started talking to me and everyone was just so friendly, so approachable, so kind.” 

Schmitt, who is from Orlando, Florida, and is pursuing a master of social work with a specialization in mental health, joined other incoming students who gathered in Hillman Hall for the Brown School’s New Student Orientation event –  the first in-person orientation in three years. The day started with an official  welcome by Interim Co-Deans Tonya Edmond and Rodrigo Reis.

“Some of you may be questioning whether or not you belong and you fit here and  what I want you to know is, you belong. You belong. You belong,” Edmond said.  “You have worked hard to be in this space. Know that we value you deeply and  want to support you in the work that you want to do throughout all aspects of  your time at the Brown School.”

The excitement was palpable as students checked in and received welcome packets. The buzz was fueled by coffee, doughnuts, fruit, and first-day jitters.

Over multiple days, participants met with their academic advisors, learned more about their program degree, attended concentration and specialization information sessions and were introduced to their new hometown and what it has to offer.

The first day of class was Monday, August 29. On Friday, September 2, the Brown School communications team caught up with some incoming students to get a snapshot of their first week.

Schmitt was back in the Clark-Fox Forum tapping away at her laptop writing a response paper for a class. Reflecting on her first week, she said she already feels a sense of community and that validated her decision to choose the Brown School.

“It was very clear in comparison to the other programs that I went to see, that the Brown School was the proudest of the social work profession and saw it as something that was ever evolving and worth investing in – something that is worthy of research and time, resources, development, and collaboration. I am a big believer that you surround yourself with the types of people that you want to emulate and the community that I saw here. I want to be like these people once I have my MSW and beyond.”

That sense of community also resonated with Lawrence Sentongo Katumba, who is from Uganda and pursuing a master in public health with a specialization in epidemiology and biostatistics. Enjoying the weather in the Goldfarb Courtyard, Katumba explained that despite newly arriving in the United States and St. Louis, he’s been impressed by the support the school has provided him. “They follow up,” he said. “Everyone is welcoming. I feel I am home, actually. It’s beyond what I expected.” 

In the seating area outside of the Race and Opportunity Lab in Goldfarb Hall, Nandu Meshram who is pursuing a dual degree master of public health/master of social policy, is holding a flier about the Society of Oral Cancer and Health and pointing to photos of oral cancer patients. Meshram is a dentist who works with tribal communities in India, particularly those living in inaccessible, remote areas.

Oral cancer is a significant health issue in India. It’s the leading cause of cancer death in men. Meshram is grateful for the opportunity to study at WashU and hopes by receiving formal training in public health he can make a real difference.

“Until you take into account the social aspect of the disease you cannot find a solution. Being a clinician I treat only patients, but being a public health professional I can treat communities. I am coming from a lower caste, the untouchable community in India. To journey from that community to WashU means a lot to me,” he said as emotion clouded his eyes. 

Catching up over Zoom, Eric Jones who is pursuing a master of social work with a sexual health and education specialization, outlined the journey he took to the Brown School. 

After returning to the United States from Peace Corp service in Senegal and working in leadership and development at a Florida university for several years, Jones was ready to take the next step and figure out his long-term career. He honed in on becoming a sex therapist and educator and said without a doubt the Brown School had a clear advantage.

“When I came across the Brown School and saw that they had a full specialization with someone who was the previous president for the AASECT, the national body for sex educators and therapists I was like, ‘oh wow, this feels legit.’ This feels like a place where I can learn a lot. That was a driving force to pursue it.”

Jones added: “I feel validated in my decision to come here. It feels like the right choice. It feels like I am doing this at the exact moment and time that I need to be doing this,” he said. “It’s affirming to so quickly start to feel like this is going to serve me well and teach me a lot and allow me to grow into the professional that I hope to be.”

Jones also noted that while he is excited to be on this educational journey it was only made possible by the Brown School’s partnership with the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program which provides financial support to returned Peace Corps volunteers.