Social Connections Inspire Global Public Health Major

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Dominican University of California has been rising senior, Naila Saghir’s dream school for almost a decade.

It all began with an Instagram post.

“A Dominican student was posting on social media, and I thought that the campus looked so beautiful,” Naila recalls. “When I started looking at universities, I kept saying to my Mom that “I want to go to Dominican.”

While social media led the Global Public Health (GPH) major to Dominican, it’s the social connections she has enjoyed on campus that have confirmed Dominican’s impact is both genuine and transformative.

Naila’s most recent experience is a California Department of Public Health internship that her professor, Dr. Patti Culross, in the School of Health and Natural Sciences recommended Naila pursue. 

Naila spent about five months assigned to a position with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Her work included editing and formatting a handbook for the department’s newly reopened Family Justice Center, as well as attending meetings and assisting immunization department staff with outreach throughout the county.

The internship not only connected her coursework with hands-on experiences in the workplace, but also solidified Naila’s plans to advance her public health studies in graduate school with a focus on either epidemiology or health policy.

“The experiences during the internship brought what I had learned in class into real life,” she says. “I really enjoyed working on real public health issues for the county and the state and seeing all the work that goes into making policies and guidelines for the state.”

But it is more than academics and internships that Naila appreciates about her time at Dominican. Dominican is aligned with her personal values.

Naila grew up in a supportive family that appreciates hard work and is committed to giving back to the wider community. From childhood, till now Naila and her family deliver food and hygiene products to the unhoused populations in the Bay Area. Compassion and service matter, and at Dominican Naila, has found a community very much aligned with her own upbringing.
Naila also wanted her university experience to be completely different than that of her sister, who attended a large school in the University of California system and learned in large classrooms with hundreds of other students.

“I wanted my professors to know who I am,” Naila says.

Naila, who grew up in Danville, started her college career at Diablo Valley College in order to explore her academic interests. When it came time to move on her sophomore year and transfer, Naila only applied to two schools – Dominican and another private university in San Francisco.

“I immediately loved Dominican. The classes are small, and I am able to talk with teachers one on one. They get to know me and I feel comfortable asking them questions and talking about other matters.”

Naila’s academic background in high school and DVC earned her a scholarship. Her family was there to support her when she was recognized for the Trustee Scholarship Award last October at Convocation 2022.

When students enter Dominican, they are introduced to both an academic advisor and an integrative coach. The coach helps ease the adjustment to college life while encouraging students to explore opportunities available to them at Dominican, both on and off campus. Naila joined campus clubs, including the Muslim Student Association, where she has and continues to serve as vice president.

In addition to a full course load in the Global Public Health major, Naila started working in the Marin community through the Service-Learning (SL) program.

Naila’s first SL experience was tutoring students living in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, a largely immigrant community about a mile from campus. The following semester she started working with clients of Ritter Center, a San Rafael nonprofit with a mission of preventing and resolving homelessness and improving the health, dignity and wellbeing of people living in poverty in Marin.

Her primary role at Ritter Center was to interview people experiencing homelessness as part of a larger initiative to uncover the root causes of homelessness.

Again, Naila found a setting that aligned with her values.

“Hearing individual stories and seeing how people – including me- stigmatize people was so eye-opening. This marginalized population is often viewed as scary or dangerous, but after hearing their stories and their experiences, this made me want to help them even more so.”

Naila plans to continue working at Ritter Center this summer while also planning to implement an initiative that began as a classroom project to install water stations in the residence halls at Dominican.

Naila’s faculty in the Global Public Health Department have been supportive throughout her journey.

“They really are the best,” she says, recalling a time when her professors showed compassion at a time when she needed some extra support.

“Last semester I was going through a pretty rough time. My commute took a toll and finals were approaching so everything was piling up.”

Feeling drained, Naila kept up with the work but missed classes.

“My professors all reached out to me asking if everything was OK. They were so understanding and so supportive. They said ‘just take care of yourself,’” she recalls. “They knew that I was doing well but just wanted me to know that they were there for me if I needed them – they are genuine.”

Naila quickly returned to class, appreciating the trust shown by her professors and enthusiastic about a strong end to her junior year.

“My journey here at Dominican has been truly beautiful.”

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