Student-Athlete Thriving As Global Public Health Major

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Maxwell Ward ’23 moved from Southern to Northern California to play NCAA Division II soccer and study global public health at Dominican University of California. Before even stepping foot on campus, he felt that Dominican was a place where he could thrive.

“I had been following Dominican on social media, and I would always see posts about its academic achievements, a new award, or information about it being a top school in the Bay Area,” he recalls. “There was a lot of information about Dominican that gave me a clue that this was a good school.”

Maxwell also was determined to find a school in which he could continue to play soccer - a sport he has loved since early childhood - while pursuing a degree that aligned with his career interests.

Now, four years later, Maxwell has capped his soccer career as member of Dominican’s first ever Pacific West Conference champion in the university’s NCAA Division II era. He’s also just landed a prestigious internship through the Pathways into Public Health Internship Program (Cal-PPH), sponsored by the California Department of Public Health. In the fall, Maxwell will begin working on a master's degree at Cal State University San Marcos.

Maxwell is thriving.

In high school, Maxwell excelled in academics and athletics. He was a four-year honor roll student and a two-time varsity soccer captain. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018, Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, and Most Valuable Player in 2019.

Maxwell had good options when considering his college career. However, he had never heard of Marin County – let alone San Rafael – before visiting Dominican. The discovery was a pleasant surprise.

“When I came here for my recruiting trip, I toured campus and also toured San Rafael,” Maxwell says. “I really liked how the college and San Rafael felt really connected. You can walk to downtown San Rafael, and there are a lot of local businesses there. The college and the town feel like a community.”

After talking with coaches in the Athletics department, Dominican’s size became a major draw. Maxwell realized the benefits of small class sizes, as well as networking opportunities with both professors and potential employers.

This semester’s internship is one such example. The Cal-PPH Program partners with local health jurisdictions across the state to provide paid internships for training and hands-on work experience. The program is open to undergraduate or graduate students studying public health or a related discipline. Maxwell will spend the spring semester working with Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, an organization with which Dominican enjoys close connections.

It is a tremendous opportunity not only to work on a state program, but also for the County of Marin's largest department. MHHS offers comprehensive social, mental health, public health, and alcohol and drug services and its work contributes to Marin consistently being ranked as the healthiest of California’s 58 counties by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Patti Culross, Chair of the Global Public Health Program in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, encouraged Maxwell to apply for the internship.

“We are so lucky at Dominican that our classes are small and that our professors get to know us,” he says. “I think it is much harder to get this type of attention from your professor at a bigger school.”

Maxwell started to explore public health as a potential career his senior year at Temecula Valley High School.

“I started reading about public health and all the career options and connections with health care,” he recalls. “I also really wanted to help people in my community and focus on a career in which I could make a better living environment.”

Maxwell particularly likes the variety of broad career options available in public health. He’s had a solid grounding in epidemiology, biostatistics, and health policy and is interested in exploring health promotion and education.

He will get valuable experiences, insight, and connections through the internship, which runs the entire spring semester. Maxwell has been assigned to the community health and prevention department, working on a key project: healthy/active living, which includes a focus on food insecurity in Marin.

This internship is a great way to cap his senior year. Maxwell ended his collegiate soccer career with a PacWest Conference Championship win last fall.

“When I arrived here we were in a rebuilding process,” Maxwell says. “We were a young team, and year by year we gradually started building a strong team.”

The team played throughout California and enjoyed two road trips to play PacWest Conference teams in Hawaii.

“By the end of my junior year we realized we had the pieces that we can really do this – win the championship,” Maxwell says. “We needed everyone to stay committed and give 110 percent, and that is what happened. We went into every practice with the belief to make this work, and our work paid off in the end.”

 “We had such a great season,” he says. “Really great to end on a high note and go out this way.”

As he heads toward commencement in May, Maxwell also wants to take some time to enjoy some of Marin’s outdoor opportunities.

“Sightseeing here is amazing,” he says. “I love that stretch of San Francisco skyline you can see from the Marin Headlands. Even driving over the Golden Gate Bridge is still awesome – it does not get old. I found a great place and a great school here in Marin.”


Photo above of Maxwell Ward holding Pacific West Conference men’s soccer team championship trophy

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