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A Passion for People, Public Health

Emily D'Iorio '13 parlays her major and penchant for helping others into a graduate school acceptance to pursue a public health career
Photo by: Kaleigh Wilson '13

BRISTOL, R.I. – It’s the question that nearly every undergraduate is asked at least a hundred times before they graduate: “What’s your major?”

Less often are they asked what their passion is. Perhaps because, for many of them, it’s much more challenging to determine what it is they want to dedicate their life to than what they want to study for four years. Such was the case for Emily D’Iorio ’13, who spent the first three years of college searching for a way to join her passion for service with her academic interests in anthropology and sociology. As a member of the Roger Williams University chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and eventually a member of it’s executive board, D’Iorio saw firsthand the impact of inadequate housing on families in low-income communities – still, halfway through her junior year she struggled to find that intersection. It wasn’t until last spring, when she took the Essentials of Public Health course with Associate Professor of Biology Kerri Warren, that D’Iorio found her calling.

“It was such a comforting, relieving feeling - confirmation that this is what I want to do,” D’Iorio says. 

With Warren’s guidance, D’Iorio soon after began applying to graduate school programs with master of public health programs. She has since been accepted to Emory University, where she will study Behavioral Science and Health Education, or as she describes it, “finding out why people make the health decisions that they do and how to change them, if necessary.”

With curious and service-minded students like D’Iorio paving the way, RWU has officially adopted into its offerings a public health minor. As interest in the program grows, the departments of anthropology and sociology hope to create a public health major as well, a case that D’Iorio and her peers have helped strengthen.

Not one to rest on her laurels, D’Iorio partnered with Warren and classmate Jessica Reade ’14 to put her passion for public health into action this year. With a $2,000 grant from the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, the trio developed a project with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to fight obesity in the Ocean State. In applying for a $2,000 grant from the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, D’Iorio, Dr. Warren and Reade, developed a unique project and were approved. Partnering with Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the group’s three-tier project aims to help fight obesity by increasing knowledge of the farmers market in a small Providence neighborhood. The research will be presented to Farm Fresh Rhode Island, state health department WIC officials and members of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute on May 22.

As for those students still seeking ways to put their academic knowledge into action?

“Explore. Public health is everywhere,” D’Iorio says. “It can be related to every field, and your professors are one of your greatest resources.”