Kristen Alleyne Leverages Mason Resources and Determination to be named a CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholar

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Committed to making a difference in the wellbeing of others, Kristen Alleyne, a rising senior and University Scholar in the Honors College, pursued opportunities to gain first-hand experience addressing public health issues. The community health major and health information technology minor expanded her search for scholarships and fellowships beyond those common among Mason applicants. When she discovered the John R. Lewis Center for Disease Control Undergraduate Public Health Scholarship Program, Alleyne sought out the support of the Office of Fellowships to create a strong application. Her motivated searches paid off, as she has recently been named a 2023 Public Health Scholar. 

The John R. Lewis CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars program “provides students, particularly those from populations that are underrepresented in public health professions, with career-building public health experiences” to equip them with the tools required to succeed in the field. The program places scholars from across the country at top public health programs; Alleyne will join a cohort at the University of California at Los Angeles, spending her summer gaining hands-on experience in public health. Alleyne says that this will provide her with a unique opportunity to “be exposed to some new challenges that are faced on the west coast.”  

Once Alleyne discovered the Public Health Scholars program, she took it to the Office of Fellowships, which is a “one stop shop for students” seeking help on the process of applying for scholarships and fellowships. For the first-generation student originally from Guyana, the support from the Office was critical: “As a first-generation student,” she says, I did not know the specific ways to answer the peculiar questions on fellowship applications. The questions on the application may seem simple, but the way you answer them can make or break your application.” Alleyne was connected to the Director of the Office of Fellowships, Dr. Megan Bruening, and they worked together to craft a well-rounded application that reflected Alleyne’s interests and experience.  

Alleyne says that with the help from the Honors College at George Mason, she has been encouraged to examine her beliefs and way of thinking to develop a broader worldview and breadth of involvement in her communities. Alleyne takes up the challenge through her diverse student involvement around campus. Besides her interest in public health, she is the President of the Caribbean Student Association and Patriots for Health Assistance, a triple jumper on the Track and Field Team, and was also a Substance Use Peer Educator with the Student Support and Advocacy Center. Alleyne’s successful application to the John R. Lewis CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholarship benefited from her well-rounded experience and involvement at Mason.  

Whether a student brings in a fellowship like Alleyne, or needs help finding one, the Office of Fellowships is there for them every step of the way to help navigate the complex process. One of Dr. Bruening’s goals in the office is to reach students who have been and are still marginalized in higher education. This extends from first-generation students and students of color to LGBTQIA+ students as well. Dr Bruening says that “Fellowships are a transformative opportunity for social justice and change. I strongly believe that the opportunities these fellowships provide are ways that students can break down barriers and can make positive changes, both for themselves but also for their communities and eventually for the world.”  

Kristen Alleyne is one of those students breaking down barriers. Dr. Bruening says that her passion for the different intersectional ways to view public health helped her win the competitive award. “Alleyne came into the office with ideas about how to positively benefit different communities through public health, particularly women, but she also displayed an interest in sports, global health, epidemiology, and information systems as well.” By working together, Dr. Bruening and Alleyne connected these ideas and brought them together in a cohesive application.  

Looking back, Alleyne is grateful to the Office of Fellowships for giving her “valuable feedback, guidance, and support throughout the application journey. Dr. Bruening helped me to remove any anxiety I had about the application process and reinforced that I was well equipped with the skills needed to not only apply to the program, but get in.”  

Alleyne’s advice to students who are interested in getting involved with the Office of Fellowships is to “Kick the fear away. Whenever in doubt, ask for help. Sometimes we think we know it all, but there are so many people who are better equipped to do the things we think we can do.” With the help of the Honors College and the Office of Fellowships, Alleyne is looking forward to seeing public health through a new lens by engaging in a challenging and invigorating environment with the Public Health Scholars program.