Shemms Najjar was first exposed to the field of public health as an undergrad at UCLA majoring in human biology and society, with an interest in pursuing a career in the medical field. However, she realized quickly that medicine was not for her and began researching alternative professions in healthcare that functioned more upstream in the prevention and/or elimination of illness. While taking courses in infectious diseases, epidemiology and molecular genetics, Najjar had a lightbulb moment and decided that public health was the answer. She looked into the top master’s programs in public health that closely aligned with her vision. The components of the sociocultural health and diversity track at UCI appealed to her, with its emphasis on understanding healthcare through the lenses of communities and real people. Najjar is working with the lab group of Daniel Parker, Ph.D., which largely explores spatial epidemiology. Her work involves gathering research on the historical presence of cholera in order to map its transmission throughout the Middle East/North African region. Najjar’s time in UCI’s Program in Public Health has set the foundation for who she aspires to be and what she wants to do in life. Speaking with multiple people who work in that area, including her professors and advisors, helped Najjar determine the next steps after graduation. She hopes that gaining work experience in the field will influence her decision on whether to pursue a Dr.P.H./Ph.D. in the future. In any event, Najjar is confident that what she learned at UCI will serve her well in her career and beyond.
Can you describe a time you felt most proud to be an Anteater?
When I began acknowledging the substantial amount of compelling research that’s being led by various faculty members and researchers at UCI. Specifically, some of the greatest research studies in public health have generated impactful changes to the health and well-being of various communities both nationally and internationally.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan on getting a job in the field where I am most passionate. Exploring different avenues in global health and working within companies that share my goals and interests are key. I am also still contemplating whether I want to pursue a Dr.P.H./Ph.D. in the next few years. Aside from academics, I would love to do some traveling as I take on the next part of my life.
“Shemms is doing wonderful work describing geographic patterns in cholera across the Middle East and North Africa region and across time. Her work requires professional interactions with my colleagues from different institutes and different parts of the world. She has excelled in these collaborations and has important results that are new and interesting. I know we all are excited to see what she will do next.”– Daniel Parker, assistant professor of population health & disease prevention, Program in Public Health
Who has been your biggest influence at UCI?
My faculty mentors and peers within my cohort. The faculty members I look up to have inspired me in so many ways. Simply sharing their educational and work experiences with me has been greatly influential. My peers have largely been my backbone of support in this program, and I would be nowhere without them today.
What advice would you give to your first-year self?
Advocate for yourself. Ask when you need help or advice. Learning from others who have been in my shoes has been the greatest motivation for me to keep going.