Sunday, December 6, 2009

Student Spotlight: Melissa Dilber

by Ann Abbott

I love seeing the success stories of my former students, and I love sharing them here so that current Spanish students can be inspired by their examples--opportunities they took advantage of while still students and paths they have followed in their professional lives.

Melissa Dilber worked on a senior thesis with me and a teammate, and during that process I saw that she was a risk-taker--in terms of language learning and work experiences. She learned French and Spanish by jumping in feet first; she spent an entire year abroad in France and worked in the Dominican Republic a few summers in service projects and for private companies. I could see that she put herself out there and grabbed hold of challenges--or created opportunities for herself!

Students, if you're interested in a career in public health and in the non-profit sector, Melissa is a great role-model for you. And even if you're planning on working in an entirely different field, take a look at the importance she places on language skills, and really sharpen yours! Furthermore, note that she is passionate about languages and cultures, and that has led her to where she is now.

Here are Melissa's own words:

"I am currently the Program Associate at the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB). HMHB is a maternal and infant health coalition; we connect community, local, private and government groups together based on particular issues, like prematurity, or folic acid awareness. My role is to assist with all of the programs, networks, business that HMHB has on its plate. That can mean anything from organizing a conference to planning a website, or from traveling across the States to attend conferences to creating marketing material for a project, and a little bit of everything else! I get to experience all aspects of a true, small non-profit organization, such as fundraising, networking, planning, researching and again, more networking.
My experience working with you, Ann, on our Spanish thesis was one of the main reasons why I got this job! Of course, the work I've done in Spanish-speaking communities was a part of it too, but I can put those two together because my thesis work was based on that experience anyways. In fact, the writing sample I submitted for this job was the Spanish/English introduction section of my actual thesis- it was a big hit! My boss was looking for someone with Spanish language skills (as well as some work in project management).

HMHB is committed to making a difference for mothers, babies and families in Spanish-speaking communities. There is much work to be done for this ever-growing segment of the population. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a team that prioritizes the needs of the uninsured, under-served population.

The first project I started working on was called the Acido Folico project: trying to create a network of community health workers and promotoras to market a national campaign of folic acid awareness to Latinas of childbearing age.

Since the Spanish-speaking community in the US is so large, and growing every day, I know there will be more projects that we will be working on that call on my Spanish verbal and cultural skills. And all this is coming just from my one organization, HMHB; the public health world is immense and there is always a need for culturally sensitive people with a heart for health.

Which is why I'm so glad that there are professors like you who encourage students to take their passion, their learning outside of the classroom. My own personal belief (as corny as it is) is that languages are keys and people are doors- the more keys you have, the more stories you have to unlock, the more knowledge you can discover. To know another language and then not go out into the world and use it with and for other people, I feel is a huge disservice. I'm eternally thankful for the teachers and friends that have encouraged me to run with my desire to speak and learn Spanish.

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