Public Health Senior Charts New Course at UToledo

March 12, 2021 | News, Student Success, UToday, Health and Human Services, Honors
By Kirk Baird

Sarah Johnson didn’t think she wanted to spend her college years so close to her hometown of Temperance, Mich.

The University of Toledo changed her mind.

“After doing more research and settling in for my first year, I found that the amount of support available at UToledo set it apart from any other choices,” Johnson said.


And following her first two years as a UToledo student, Johnson also realized that her original choice of a major, biology/pre-med, “wasn’t for me.”

“I’d had a real interest in public health topics since I was a teenager, and I knew I wanted a career helping other people,” Johnson said, “but I didn’t realize that I could combine the two and make that my profession until I began researching the other majors offered at the University before my junior year.

“Majoring in public health in the College of Health and Human Services has given me the opportunity to develop my specific skills to help make lasting change, and actively encourages passion and empathy in its students.”

She credits Dr. Joseph Dake, professor and chair of the UToledo School of Population Health, for fostering her excitement for her public health major and its career opportunities.

“His positive attitude and encouragement in the classroom made me look forward to going to class, even in a pandemic.”

Dake is equally complimentary.

“Sarah was an excellent student in my class and her passion for public health was evident from our class conversations and from her writing for class assignments,” he said. “I know that she will make a positive impact on her community. Students like Sarah are what make teaching at UToledo so awesome.”

Also a student in the Jesup Scott Honors College, Johnson took advantage of the college’s Growing Green Summer Fellowship last summer as an intern with Toledo GROWs, a local organization that operates a working farm and helps establish and maintain community gardens city-wide.

Johnson described it as a “crash course in agriculture and farm maintenance” that nurtured her newfound passions for alleviating food insecurity, bringing green spaces into the city environment and giving people the opportunity to improve their own lives and communities in the form of food.

“Everyone has the right to healthful and readily available food, but unfortunately in this country, even in this city, that is just not the reality,” Johnson said. “In addition to advocating for large-scale change to the systems by which we get our food, I think that community outreach like what is done at Toledo GROWs can go a long way to improving life for many disadvantaged people.

“I am extremely lucky that I found myself at Toledo GROWs, and I count myself even luckier that I get to continue there in a part-time position. I’m proud to contribute to a cause I believe in, in my own small way.”

But her biggest accomplishment at UToledo, Johnson said, is addressing long-standing mental health issues. She said she has struggled with depression and anxiety since middle school, but that those issues went unaddressed and undiagnosed until her freshman year at the University.

“There were days when I couldn’t leave my room, let alone go to class or participate in any clubs or activities,” she said. “Three years later, I still have bad days, but I can see a future for myself now.

“I never could have improved without help — I can’t thank my family or the staff at the UToledo Counseling Center enough for everything they’ve done for me over the past three years.”

Before she graduates, Johnson said she has plans to become more involved in campus activities and in community outreach. She also plans to attend graduate school.

“I hope to use my skills learned from getting my public health degree to advocate for better living conditions for all,” she said, “and to develop health intervention strategies that more heavily involve members of the target communities and help amplify their voices.”

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