master’s in public health student success stories

Bianca’s Story: Braving the Storm and Seeking Success

Bianca Noroñas studied communications in Puerto Rico. She grew up in Hato Rey, and while studying in Santurce, she worked as a freelancer for documentaries, local movies, music videos, and short films. An awarded film editor, producer, costume director, and production assistant, Bianca loved the power of communicating a message to the masses.

But all of her aspirations changed when she became pregnant with her first child.

Throughout her pregnancy, Bianca quickly realized the disparagement, injustices, and misinformation that many women experience during this vulnerable time in their lives. While in labor, Bianca experienced obstetric violence when a nurse made several inappropriate comments about her body. And when she returned to work from maternity leave, her employer would not allow her to extract breast milk in a clean, safe, and private space.

Without knowing it, once her daughter was born, Bianca became a community organizer. She used the power of social media to create gatherings for other mothers going through similar experiences. Because of Bianca’s efforts, like-minded women met in groups in shopping malls and public squares. Together, they supported one another, educated themselves, fought for their rights, and sought to normalize breastfeeding. Passionate about the cause, Bianca even became a certified breastfeeding educator and doula.

Then, in 2017, Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, and the devastation of the category five hurricane left the territory in a state of instability. After the storm, electricity, the economy, education, and safety were uncertain, and Bianca knew she needed to provide a better future for her daughter.

Welcome centers were soon established in Connecticut’s capital to support Hurricane Maria survivors. As thousands of people arrived in Hartford, countless organizations came together to provide books, clothes, coats, food, funds for housing deposits, information on community resources, and school supplies for children.

Once Bianca arrived in Hartford and her daughter’s basic needs were met, she inquired about volunteer opportunities to best use her talents and serve the needs of pregnant women in the area. After four months of volunteering, Bianca received a job offer and became a Care Coordinator — providing education services and encouragement to pregnant women and new mothers.

It didn’t take long in her new job before Bianca observed the inequality among the towns in Connecticut. She swiftly saw the lack of resources and healthcare opportunities for her community compared to other groups.

“Hartford is filled with many hard-working people and organizations,” Bianca stated. “And the city’s surroundings helped hydrate the seed of service that live within me. Little by little, I began to see how Hartford residents work to build a better community, and I wanted to be a part of that movement — so I decided to study Public Health.”

Focused on the future

When researching schools, Bianca noticed that many of her options seemed to keep her away from achieving her dream.

“I had to work full-time, and as a single mother without immediate family, there was no way for me to go to school in the afternoon. My little girl also needed me to help her with homework, and everything seemed to indicate that my dream could not be realized.

“But then,” Bianca went on, “one night while I was watching Facebook, an ad appeared. I couldn’t believe it. Goodwin University’s MPH program was completely online with a good curriculum and at an affordable cost. The opportunity to learn in your own environment, on your time — that’s invaluable, so I didn’t hesitate even for a second to start the application process.”

With a mission to bring her best self to her new community, Bianca admitted that the path to her profession has not been easy.

“I had to say goodbye to my parents, siblings, aunts, friends, memories, and roots on my island when I came to the United States with my daughter,” Bianca explained.

“Hurricane Maria forced me to start over in a new space with new weather, language, culture, and more.

“In the second year of living in the U.S., we suffered a fire in the building where we lived, and we had to live for three months in a hotel. My first Master’s in Public Health class was only five days after we started living in the hotel.

“I suffered a lot of anxiety in those months,” Bianca admitted, “but the commitment to myself, my daughter, and my community kept me focused.”

Studying Public Health during a pandemic

Bianca’s experience at Goodwin was her first time studying in the English language.

“Having just arrived in the United States, I would not allow the language to be a barrier to my academic and professional progress,” she shared.

“Thankfully, the Goodwin professors were very kind, maintained good communication at all times, explained to me how I could improve, and enthusiastically told me when I did things well. They helped me understand how community programs work, and how professionals reach their conclusions through research, data, and epidemiological equations,” she informed.

“Most importantly, the program educated me on public health history. I learned that to understand why specific communities are a certain way, we must acknowledge the collective memories its residents live through — that poverty and barriers are not from now, nor have people chosen it — but that those barriers have been constructed.”

“I still remember the first weeks after classes started,” Bianca described. “The pandemic was not named at the time, and there were not many cases in the United States yet. However, based on other moments in history, the professors had already begun to explain the possible paranoia that this could cause. I was astonished at what they were saying and explained it all to my family and friends,” she detailed.

“My friends did not want to believe me. When the COVID-19 cases began to increase, I spoke to them about the possible scenario of wearing masks as people were in China, and they told me I was exaggerating. One year and six months later, we are still here in the middle of the pandemic.

“I loved learning about vaccines and the history of diseases in the MPH program. If people knew more about the history of diseases and began to imagine the realities without vaccines, they would not hesitate for a second to support them.”

Graduation greetings

Bianca described her relationships with her classmates as “beautiful.”

With the MPH program entirely online, Bianca and her cohort officially met during Goodwin’s 2020 graduation ceremony.

“We had talked as if we had known each other forever,” Bianca said, “but it was actually the first time we saw one another in person.”

Breaking barriers and bonding communities

Since graduating with her Master’s Degree in Public Health, Bianca finds it gratifying to serve individual families while working within her community.

After earning her degree, Bianca was presented with a career opportunity to become a community organizer in Hartford, focusing on public health.

“Our communities, our families, and our neighborhood need us,” Bianca confirmed.

“I work with the community, help them to organize, and work together on the barriers that hold the community back and keep them from enjoying quality, healthy lives.

“Day by day, I have the joy of working directly with the residents’ needs, not only connecting them with resources that can solve their immediate problems, but also getting them to focus on the future.

Now communicating Public Health initiatives to the masses, “Attending Goodwin University helped me to actualize what I already felt in my heart,” Bianca acknowledged.

“Studying for my master’s degree at Goodwin has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life.”

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