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COVID-19 Leads to Another Change in Career Direction for Cheriesa Selman

UTA BS Public Health student Cheriesa Selman

Cheriesa Selman is living proof that life is about the journey, not the destination.

After starting college as a journalism major, the Irving, Texas, native worked for the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, lived abroad for four years and came home to become a nurse as the pandemic took hold.

When Selman was exploring her options, an academic advisor encouraged her to consider general studies or public health at UTA.

"He could tell from my experience living in Australia — a country that guarantees access to healthcare and emphasizes education with appreciation and importance of mental health — that public health would be a good fit," said Selman.

That conversation led her to enroll in the online Bachelor of Science in Public Health program at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). She is on track to graduate in May 2022.

"The online program gave me the freedom I needed," she said. "I am 32 years old and a non-traditional student. It's great to go to class, but I needed that flexibility. It seemed like a good fit and, so far, I have absolutely loved it."

Selman will soon start as a community resiliency specialist at HandsOn New Orleans, a nonprofit organization. At the same time, she will continue her work toward completing the bachelor's degree without missing a beat.

"Earning an online degree is a challenge, but I have the drive to get things done," she said. "I have that self-discipline on my side."

Frequent Flyer

After graduating with an associate degree in journalism from Dallas College North Lake Campus in 2016, Selman left for Australia where she spent two years, and then it was on to New Zealand and Indonesia.

"I was so disappointed with journalism and how there wasn't any integrity behind it," she said. "It wasn't objective, and I wanted to be an objective journalist. I backpacked across Australia and worked different jobs."

Selman returned to the United States and lived in California for one year before coming home to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and setting her sights on UTA. She returned when her grandfather's health took a turn for the worse.

"I was slowly chipping away at becoming a nurse, doing the prerequisites and getting ready to apply to a nursing program, when COVID-19 hit," she said.

So far, Introduction to Public Health Epidemiology is Selman's favorite course in the online B.S. in Public Health curriculum.

"It was definitely challenging for me," she said. "I love anything that has to do with social determinants of health, and also when the professors allow us the freedom and the flexibility to create our own public health initiatives.

"We were able to use our imagination with research provided on what works. We could tailor and put together puzzle pieces on an initiative that's not going to be implemented, but that's how innovative solutions are created."

The bachelor's degree is also paving the way for Selman to continue her higher education journey.

"I'll probably go straight into a master's degree program at the University of Texas or the University of Arkansas," she said. "I'd like to focus on epidemiology, specifically on social diseases, so maybe more social epidemiology."

The Next Chapter

Selman, who will be the first person in her family to earn a college degree, said her immediate career goal is to become a community rehabilitation specialist.

"From there, I want to work at the state or federal level," she said. "I would love to be able to work on a global level developing collaborations, coalitions and partnerships within countries so that we don't feel so divisive and understand we all have to share this planet.

"I believe that what works for other countries could also work for us, instead of being tit for tat as if life were a competition. I am also passionate about the environment. I would like to do something where public health policy, sustainability and climate competency can work together."

Although her journey through life's peaks and valleys has included many twists and turns, Selman knows that she is right where she should be.

"The Bachelor of Science in Public Health program has been incredible and life-changing," she said. "I encourage it for all young women and men."

In her free time, Selman enjoys trail running, hiking and fishing. Given her passion for the world in which she lives, she believes it's important to be objective in the public health program.

"Having humility, being able to see things from a different perspective, and appreciating diversity is important," she said. "You have to take your personal belief system and give it an evaluation.

"If you are mindful and give it your all, what's the worst that could happen? You get a bachelor's degree. That's not bad."

Learn more about UTA's online B.S. in Public Health program.


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