Doing a World of Good
KSU graduate traveling abroad to study public health
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 16, 2019) — Maria Mata plans to dedicate her career to addressing global health issues. She’s off to a good start, already traveling the world to gain experience in her chosen field.
Mata returned from a semester-long internship in Switzerland to receive her public health education degree from Kennesaw State University this month. Mata’s next step is a two-year program in Spain and France that will earn her a dual master’s degree in public health.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, which is why I chose public health, but I want to do it with a global scope,” Mata said. “I understand that I can study global health and gain knowledge about it in the United States, but it’s completely different when you’re in another country.”
Mata has been selected for Europubhealth, a two-year European master’s program for high-performing students pursuing careers in public health. Starting in September, she will study for a year at the University of Granada’s Andalusian School of Public Health with the curriculum entirely in Spanish, in which she is fluent. Mata then will attend the EHESP School of Public Health in Paris for the second year, specializing in environmental and occupational health sciences.
Mata will build on the experience she gained while interning in Geneva, Switzerland with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). She was involved in developing a new program in which UNITAR is working with partners including the World Health Organization and Gavi, a global vaccine alliance, to promote initiatives related to nutrition, mental health, global surgery, HIV/AIDS and universal health coverage.
“This internship gave me the opportunity to apply what I have learned in the classroom at Kennesaw State from a real, global perspective,” Mata said. “It was a life-changing experience for me. I was able to grow professionally and personally, and it gave me the opportunity to live abroad.”
Mata’s internship actually was her second visit to Switzerland and UNITAR, after spending a week in Geneva during her junior year through KSU’s Distinguished Global Ambassadors program. She developed a mental health awareness project that she then implemented at Kennesaw State by setting up information booths at three locations on campus in conjunction with World Mental Health Day.
‘I want to be a global public health leader’
Mata’s travels also included a maymester in the Dominican Republic on the first study abroad trip for the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education (HPE). However, public health was not her initial pursuit at KSU.
Mata planned to major in journalism in hopes of becoming a bilingual TV news anchor, but that changed when she took the Intro to Public Health class taught by associate professor Jane Petrillo. For a service-learning project about a current issue, Mata visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about initiatives to improve physical activity and nutrition for sedentary workers.
“That gave me the first glimpse of what I could do in public health,” Mata said. “Taking the intro class made me realize that this is a special program and I needed to stay in it. I want to be a global public health leader, and that started at Kennesaw State.”
Her learning experience at the CDC is a prime example of the HPE Department’s commitment to providing students with a balance of classroom lessons and field work, Mata said. She added that she “can’t stop thanking the public health faculty” – Petrillo, in particular – not only for being excellent educators, but also for fully supporting her in every step of her academic journey.
“I’m forever grateful because, if it weren’t for the public health education program at Kennesaw State, I wouldn’t have found what I really want to do,” Mata said. “The support I received and the experiences I had at KSU shaped me and sparked my passion for this field.”
Mata’s graduation day was one of three college commencements her family celebrated in a week’s time. A triplet, Mata received her degree from KSU in-between her brother Daniel graduating from Belmont University and her brother Luis graduating from the University of Georgia.
Mata gave the credit to her mother, Maria Lioce, who moved the family from Venezuela to the United States when Maria and her brothers were 8 years old. Mata said that her mother instilled in her children the importance of education and hard work.
“I’m doing all this for me, but especially for my mom because she has sacrificed so much for me and for my brothers,” Mata said. “Our mom saw the potential in each of us, and she wanted us to have a better future.”
– Paul Floeckher
Photos by David Caselli; and submitted
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.