Dawna Raehpour discovered her passion for healthcare policy at Wichita State University and, just as importantly, is learning tools she can use to address issues.
“What keeps me motivated is knowing there are people out there who need help,” she said. “I see a lot of people who experience discrimination, and it just results in poor health outcomes for them. That really bothers me.”
Raehpour is the recipient of the Stanley Z. Koplik Memorial Scholarship for 2020-21. She will graduate in May with degree in public health science and a minor in sociology. The $1,200 scholarship is in honor of Koplik, who served as executive director of the Kansas Board of Regents from 1982 to 1993.
Raehpour is the mother of five children and stepmother to three children, ranging in age from 15 to 32.
"The Koplik Memorial Scholarship would help me finish strong at WSU,” she said. “With two kids in college and my reduced work opportunities due to COVID-19, finances are a challenge in our family. I know that making college affordable and accessible was a strong focus for Stanley Koplik, and this scholarship will help me be the first one in my family to graduate with a degree.”
Raehpour’s family life and her work as a certified massage therapist provide the background for her studies and career goals in health care.
"Public health has been the major that I never knew I always wanted,” she said. “As the adoptive mom of two Black children and as a member of the Wichita LGBT Health Coalition, I have seen how discrimination leads to poorer health outcomes for marginalized populations.”
Dr. Amy Drassen Ham, clinical professor in the College of Health Professions, directs Raehpour’s honors project.
“She is a student who asks very appropriate questions, and in doing so, then pushes me in my teaching,” Drassen Ham said. “That extends learning for others — other students learn from that.”
Drassen Ham asked Raehpour to work as secretary-treasurer for the HEALTH Student Association. Raehpour hesitated to take the job before telling Drassen Ham she wanted to add to her skills.
“She wrote me back a few days later and said, ‘You know what, because those aren’t my strong skills, that’s a perfect opportunity of growth for me,’” Drassen Ham said. “It was a risk for her to do that. She was willing to take the risk to learn something.”
Raehpour said several classes at Wichita State pointed her toward a career in public health.
A health care administration and policy class taught by Sonja Armbruster showed her how to take research and put it into policy and advocate for that policy. Drassen Ham’s class, The Role of Culture in Health & Health Care, educated her about healthcare disparities.
“It wasn't until I came to Wichita State that I was equipped with the tools to do something about those health disparities,” she said. “This is the fifth college I've been at and I’ve never been anywhere that is as interested in my success. I feel supported from every direction.”
Drassen Ham said that class changes the perspective of many students. She said Raehpour dove into the content of the class and built a strong resume with internships, volunteer work and her honors project focusing on health care in Wichita.
“We talk to students all the time that you need to take steps now to engage in the community – volunteering for organization or working,” Drassen Ham said. “She’s going to do great things. I think she’s going to go on and continue to change the landscape of public health in Kansas.”