Spotlight on Social Sciences Alumni: Meghan Ochal

Name: Meghan Ochal ’05

Occupation:  Public Health Analyst

Education : (UR and additional): BA (Anthropology), University of Rochester, 2005; Master of Public Health, University at Albany, 2007

Current city/state of residence: Washington, DC

Community activities: Volunteer with US partner of grassroots community health organization in Chile (Educacion Popular en Salud)

When and how did you choose your major? 

I started as a pre-med/biology major, but when I took a medical anthropology course my sophomore year, I realized that I was much more interested in the social and political aspects of health, versus the more scientific side.  The more anthropology courses I took, the more I realized it was what I wanted to study (I didn’t yet know I’d go on to a career in public health though!).

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was very involved in various community service groups and activities.  I was involved in Circle K my freshman through senior years, was an Urban Fellow, and did substantive work with the Community Service Network as a student as well as the summer after I graduated.  These experiences only helped to solidify my desire to pursue a career that addressed social and community concerns.  (I also played intramural Ultimate Frisbee all four years! J)

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use? 

I think the Career Center was the a very valuable resource – advisors there helped greatly in helping me find an internship as well as developing solid graduation school applications.  I also think participating in a few of the many student groups/clubs is a great opportunity to explore interests and meet new people.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Without really any short- or long-term plan, I applied to graduate programs in public health (given my interest in medical anthropology) and was fortunate to receive a scholarship to the University at Albany’s School of Public Health.  Since I wasn’t quite sure exactly what I wanted as a career, going to grad school was a smart choice for me that helped me focus my interests and gain experience in a field that I’m incredibly happy to be a part of.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I work for a Federal program that provides grants to community health centers to provide health care to underserved populations, where I specifically support grantees in ensuring they are meeting requirements of the program.  As I was completing my MPH, I was drawn to working in the public sector and was accepted into the Emerging Leaders Program at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and was hired to work with the Health Center Program.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?  

The most valuable skills and knowledge I’ve gained from real-life experience through jobs and internships.  While having the academic coursework is critical, being able to practice using that knowledge is invaluable.

What advice do you have for current students?

I encourage everyone to seek out ‘real-life’ experiences through jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities.  Even if you are mostly filing or answering phones, being able to see how an organization/company functions can give you so much insight as to what you want to pursue as a career and provide practical skills and experiences that future employers or academic institutions will definitely value.