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Recent Graduates Reap Rewards of Liberal Arts Learning
Students in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) often go on to graduate school, professional school or the workplace. Thanks to the liberal arts, they have the critical thinking, creative problem-solving and effective communication skills to succeed in almost any environment.
A&S recently caught up with two young alumni who embody the versatility of a liberal arts education. Megan Phan ’17 is a Seattle-based health resource specialist who recently won the Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. Jacob Urban ’18 is an analyst for British Petroleum (BP) in Chicago, with an interest in clean energy. Both were Remembrance Scholars and members of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, an all-University program in A&S.
Megan, describe your path from a double major in chemistry and neuroscience to a career in public health care?
Syracuse, particularly the Honors Program, exposed me to interdisciplinary study. That, along with clinical and public health endeavors I pursued throughout college, shaped the way I thought about medicine and its impacts on society. Becoming a physician and working with medically underserved populations seemed like my next natural goals.
How do you like working at Neighborcare Health, which helps those with little or no health insurance?
I enjoy positively impacting people’s health, whether through medical or dental screenings, health education presentations or other community outreach efforts where health resources are lacking.
Some of the challenges I face stem from the cultural and linguistic diversity of our patients. I have to adapt to unfamiliar environments, individualize my approaches to patient communication, overcome ideological and communicative barriers, and challenge my own assumptions about others’ abilities and experiences. I will certainly carry all I’ve learned through community health work into my medical education.
What are some misconceptions about your work?
Healthcare is not that simple. For instance, it’s difficult for people to access healthy foods if they live in a food desert or do not have reliable transportation. In a similar way, it’s difficult for people to take their medications if they cannot afford them or their insurance does not cover them.
I know many patients who work several jobs to take care of their families, so it’s easy for personal care to become a low priority. Some also grapple with past or ongoing traumas related to poverty, domestic violence, refugee resettlement or a death in the family, all of which can act as barriers to healthcare access. Through all this, I’ve learned the importance of social determinants of health in medical practice.
Social responsibility is also important to you, Jacob. Was it a byproduct of your liberal arts training?
Certainly. I was part of the Syracuse University Center for Fellowship & Scholarship Advising Young Research Fellows Program, where I analyzed the federal government’s Renewable Fuel Standard. I also brainstormed solutions for how Congress might achieve its energy goals in the future.
Today, you’re part of BP’s Trader Development Program [TDP]. What’s that like?
Last summer, I interned at BP. At the end of the internship, I was fortunate enough to receive a full-employment offer in TDP, a three-year program that trains energy traders.
Energy traders buy and sell energy products, such as jet fuel, renewable diesel and gasoline. Though we have a profit motive, we are interested, first and foremost, in making sure society accesses the energy products it needs in a safe and timely manner.
How did your Syracuse education—a finance degree from Whitman and an Integrated Learning Major [in Energy and Its Impacts] degree from A&S—prepare you for this line of work?
The Integrated Learning Major [ILM] helped me understand physics and public policy, as opposed to just the financial markets. The ILM gave me the interdisciplinary background needed to understand the origins of our current energy problems and the ability to seek solutions to them.
Syracuse also taught me that learning happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. As a student, I was a research assistant for Gregory Zuckerman, a Special Writer at The Wall Street Journal, known for such books as “The Frackers” and “The Greatest Trade Ever.” His mentorship was a dream come true because it taught me a lot about journalistic principles. It also affirmed my desire to become a problem solver in the energy industry. It is my core belief that the most pressing challenges facing humanity are energy related.
Indeed, learning happens everywhere.
Phan: My brother died from SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome] before I was born, but his loss permeates my work. The same is true of Rick Monetti [a Syracuse student who died in the Pan Am Flight 103 terrorist bombing in 1988], whom I represented as a Remembrance Scholar. These experiences remind me that one’s humanity is never truly lost—it lives on through loved ones and other people whose lives they have touched.