Samantha Burkhart Named 2022 Convocation Student Speaker
The soon-to-be health law and policy graduate is dedicated to addressing issues of poor health at their root and ensuring the public good is centered in all policy work.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in public health from Northern Arizona University, Burkhart came to SPH driven by her desire to look beyond individual behavior change and address issues of poor health at their root. Now, as a soon-to-be graduate who completed the health policy and law certificate, she is determined to apply what she has learned throughout her program to influence policy and ensure that the public good is kept at the center of all policy work.
After graduation, Burkhart will head to Washington D.C. to begin the year-long David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship, where she will have the opportunity to learn more about the development of effective health policy by working directly with policy-makers in both the public and private sectors.
“I’ve always been interested in how systems operate and how policies have the power to influence change within those systems,” she says. “Policy is really where a lot of good public health practice comes together, from program development and communication to data analysis. I am excited to start my career with this fellowship and learn from experts who are working to make healthcare better for people across the country.”
Throughout her time at SPH, Burkhart immersed herself in public health work both at SPH and within the community. As the community engagement director of the Student Senate, she spearheaded a semester-long partnership with the Boston Area Health Education Center (BAHEC) to introduce high school students to public health and social justice work. She also co-led efforts to organize and launch the first Public Health Student Forum, a multi-school partnership that aimed to connect public health students across New England.
Perhaps one of Burkhart’s favorite experiences while at SPH, though, was serving as the student representative on Governing Council, the senior governance body of the School. In this role, she had the opportunity to flex her policy-making muscles to help inform decisions and develop policies that would best represent SPH students’ needs.
“It was an eye-opening experience to sit on Governing Council and advocate for the voice of students at SPH, especially during such a challenging time,” she says, pointing to the ever-changing information landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I learned a lot of valuable lessons about leadership and how to make decisions while continuing to balance the needs of different populations that I know I will carry with me throughout my career.”
Beyond these experiences, Burkhart says that what she will cherish most about her time at SPH are the students, staff, and faculty she has met and engaged with along the way.
“The people here are invested in you,” she says. “They take time to learn about you, guide your interests, and listen. It’s really unique, and it has truly been the highlight of my SPH experience.”
For the graduating class, their time at SPH has been marked by difficult events, from the COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide racial reckoning to the war in Ukraine and loss within the SPH community. Burkhart recognizes these hardships but remains hopeful for the future. “We’ve all been through a lot, and we are tired,” she says, “but we are not in this fight alone. I hope we are able to take the time we need to rest and recharge because the work we do in public health is a lifelong commitment. It requires all of us working together to move it forward.”