When Brea Matchett first came to UHV, she was a biology major, but she switched to majoring in health studies at the end of her sophomore year.
“I heard people talking about the new Bachelor of Science in health studies, and it sounded cool,” the Richmond resident said. “I decided to try it out, and it turned out to be much closer to the career I want to pursue.”
On Saturday, Matchett became the first student to graduate from the health studies program through the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. The university began offering the degree in fall 2014, and the program now has about 50 students.
“This program turned out to be a better fit for what I want to do,” Matchett said. “Health studies has a focus on human health, while biology is a more general focus on all types of life. I want to become a neonatal nurse practitioner, so this program was just what I needed.”
The health studies program helps students prepare for careers in health fields such as public health. As part of the program’s capstone, students take part in internships to gain workplace experience.
As part of Matchett’s internship with UHV, she participated in efforts to bring public health awareness to the campus. Part of her work included helping create and promote the Safe Sex Squad, which focuses on encouraging students to be safe if they choose to have sex.
“Brea is an extraordinary student who shows a real passion for promoting health awareness and helping others,” said Fred Litton, dean of the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. “I know she will put the knowledge and experiences she gained at UHV to good use as she moves forward in her career. It is exciting to see the first graduate from the health studies program, and I look forward to seeing many more.”
It was exciting to be part of a new program, Matchett said. Although the degree plan still was being developed when she enrolled, the school, faculty members and academic counselors always were careful to work with her and other students in the program.
As part of the process of developing and improving the program, Sara Rodriguez, a visiting assistant professor of health studies, expanded the number of electives and other course options available.
“At first, the program was very structured with not a lot of wiggle room,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to change that. It is important for students to be able to choose some of their classes, so their studies will fit their career goals.”
Part of the development and shaping of the program came from student feedback, Rodriguez said.
“These students are fighters,” she said. “They endured leadership turnover and program evolution, and took it all in stride and without derailing their progress. All of the health studies students I advise have big career goals, and every one of them has the skills and gumption to meet those goals.”
For Matchett, the program was a strong start on her path toward becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner. She plans to take a couple of extra courses before applying to nursing schools.
“I’ve grown so much through my time at UHV,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m excited to see where UHV goes with this program.”