Eager to connect with others, Deborah is all smiles when sharing about her passions. Pursuing a higher education is near the top of the list.
I have always had education at the center of my life,” said Deborah, a 21-year-old enrolled in the MCH Transition Services (TS) program. “Going to college was a non-negotiable goal I set for myself at a young age.”
Deborah moved to Texas from Ethiopia when she was 14 years old. She lived with a relative for nearly a year before transitioning to the MCH Waco campus in 2017. Deborah describes being introduced to different cultures of people as a resident and building meaningful, lasting relationships. Acclimating to different environments in a short amount of time wasn’t entirely easy though.
When I was at MCH, I was very hesitant when it came to change,” Deborah said. “I didn’t want the people I became so familiar with to not be in my life anymore. Those closest to me at MCH really helped me cope with change. My faith has also been the one constant in my life and has kept me grounded.”
Deborah graduated from the MCH charter school as salutatorian in 2019. She received the prestigious Albaugh Scholarship which funded her undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). The Public Health program at UTA piqued Deborah’s interests and her strong sense of purpose fueled her focus to pursue a career geared toward helping communities and vulnerable populations through emergency planning and disaster management.
“One of my biggest dreams is to give back to my community in Ethiopia,” Deborah said. “I want to develop public health resources there and help others achieve health equity and resiliency.”
“Deborah purely wants to learn everything she can in her field because she loves it,” said Alyssa Lopez, Deborah’s TS case manager. “Not many people take unpaid internships and she did.
Deborah sent cover letters to different entities and explained what she could offer them, which further speaks to her impressive ambition.” During the COVID pandemic, Deborah worked as a contact tracer for UTA’s Health Services. She “connected the dots between exposures around the university and implemented quarantine and isolation measures to limit the spread,” she explained. During that time, Deborah also interned with the Health Services department at the City of Arlington. She performed routine inspections and worked in the vector control program, which included obtaining mosquito samples to test for potential diseases.
“My later internships with Dallas County and the City of Mansfield really grew my love for emergency management,” Deborah explained. “Emergency management is all about preparedness, risk mitigation and response. I really like the idea of being on the other side of crisis situations.”
Navigating school and several internships while maintaining a healthy lifestyle required Deborah to adapt and grow.
“I shifted my perspective to think like an adult,” Deborah said. “I made transitions in order to survive. I have grown so accustomed to change that assimilating to a new environment is a seamless process now.”
Lopez said she doesn’t remember ever having a conversation with Deborah that didn’t involve discussing how to move forward toward her goals.
“She gives herself grace when encountering challenges, adapts and then takes the next step,” Lopez said.
Deborah graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health from UTA in May 2023. She hopes to eventually obtain a master’s degree within the public health sector.
“It was a huge privilege to even have the chance to go to college,” Deborah said. “The support I received from MCH carried me. They have taken care of me in practically every aspect I can think of. For that I’m eternally grateful.”
Deborah is now settling into her new role as emergency management specialist at Texas Women’s University in Denton.
“The people who supported me when I was at MCH are still the same ones cheering me on as I move forward in life,” Deborah said. “I encourage youth and other young adults to not underestimate themselves. Give yourself grace, because everyone is still learning. Set a goal that’s attainable, break it down into steps and then take one step at a time.”