K. Jennifer Johal MA '15
Seattle, WA

What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

I studied Early Childhood Development and Family Studies at the University of Washington in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. I remember taking a sequence of courses on observations and assessments of children during play and found the study of the child fascinating. So, I actually applied to Sarah Lawrence for its Master of Arts in Child Development program. Within my first year in the program, I realized it offered a wonderful and rigorous theoretical platform for understanding the development of the child from a psycho-social perspective, but I knew I needed more practical and professional based experiences to align with the theory I was learning. That is when I realized a degree in Health Advocacy would provide me that practical and professional experience. I worked with the Directors of the program and graduate administration and staff to find a way to successfully complete two separate programs in a matter of three years. This was the first time a graduate student had ever completed a double masters in Child Development and Health Advocacy at Sarah Lawrence College. It was truly a great learning experience and a wonderful opportunity to shape my own education.

How did graduate school fit into your life at the time?

My senior year of college, I applied to Sarah Lawrence College for the MA in Child Development. Unfortunately, I was not accepted but when I reached out to the director of the program, she said I needed more work experience. So I actually took an associate position in D.C. working for an International Education non-profit. The time I was there, I was exposed to advocacy and outreach work and policy development. I was in D.C. for almost two years when I reapplied to the graduate program and I can say I was more ready two years later than I was straight out of college. It was not only the experience that I gained over the two years that made me a better candidate, it was the fact that I had a better grasp on how advocacy work could be incorporated into my graduate career. That was another reason I knew the Health Advocacy program would be a great fit for me.

As a prospective student, come in with a vision. Know what you are passionate about. However, be open to other opportunities and know that it is okay to change your vision, especially if it becomes a newly found interest or passion.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence College for your graduate studies?

I only applied to Sarah Lawrence College for graduate school because I knew the one-on-one attention the instructors provided was what I needed. The smaller class sizes and round table discussions were how I could thrive during my graduate career. Sarah Lawrence uses weekly readings and papers as a gateway to understanding how the learning fits into each student’s experiences.

What role did the faculty play in your time here.

I can say that the faculty comes from very different backgrounds and most of the Health Advocacy faculty are from other colleges or work at other institutions. This works in a student’s favor because you are exposed to an array of people who can bring you real life experiences and they can educate you based on their expertise, not from a textbook.

What experience as a health advocacy student had the greatest impact on you?

I had numerous challenging experiences but what I can say is that I always had faculty, whether it was from the Child Development program, Health Advocacy, The Writing Institute, or the graduate office staff, who were always there for me. I was very fortunate to spend my three years creating great relationships with the staff and faculty at Sarah Lawrence College.

What is life like as a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence?

Again, since I was a Child Development and Health Advocacy student, my experience was different and challenging. But as a Health Advocacy student, the experience was different than my experience in Child Development. The course load varied and at times it seemed like a lot but there was enough support from the faculty to push through and make it work so I didn’t feel so stressed out. I definitely enjoyed my fieldwork experiences and actually chose a field placement back in Seattle over the summer between my first and second year. It was a great opportunity to reconnect to the policy issues at hand in Washington State and potential employment opportunities after graduation.

What advice can you offer to prospective graduate students?

I would emphasize that students’ fieldwork experience during the two years of the program are very important and ensuring a field placement is key to being on track to successfully complete a capstone project. With that said, if life happens and things do not work out as you would have hoped, the staff and administration are there with you every step of the way to make sure you have the support you need. If you’re dedicated, hard working and have a passion for being an advocate, there will be very little that will stop you from accomplishing your goals. 

What impact did the proximity of New York City have on your experience?

New York City is an eclectic, adventurous, and loud place. I learned to balance my social activities and studies. I chose to live in the city because there was no on-campus graduate housing. Since classes were only two or three times a week, I learned to commute from the city, spend my days wisely on campus (such as schedule meetings the same day, take advantage of the library resources, take part in student-led activities). Similarly, many of the other graduate students lived off campus and from time to time we were able to meet up in the city, either for social activities or to study together. In addition, I chose to have field placements in the city the days I was not on campus.

What is the strongest attribute of Sarah Lawrence’s Health Advocacy program?

The program, although the first ever Health Advocacy programs in the country, has made great improvements over the years and continues to have great potential. Honestly, the strongest attribute of the program is the students. Each student brings a different experience and such strong skills that as a cohort we feed off each other’s energy, skills and passion to be better trained advocates once we leave the program. The faculty always have their hands full with the diverse social issues students bring to the table that they hope to one day improve or change.

What are you up to now?

I am following potential employment leads back on the West Coast as a research analyst or project coordinator in the health education and technology field.