Scholars Speak: Guest Blog by Forman Scholar Mariah Pierce

Mariah Pierce shares her thoughts to our Scholars Speak student blog series. Mariah graduated from Rutgers University with an undergraduate degree in public health. Recently, she graduated from Rutgers with a Master of Public Health degree. 

Read on to hear about Mariah’s experience in college, what she wishes her younger self knew and her plan for improving the Salem community. 

What does pursuing a college degree mean to you?  

Pursuing higher education has allowed me to advocate for communities everywhere. By earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in public health, I am able to focus on at-risk communities that have not reached their fullest potential. I can take the education I’ve earned and use it to implement programs to change the health disparities that exist. Through this work, I’m able to impact communities throughout the U.S. and around the world. 

What’s something you didn’t know during your first year in college that you wish you knew?  

When you first start out, you don’t have to know the exact path your college journey will take. Rather, your college journey is an opportunity to figure out who you are and where your passions lie. You can enter college studying one major and end up graduating with a completely different degree. 

It’s also perfectly alright to make mistakes along the way. Humans make mistakes, and humans fail. When you fail or make mistakes, it is what you choose to do next that determines who you are. 

What is your most memorable academic moment from your time in college? 

My most memorable academic moment would have to be completing my last semester of graduate school. I was working part-time, taking 18 credits worth of courses and still trying to make time for myself. At the beginning of the semester, I set a goal to earn all A’s, and for the most part I achieved that goal. I was proud of myself for pushing towards greatness and balancing the physical, mental and academic aspects of life. There certainly were moments during the semester when I was exhausted – and then the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and turned my final semester into a remote semester where I was forced to work and learn from home. 

Tell us a time when you overcame a challenge. 

When I was an undergrad, I started college thinking I was going to become an engineer. However, I soon found myself failing my engineering classes, and I had to change my major, one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had been on academic probation more than once, and everyone (including my counselors, family and friends) kept looking at me as if I didn’t know what I was doing. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing. I was lost. But, I took the time to reflect on what I wanted out of my college education, and I soon discovered that engineering was not really my passion. In the process, I discovered my real passion was in public health. I even went on to pursue a master’s degree in it. 

For people who may not know about the Foundation, what role has the Foundation played in your educational journey?  

The Foundation has provided academic, financial and personal support, and has offered me the opportunity to mentor and guide students. Without the Foundation’s unwavering support, I would not have made it through college nor graduate school. When I was a freshman, I received a care package from the Foundation. This was one of the first care packages I had ever received, and the thoughtful gesture made a world of difference as I was studying for my midterms and finals. Rick was also a constant support figure; he would encourage me during my time as an undergrad and always be there when I needed someone. The Foundation staff even attended my undergraduate graduation and was there to cheer me on. 

As someone who grew up in either Salem or the Salem area, how has your community shaped your upbringing, and what do you think is needed to ensure the best future for Salem? 

There is much to be done to improve Salem and its thousands of residents. To ensure the best future for our Salem community, a public health intervention is needed to address the gaping health disparities, low socioeconomic statuses of most residents and concerning health literacy issues that exist in the community. This community is also a food desert, so without an influx of support to address these pressing issues, our community will not fully thrive. 

If you had to give one piece of advice to a student who is applying for college, what would it be and why?  

Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Your college journey will present many chances to explore your passions and grow as an individual. Expose yourself to as many organizations, events and networking relationships as you can. Opportunities rarely come around more than once. The more you expose yourself to, the more you will learn about yourself and slowly start developing an idea of your future career.