From a Harvard psychologist-instructor to Howard Dean, our students are getting well-connected

If who you know matters, our students are going to go far

A Message From Our Co-Founder

By Jayne O'Donnell

My 35-plus years as a reporter did not make me a great fundraiser. (I’m learning, though!) But I am a good connector and few things make me happier than connecting UHMP students to people who are already succeeding in fields that students hope to enter. Or alumni of the schools they hope to attend.

To that point, I’m delighted to tell you how our most recent fundraising appeal produced two kinds of contributions. Money, yes, but also the gift of connection — expertise, encouragement  and most importantly, advice offered by several of our donors to help UHMP students as they chart a life course.  I’m here to tell you how incredibly important both gifts are.

Take Jim Hopper, a nationally-known trauma psychologist, who teaches at Harvard Medical School. I sent Hopper a donor letter from and about Miami-based student Justin Fernandez, 17, who wants to be a psychologist. Justin also applied to Harvard, where he hopes to write for the University’s famed Crimson newspaper. 

The two had a long talk early this month, about Harvard, the mental health field and what to consider as he ponders his career. 

One student connected with both Talal Munasifi, a noted plastic surgeon, and former Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean, who is also an M.D. 

Munasifi responded to Baltimore student Donovan McClain, who wants to be a surgeon. Munasifi will be the first surgeon Donovan, 16, has ever met when they get together for lunch. Dean, a Yale alum who teaches an undergraduate seminar there, was happy to hear Donovan has an interest in applying there. He’s offered to help him navigate the admissions process when the time comes.

Unlike many children from middle to upper-income families, UHMP students often can’t tap Dad and Mom’s networks for job or college advice. I’m increasingly convinced this could be the biggest disparity students from marginalized communities face. 

That’s not to diminish the importance of financial support. You'll see the "Support our Students" at the bottom on our newsletter's front page. (Don’t forget we pay students to take our training!)

But it’s a reminder to consider where your own strengths and professional experience could help a UHMP student. Email me, your connector-in-chief, and I will hook you up: jodonnell@urbanhealthmedia.org

Oh, and what’s up with the picture, above? That’s me with Kayla Johnson, her classmates and humanities teacher at Cristo Rey High School in Philadelphia. We were doing a December presentation about Kayla’s articles on violent neighborhoods and surviving trauma that were in the Philadelphia Tribune. The Tribune has the largest-circulation and is the oldest, continuously published Black newspaper in the U.S. — and two lucky Cristo Rey students will soon be receiving in-person work experience in their newsroom. Thanks to a UHMP-sponsored work-study, the pair can then start building their own networks, and help the students who come after them.

Jayne O’Donnell
Co-founder and CEO
Urban Health Media Project