Doing Right by Doing Good
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Michelle Hamilton, D05, also hopes LRAP will encourage others to perform public service. Hamilton did her residency at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Augusta, Maine, and liked it so much that when a job opened up, she jumped at the chance to stay. She and her colleagues treat disabled veterans, from recently returned veterans of Iraq to those who served in Vietnam and World War II.
"The big draw," she says, "was to be able to give back to the veterans and provide the services they desperately need. Oral health care for veterans is unfortunately in great demand, and many don't have the funds to be able to seek out private dentists. It's very gratifying work, and I feel very privileged."
Hamilton earned a master's and a doctorate before entering dental school. Her professional training alone left her with debts totaling $360,000. "The money from LRAP was a huge boost for me," she says. "We know that in community service we'll be paid less than if we went into private practice, but we do it because we love it. Through my residency I found my calling, and I expect I'll retire from here."
Hamilton notes there are currently two fourth-year Tufts dental students working in her VA clinic. "They didn't know about LRAP before, and we talked to them about joining a VA if they're interested. You never know when someone might go that route as well."
For some former students, not only are large student loans a challenge, but the cost of living can also be a factor in their choice of careers. Catherine Hsu, N07, owes $60,000 in loans from her master's degree studies at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where housing is expensive. After earning a degree in nutrition policy and programs, she chose to return to her native California, where she took a job with California Food Policy Advocates, an organization that makes it easier for people to get access to food stamps and free lunch programs.
"I was worried because rent is expensive in the Bay Area, but I figured I would try to make it work," she says. Hsu says she looked at jobs in the private sector before taking her current position, and she would still consider one, "but the LRAP allows me to keep nonprofits in my options," she says. "I like my work. It's nice to think that people are a little less hungry because of me."
Finding the Right Fit
Elizabeth Simmons, G06, says her job is emotionally exhausting but also enormously gratifying. After earning a master's degree in teaching, Simmons began teaching 11th-grade English at a public school in New York's Lower East Side, a low-income neighborhood.
"This is the school I wanted to work at," she says of the East Side Community High School. "In my opinion, it's one of the best New York City public schools for students from at-risk backgrounds. I'm very happy to be here."
When Simmons finished her Tufts education, she had about $9,000 in loans, which she is still paying off. The money from LRAP was "a small amount," but she says she is "so appreciative of anything. I think it's great. I don't expect handouts. I was grateful to receive help for working in a low-income job."
Sometimes finding that perfect professional path can take time. When Andrew Yang, F06, graduated from college, he went to work for a think tank in Washington, D.C., that deals with military issues and used his Chinese language skills to analyze Chinese politics and the military. "I felt unfulfilled," he says, "and I didn't feel like I was helping. So I began looking for other, more meaningful things for me to do."
He enrolled at the Fletcher School, where he pursued his interest in conflict resolution and development. He now works as a project assistant at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass., that aims to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance. Yang does a little bit of everything there: research, writing, travel and making travel arrangements for others. His field work has taken him to Kosovo and Timor.
"We look at the impact of humanitarian and development assistance on poor societies," he says, "especially ones experiencing conflict."
Yang still owes $30,000 for his Fletcher education and is grateful for LRAP, "especially for someone like me, making an NGO (nongovernmental organization) salary." He shares an apartment with three others to save money and says the grant from Tufts "was a lot of money to me."
Saving money is also important to Kate Ziegerer, V03. The mother of four young daughters, ages 7 and under, Ziegerer says when she took out her school loans she didn't realize the impact it would have on the family budget. "My current balance is $150,000, so it's nice to have some relief," she says of the LRAP support.
Ziegerer started her veterinary career in a private practice, treating small and exotic animals, but soon realized she wanted to help on a broader scale. "Animal welfare and the way animals are used have always been of interest to me," she says.
She became a veterinary medical officer with Animal Care, a division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working in Missouri and Kansas. Her agency enforces the Animal Welfare Act, which established standards for the humane care and treatment of animals. Her job includes inspecting facilities used by animal breeders as well as exhibitors, such as zoos and traveling animal exhibits. She also inspects laboratories that use animals for research.
Despite owing a lot of money for her education, Ziegerer says, "I'm very pleased with the education I received from Tufts, and I have no regrets. There are other career opportunities in the veterinary profession where I could make a lot more money, but I love the mission of our agency, and I love the work I do. And the money from LRAP definitely makes it easier to continue in this career path."
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Feature written by Marjorie Howard, Senior Writer, Office of Publications.
Boen photo by Joanie Tobin, University Photography. Other photos courtesy of the subjects.
This story originally ran on Apr. 27, 2009.