From Nebraska to Nairobi: The Business of Public Health

She might not have known it at the time, but Scarlett Wedergren, CAS/BA ’24, Kogod/BS ’24, began preparing for a career that combines public health and business when she volunteered with her local American Red Cross chapter after a historic flood devastated her Omaha, Nebraska, hometown in March 2019.

During recovery efforts, Wedergren, then a high school junior, saw firsthand her community’s vulnerability and their vital need for access to medical care.

“I stayed with the Red Cross that summer [in Nebraska] and continued with the Red Cross the following summer when I moved to DC…And that passion has taken me to a lot of different, unique internship and volunteer opportunities since,” Wedergren said.

In fall 2022, AU created a public health internship for Wedergren where she worked with the school’s Office of Risk Management and Environmental Health and Safety to update its disease prevention plan and other emergency preparedness procedures. Wedergren said she is thankful for the chance to serve AU in a meaningful way under the mentorship of Matt Verderosa, the office’s director of global safety and compliance and a retired U.S. Capitol Police chief.

Wedergren’s experiential learning opportunities continued at AU Nairobi, one of the school’s three study abroad centers along with AU Madrid and AU Brussels. In her junior year, Wedergren interned at Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT), an international humanitarian organization with a full-service clinic in Nairobi and drought and famine response programs across Kenya. As an intern, she said she saw “the whole breadth of the clinic” by first shadowing several departments like dental, nutrition, and infectious disease care.

Ultimately, Wedergren chose to work in AMURT’s financial and administrative departments to see how the clinic managed its business side. She processed fiscal information, reviewed grant proposals, tracked COVID-19 vaccinations, cataloged medications, and recorded patients’ vital signs.

With a double major in public health and business administration and her experience with AMURT, Wedergren has concluded that business skills like financial management, information technology, and accounting principles can help solve public health issues.

“In public health classes, we talk a lot about the challenges associated with the determinants of health and factors that influence overall wellbeing. As a solution, public health should run as a business: there are bottom lines to meet, there are finances to run, and public health nonprofits need to make sure that they are operating effectively. So, to be able to make those public health changes, there needs to be technical business expertise behind them,” Wedergren explained.

American University “puts students really close to what they aspire to be,” Wedergren said, adding that the experiential learning opportunities at the school makes her “dreams and hopes feel much more accessible.” She said her professors and mentors don’t just ask, “‘What job do you want to have?’ Instead, they ask, ‘What problems do you care most about and how can we help you solve them?’” With AU’s help, she’s working towards solving real-world issues while gaining knowledge and building essential career skills and connections.

Wedergren said she is grateful for the university’s support and encouragement as she explored various public health and emergency response paths, both in DC and abroad.

“Trying new things is celebrated here…And that’s really what college, I think, should be about,” she said.