As a storyteller, I’m always curious how someone becomes passionate about public health. Whether you start as a doctor, researcher or policymaker, the spark of how someone finds public health is always interesting to me. When the Houston Press published an article last week on Kenai McFadden, one of our incoming master’s students for Fall 2017, I knew I wanted to reach out to him and share his story.

Like many of us who fall into public health, Kenai didn’t realize the work he was doing through the HealthCorps was called Public Health. As the Health Coordinator at Sharpstown High School in Houston, Texas, Kenai was able to individualize the programming to the needs of the school (93% of Sharpstown’s student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch and 98% of the population is Latino). Generally, food access is a focus within the HealthCorps curriculum. Kenai says that his aim has been to “help students understand through multidisciplinary means that they can indeed afford, cook and eat delicious, healthy food. Students are taught hard skills in nutrition, such as measuring out the sugar in their drinks, analyzing their school lunches and preparing balanced meals in their very own school.”

Kenai’s curriculum isn’t limited to nutrition. He also works with students on fitness and mental health care. One way that he found to be a creative outlet was a schoolwide meditation over the intercom called 10@10. Kenai leads the entire school in 10 minutes of meditation at 10 a.m.

Throughout the two years he’s worked in the Sharpstown community, he said the most fulfilling times have been when he’s able to speak with people who have made a change in their lives. He doesn’t mind getting up early on Saturdays to open a market he runs because it ensures the patrons have food over the weekend. His most memorable moment was when one patron told him the market is “life”.

Now, as his two years of service are ending, Kenai is a central member of the Sharpstown community. When I asked him what he thought of doing after earning his master’s degree, one option he considers is starting a nonprofit in Houston; but, he is also considering medical school. What happens over the next two years will probably help define his next steps.

Later in the week, I’ll be sharing how Kenai chose the Bloomberg School as the place to continue his education.