Maria Bower ’20, an environmental engineering grad, BHC Scholar, and Order of Pegasus recipient, will be working to address the opioid epidemic in New York over the next year as part of the National Health Corps, supporting patients during their recovery and helping them to obtain medications for addiction treatment.

How did you first become interested in the National Health Corps? How will your UCF experiences help you in this role?

I became interested in this program because I wanted to find a way to be involved during my gap year. I feel that my volunteer and leadership experiences helped me to achieve this because I was able to draw on what I learned to explain why I would be a good fit. I think that my most relevant experiences were discharging patients at Shepherd’s Hope and volunteering as a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line. My research experience regarding tidal flooding has been valuable in helping me to understand the environmental challenges faced by communities globally and how these issues impact public health. Through the Honors Undergraduate Thesis program, I was able to enhance my ability to address problems critically and analytically. Additionally, I began a new project regarding the analysis of scar tissue, which allowed me to consider innovative methods within health care that will help to expand access to more patients. Order of Pegasus pushed me to keep being involved in my community and take on new experiences and leadership positions, such as becoming the vice president of Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society for students from all engineering disciplines. My experiences at UCF gave me the chance to grow as a leader and as a person.

What does being accepted into the National Health Corps mean to you?

I’m so excited to be working with this program because, as an AmeriCorps program, its purpose is to provide service where it is most needed. The National Health Corps addresses barriers such as money, time, knowledge, and support in underserved areas throughout the country. Over the next year, I’ll have the opportunity to learn more about health disparities while helping patients receive the health services that they need. It is an excellent chance for me to get involved in the field of public health and find out how I can be part of the solution to accessible health care. I feel that this experience will allow me to gain many of the skills necessary to be a future leader in the medical field.

Why is it important for you to focus on combatting the opioid crisis?

Over the next year, I will be working to address the opioid epidemic in New York by supporting patients during their recovery and helping them to obtain medications for addiction treatment. The opioid crisis is a prominent issue in many communities. Because there is often a stigma associated with opioid use disorder, I hope to provide the support that these patients may be lacking. I will be working with patients recovering from opioid use disorder by helping them to obtain medications for addiction treatment and coordinating their care. I will also be working as a health educator and holding Narcan trainings for community members to prevent opioid overdose. I believe that combatting this crisis will allow me to be well-informed and address opioid overdose prevention as a physician.

What is your long-term goal? How will this help you achieve it?

My goal is to attend medical school as well as pursue a Master of Public Health degree. This program will allow me to learn more about community problems that affect public health and help individuals to receive the care they need. I feel that my experiences over the next year will help to motivate me as I continue my education, and I hope to be able to understand community needs as a physician.

Favorite book and why?

My favorite book at the moment is The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s very well-written and tells an engaging story while also addressing critical issues such as oppression, gender equality, and economic freedom.