Amazing Students

Harris Jamal

Harris Jamal. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Harris Jamal’s passion is to make a difference in this world and he is committed to incorporating sustainability into medicine. As a physician, he hopes to “innovate new ways to serve people, especially rural and underserved, with a higher quality of health care.”

Tucker, Georgia

High school: 
Tucker High School

Current employment: 
I currently work at the UGA Office of Sustainability as the Sustainability in Healthcare Intern. I also serve on the Alumni Engagement Committee in the Student Alumni Council and as the treasurer for the Muslim Student Association.

Family ties to UGA: 
I have two older siblings who also attended and graduated from UGA! We lost my younger brother to Georgia Tech, but we are a Bulldawg family!

Expected graduation: 
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
Dual degree: B.S. in environmental health science and a Master of Public Health

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
For me, UGA felt like home before I even decided to come here mainly because I had two older siblings, Samrina and Ummar, who were already here. In fact, during freshman year I lived in Myers and they lived right next to me in Rutherford. During my sophomore year, I moved into Rutherford to room with Ummar; my sister was on the same floor, just a few doors down from us in Rutherford. We made sure to cultivate this feeling of a “home away from home” and sticking to the family values our parents taught us by eating dinner together every day no matter how busy we were, dedicating dinner time as our time. My parents have given us so much love and support, and I could never have had the experiences and become the person I am without them. Thus, it was truly a blessing to have my siblings here with me from the beginning, not only as an extension of my parents, but also as a way to give back to them. I am so thankful for my family as they played such a huge role in my transition to the university setting and helping me build a strong foundation that would carry me throughout my four years.

One thing I have definitely learned about myself through my journey is that I am a planner when it comes to my academics and professional opportunities. I did not realize this in the moment, but in hindsight, I definitely was. The summer before freshman year, I would spend hours on end, several days a week browsing the UGA website, looking at different majors, various research opportunities, professors I wanted to meet, and organizations I wanted to become involved with. At that point, all I knew was that I wanted to maximize my time at UGA. Eventually, I stumbled upon environmental health science as a major — it was perfect! It would allow me to combine my two passions for the environment and human health and provide a small, close-knit community of amazing faculty and a plethora of research opportunities.

Freshman year was one of constant new connections and exploration, making it the most formative time during my time at UGA. I was able to hit the ground running at the start, contacting professors for research opportunities and striving to be involved in multiple student organizations. I started research with Erin Lipp, a remarkable professor that I owe so much to. Through a CURO research assistantship, I studied the effect of atmospheric Saharan dust on Vibrio related infections in the Southeastern United States. I am thankful for this opportunity as it grounded my love for research and my passion for the link between the environment and human health. Another key relationship I was able to develop, and one that I still cherish to this day, was with David Lee, my First-Year Odyssey Seminar professor for “Introduction to UGA Research.” During lunch with Dr. Lee one day, I pitched an idea to initiate sustainable changes at the University Health Center, and he, being the inspiring and encouraging mentor that he is, connected me to the Health Center and encouraged me to set up a meeting and pursue my idea. This was the start of my Sustainable Healthcare Initiative, my most enriching and fruitful experience, and one that has shaped my career aspirations.

On the other hand, Myers provided me with an amazing community of friends. I will never forget the feeling of excitement after coming back from a long day of classes and meetings, knowing that I could go downstairs into the study rooms and connect with a growing group of friends. This “Myers Crew” eventually became a group of my best friends in college. I ended freshman year with a memorable and eye-opening IMPACT trip to South Florida focused on environmental awareness and advocacy, a trip that completely redefined how I thought about service and what it means to local communities.

This combination of my wonderful siblings, amazing friends, encouraging mentors and foundational experiences inspired me to explore more of what this incredible university has to offer. During my sophomore year, through the Experiential Learning Scholarship, I was able to fulfill my dreams of studying abroad to study environmental health and health promotion in Croatia. It was fascinating to meet people from halfway across the world and connect over similar issues. I also was fortunate to receive an opportunity at the UGA Office of Sustainability to create a new intern position as the Sustainability in Healthcare Intern to continue my work at the Health Center with their support. During my time at the UGA sustainability office, I met Kevin Kirsche and Tyra Byers, who are some of the most kind and down to earth individuals I have ever met. They guided and encouraged me on how to make my vision of making a sustainable health center come to life. I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful community of individuals at the Health Center, including Dr. Garth Russo, Donnie Smith and Bill Kemper who were eager to drive positive change and contribute ideas. With their help, I was able to advance the initiative and start working on specific issues, including the usage of safer chemicals and efficient waste management at the Health Center.

During my junior year, I decided to become a Double Dawg and pursue a Master of Public Health. This path opened many doors including opportunities to get involved in research that is more applicable to the local community and general population. A group of graduate students and I proposed to examine lead levels in schools across Athens-Clarke County with an emphasis on underserved areas and areas with high minority populations. This initiative added lead testing of school drinking water as an important part of childhood lead poisoning prevention in Georgia. The project was awarded the 2019 UGA College of Public Health Diversity and Inclusion Grant and was funded to be carried out. We analyzed previous county records of tap water in schools, tested multiple school sites, created a lesson plan for teachers to teach kids about lead prevention, and encouraged outreach by presenting our results to the College of Public Health and the school district. Additionally, it was through the wonderful Jacquelyn Hughes from the UGA College of Public Health that I was able to get in touch with and create an internship opportunity at Emory Healthcare. This internship allowed me to work on pharmaceutical disposal and opioid abuse prevention, expanding my perspectives on sustainability in health care.

In that year, I also joined the Student Alumni Council and served on the Alumni Engagement Committee, working to connect students to alumni through Big Dawg Brunch events. Yet again, I stumbled across an incredible group of people including some of the brightest, most involved students on campus that inspire me to appreciate the values of this university more and more every day. I can confidently say, that after serving on SAC, I have definitely grown to love this university and everything that it stands for more than ever before. Another highlight of junior year was serving on the executive board as treasurer for the Muslim Student Association. Faith is a core part of who I am — being able to be a part of a team that strives to create a more inclusive and open environment through love and education is a privilege. To cap off my junior year, the UGA Honors Program selected me to receive the Crane Leadership Scholarship. This scholarship represented my own personal growth more than anything during my time at UGA.

Today, as a senior, I hope to make this year one of gratitude. Anything and everything I have achieved could not have been possible without the support of the people around me whether it be my loving, supportive parents, my friends or my mentors. Although it can be challenging, I always think to myself how lucky I am to be able to run from meeting to meeting where I can discuss ideas for new sustainable initiatives for our campus, contribute to conversations of inclusivity, and help uphold the values of this university by enriching student experiences; all while being surrounded by amazing people every step of the way. I am beyond grateful for being a part of this university, and I hope that I can give back in return for all that it has given me.

I chose to attend UGA because …
… UGA felt like my second home. With my older two siblings already here, I had visited UGA multiple times. I knew this was a place that could provide me with opportunities for my own personal growth while also maintaining a close relationship to my family, which was very important to me. In addition, being a Tier 1 research institution and a school that emphasizes service and impact on a wholesome and complete level, it did not take long for me to find excitement in the opportunities I could find here.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
I am huge nature person, which is one of the reasons why I love our campus. One of my favorite things to do on a daily basis is to take in the colorful trees and the scenic nature views on campus while walking to class. Anyone who knows me and is on Snapchat can probably attest to getting at least one picture of campus every day from me! I also love to make the occasional trip to the Niche dining hall!

When I have free time, I like …
I love to read and try new genres frequently. I’m currently reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and “How Emotions are Made.” I also love playing soccer. I played intramural soccer freshman year and now I play on Thursday nights with a group of friends. Lastly, I love to meet and hang out with friends, old and new, and simply connect.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
My entire study abroad trip to Croatia coincided with the month of Ramadan, a religious month of fasting. During this trip, I hiked to the top of the Biokovo mountains, Croatia’s second highest peak, and went kayaking (for the first time) in the open Adriatic Sea … all while fasting! I had never kayaked before, so the experience was new to me. The only piece of advice that the men at the kayak rental service left with me was, “You’ll be fine, just don’t go to Italy!”

My favorite place to study …
… has changed throughout the years. Currently, it is the colorful fourth floor in the Main Library. During freshman and sophomore years, however, the Science Library was my second home. I also love the white board area on the second floor of MLC!

My favorite professor is …
Having established relationships with so many influential professors and mentors along the way, it is tough to pinpoint one.

I admire David Lee and cherish our relationship, as it represents one of the most influential relationships I have had. Dr. Lee is one of the most approachable professors I have ever had, always offering to get lunch with students. Three years later, I am so glad I took him up on his offer and got lunch with him. He has always encouraged to me to inquire and pursue my passions, no matter what they are. We still try to get lunch at least once every semester!

I would also like to thank Erin Lipp. I came to Dr. Lipp asking about research opportunities in just September of freshman year. Since then, the experiences she provided have been the source of my love for research and environmental health. In Dr. Lipp’s lab, I had the privilege of working with some of the best scientists around, including Jason Westrich. Dr. Lipp has been so influential in my personal growth, and I could not be more thankful to have approached her. I could not go on without expressing gratitude to Dr. Zimeri, Dr. Black, Dr. Glenn, Dr. Easley and the rest of the Environmental Health Department for serving as such great mentors and nurturing my interests.

Lastly, and definitely not the least, Erin Dolan — one of my favorite professors at UGA. I have never enjoyed any class more than her biochemistry class; she made learning so fun and interesting. I will never forget the case-based problems that we used to do and the excitement I felt in being able to break down a health condition into the biochemical components and understand why it was all happening.

This list is definitely not inclusive of all the professors, mentors, and advisors that helped me to shape who I am today. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the teachers and counselors who were there for me from the beginning of my school and academic journey — all the way from pre-K to now. Each teacher’s love and passion toward helping build a strong base within my classmates and me helped me to become the student I am today and fuels the passion in me to make the difference I would like to make in this world.

Harris Jamal. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with … 
… Mahatma Gandhi, who is the epitome of determination, patience and innovation. I truly admire the way he tested the boundaries of what was normal in order to stand for justice, and his determination to serve humanity through love and peace. I also love his principles of being open-minded and being a lifelong learner, and how he showed those principles through his actions. I could go on and on about what I admire about him, but it would be an honor to spend time with him and learn from him. His principles are perfectly summarized in a phrase that he stated, which is now my all-time favorite quote. He once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… solve the climate crisis by redesigning the way our world works to incorporate environmental sustainability and closed loop systems as the underlying mindset in everything that we do. Easier said than done, however. This would require multifaceted solutions and cross-collaborations with people and industries across the world to bring change in everything from our education systems to social responsibility to business. Still, I am optimistic that the rising generation is full of trendsetters and change-makers that will eventually lead the charge in different disciplines, with one common goal. As an aspiring physician, I hope to one day lead that change to a mindset of versatility and sustainability in health care.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… travel to each and every corner of the world with the goal of connecting with people from each place. Nothing beats the feeling of truly connecting with another person and I would love to be able to do that with a diverse array of people around the world. It would not only be interesting but, more importantly, a learning experience to see how common goals of happiness, survival and success are viewed and attained in different settings.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passions lie in sustainability. Sustainability is a mindset, a mindset that drives curiosity in knowing more about every aspect of our lives and discovering how even the smallest of actions we take are connected to each other, whether it be the simple drive to know more about what happens to a product when it is thrown away or, on a larger scale, the curiosity that connects what chemicals are being used at a health care facility to a health problem in a patient. It inspires social responsibility and innovation that is proactive instead of reactive. My strong sense of environmental awareness in health care stems from a humanitarian perspective, a strong sense of ethics, and desire for social justice. Witnessing the absence of these factors in less advantaged parts of the world, such as Pakistan, has hardened my commitment to incorporating sustainability into medicine. I hope to carry this passion into the next stages of my life and contribute to positive change by spreading a culture of resiliency. Specifically, as I continue on the path to medical school, I want to be involved with organizations such as Healthcare Without Harm and Physicians for Social Responsibility and encourage my fellow classmates to think beyond simply treating health conditions by connecting different areas of research to medicine. Sustainability is the brand of medicine that I hope to achieve.

After graduation, I plan to …
… pursue medical school. With a strong medical education, I hope to dive deeper by better incorporating sustainability into the treatment of diseases, allowing us to utilize the ethical, economic and political influence of health care to create an ecologically sustainable, equitable and healthy world. I also hope to innovate new ways to serve people, especially rural and underserved, with a higher quality of health care.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… my experience as an intern working at the UGA Office of Sustainability. It’s a funny story actually because I had applied once before and did not receive a position. The second time I applied, I initially applied for the composting intern position. I remember opening the decision email and seeing the first few words, “Thank you for applying …” and I immediately knew that it was a rejection. As the frustration set in, I kept reading and was surprised to see another paragraph at the bottom of the email. I read on to find out that they wanted to take me on and have me continue working on my sustainability in health care initiative. I was so excited and, in hindsight, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the resources and amazing support of the sustainability office. I have gained so much from being a part of their efforts — from the people I have met to the things I have learned to my own professional development — it is no doubt the best experience throughout my time at UGA. I know that I will always remember it as what started my drive to be the physician that I want to be. I hope to maintain these same relationships long after my time at UGA.