Providing Health & Hope to All: Dream Award Scholar Makayla Dawkins
By Scholarship America
by Kyle Walcott for Scholarship America
Makayla Dawkins, a public health major at the University of Connecticut, found her passion for public health at an early age through volunteer experiences. She stated, “Through empathy, humility, and a dedication to addressing taboo issues, I aspire to contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities, promote health equity, and create positive social change.”
Makayla began that journey in high school, as she assumed the role of a peer health educator and became an LGBTQ+ advocate for the True Colors organization. This involvement allowed her to address crucial health issues, promote awareness, and support marginalized communities. Through these experiences, she witnessed the power of education and inclusivity in fostering positive health outcomes.
Upon entering college, she further expanded her commitment to public health by joining service-focused, student-led organizations like the University Student Government and a charter member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Upsilon Mu Chapter. Within this role, she developed and implemented innovative programs for her college campus that went beyond the traditional approach. By reaching out to individuals who had been excluded or overlooked by existing programming, she aimed to bridge the gaps and provide resources for those in need.
Makayla paired this community work with academic projects that allowed her to explore critical health issues. She participated in an apprenticeship to investigate the social factors associated with the well-being of LGBTQ+ college students during the COVID-19 pandemic. And as a research assistant, she contributed to a study titled “For all, we care: Exploring caregiving and the politics of disability.” This project examined the experiences of spousal caregivers, the role of technologies in care, and how ableism influences care policies in the United States.
Her research and apprenticeship brought Makayla valuable insights into the complex dynamics of the healthcare system, further motivating her to advocate for equity and inclusivity in health policy.
To further that advocacy, Makayla interns with a medical and support organization that serves over 2,000 low-income citizens with HIV in Connecticut. Through her work in quality management processes, she assists in gathering data and consumer feedback to discuss social determinants of health, quality of life, HIV care, and stigma. And she connects with her campus community as an intern with Campus Pride, where she analyzes data and cultivates resources for queer students.
Like so many college students, Makayla faced an unprecedented experience over the last few years. “Firstly, the pandemic affected my ability to make friends and connect with fellow students on campus,” she reflected. “The necessary precautions and restrictions due to the pandemic created an environment of isolation and limited social interactions. The lack of in-person activities and events made it challenging to form meaningful connections with peers, which is an essential part of the college experience.”
She continued, “On the other hand, the pandemic brought about a shift to virtual learning, which presented both challenges and opportunities. While the transition to online classes was initially unfamiliar and required adjustments, it made education more accessible. Virtual platforms allowed for remote learning, enabling me to attend classes from the comfort of my own home and take classes in summer and winter sessions. This flexibility opened new possibilities for engagement, as it eliminated the need for commuting and offered more flexibility in scheduling.”
As a recipient of the Simon Family STEM Dream Award, Makayla can now focus more on her studies and work less – a welcomed sigh of relief after having to work three jobs in the past to fund her education. Furthermore, as a low-income first-generation student with an incarcerated father and a mother who passed away suddenly eight years ago, she is grateful for how the scholarship will help her perform more community service and assist in meeting the needs of the people, much like her grandmothers stepped up to meet her needs and raise her.
In the future, Makayla aspires to become a Public Health Official with a focus on HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction Services. Thanks to her education in public health, she hopes to provide young individuals with a loving and nurturing environment, stability, access to healthcare, and a sense of belonging.
Makayla elaborated, “I also want to continue working with my family-led nonprofit for children with incarcerated parents where I plan to start a college preparation mentoring program. I also hope to start a scholarship foundation in honor of my late mother to provide youth who overcame adversity with mini-grants to survive and fund their education.”
If Makayla could go back in time and offer a piece of advice to her younger self, it would be to embrace and celebrate her authentic self. She stated, “Throughout life, we often encounter pressures and expectations that can cloud our understanding of who we truly are. In those moments, it’s essential to remember that our authenticity is our greatest strength.
“I would tell my younger self to let go of the fear of judgment and societal norms, and instead, embrace my unique qualities, passions, and values. Authenticity breeds self-confidence and attracts genuine connections with others who appreciate and value us for who we truly are. Be courageous, be unapologetically yourself, and trust that by staying true to who you are, you will attract the right opportunities, relationships, and experiences that will shape a fulfilling and meaningful life.”